My eyes are yellow! / Meine Augen sind schon ganz gelb!

This post is one of a series on ‘Germanisms in American English’ and should be read in conjunction with the introductory post here.

My eyes are yellow!
Meine Augen sind schon ganz gelb!

In both American English (AmE) and German, if you desperately need to urinate, you might joke that your eyes have gone yellow. It’s the kind of surreal image I associate with Tom and Jerry cartoons. I had never heard the phrase in either English or German until I asked on Twitter whether any of my followers knew a German equivalent of the British English (BrE) idiom ‘I’m busting for a slash!’

Here is my original question followed by the key reply:

Translation of my tweet: How do you say I’m busting for a slash in German? (I desperately need to pee doesn’t count – too boring.) Suggestions in dialect welcome!
Translation of reply: I have to go so badly, my eyes are already quite yellow.

Later in the same thread, after explaining the original BrE expression to someone based in the USA, I asked that person if he knew any equivalent expressions in AmE, to which he replied the following:

To verify that the ‘…eyes are yellow’ phrase really is a thing people say, I googled the group of words ‘so bad my eyes are yellow’, thus allowing for the use of various possible verbs: pee, piss, go etc. The search yielded eight results on Google (search date: 12/11/2016). All but one of these results showed clear evidence that the originator was based in the US and/or using AmE. The same search on Twitter (same date) returned 13 tweets. Of those 13 tweets, nine were from accounts which explicitly mentioned a US location in their user profile, three were from accounts which showed evidence of being US-based, while the only one which did not appear to be from a US-based account was this one:

It’s interesting that this user mentions Minnesota, as that state was an area of heavy German settlement in the late 19th century.  It’s only speculation, but this might explain how the phrase came about in AmE in the first place: as a literal translation of the German phrase by immigrants to the US.

A Google search to verify the use of the German phrase revealed this extract from the 2009 novel Mängelexemplar by German TV presenter and author, Sarah Kuttner (my translation):

»  Ich hab schon ganz gelbe Augen, so voll ist meine Blase inzwischen.  «
Translation: My bladder’s so full at this point, my eyes are already quite yellow.

I also found an entry for ‘gelbe Augen bekommen’ (to get yellow eyes) on the Mundmische website specialising in slang and idioms, where the accompanying definition clearly confirms the meaning we’ve been looking at here.

Sports fan / Sportsfreund

This post is one of a series on ‘Germanisms in American English’ and should be read in conjunction with the introductory post here.

Sports fan
Sportsfreund

Apart from the obvious meaning of ‘someone who is keen on sports’, the above terms have an additional usage in American English (AmE) and German which I’ve never encountered in British English (BrE). The first time I heard sports fan used in this way was in the mid-1990s, by a colleague from Buffalo, New York, who explained that it was an informal term of address used by an older man to a boy – something like ‘my lad’ in British English. This explanation is similar to the following definition of sports fan in Urban Dictionary (a crowdsourced online dictionary of slang):

»  A nickname used by working class old timers in and around the gulf coast united states. Typically used in greeting towards a younger person. […] Ironically it has absolutely nothing to do with sports or sportsmanship.
Hey ‘Sportsfan’!
Hows it going ‘Sportsfan’?  «
[Contributed by Jonathan L. on 30/04/2013; No.2-ranked definition as of 26/11/2016.]

The Duden dictionary also defines Sportsfreund as a male form of address:

»  saloppe Anrede an eine männliche Person
Beispiel
nicht so schüchtern, Sportsfreund!  «

Translation:
Casual form of address to a male person
Example
don’t be shy, sports fan!

But this is Duden’s second-listed definition of Sportsfreund; the primary definition refers us to the synonym Sportfreund (the same as Sportsfreund but without the linking ‘s’). Sportfreund has two meanings in Duden, the first of which is ‘Freund, Anhänger des Sports’ (fan of sports), and the second of which is ‘Sportkamerad’ (fellow sports player). It seems that Sportsfreund (with linking ‘s’) can have both of those meanings, too, but in addition it has its own unique usage as a casual form of address, which has become divorced from any real sporting context.

I speculate that this non-sporting use of Sportsfreund was what gave rise to the equivalent use of sports fan in AmE. If we imagine German immigrants* to the US encountering the term sports fan for the first time, it’s easy to understand how they might start using it not just to mean ‘someone who is keen on sports’, but also as a casual form of address – influenced by that use of the term Sportsfreund in German.


* Most German immigrants arrived in the late 19th–early 20th century, and the word Sport first appeared in the Duden German dictionary in 1887, which supports the hypothesis that Germans would already have known the term Sportsfreund when arriving in the US during the period in question.

From your lips to God’s ears / Dein Wort in Gottes Ohr

This post is one of a series on ‘Germanisms in American English’ and should be read in conjunction with the introductory post here.

From your [lips/mouth] to God’s [ear/s]
Dein Wort in Gottes Ohr (Your word in God’s ear)

This phrase expresses the hope that God will hear what someone has just said (something optimistic about the future) and grant that it may come true. A non-religious equivalent in English might be ‘Let’s hope you’re right!’ Language Log provides the following example of the American English (AmE) version:

»  I told him I thought [the movie Goldeneye] would take $30 million in its opening weekend, to which he replied: ‘From your lips to God’s ears.’ Evening Standard     (London) (4 October 1995.)* «

According to Language Log the expression may stem from Jewish religious texts and probably entered English via Yiddish. The same  post provides some original Yiddish examples, one attributed to Ben Sadock:

»  Fun dayn moyl in gots oyern.  ‘From your mouth to God’s ears’  «

and the other attributed to Lillian Merwin Feinsilver in The Taste of Yiddish (1970):1

»  Fun zayn moyl, in Gots oyer.  ‘From his mouth into God’s ear’.  «

The Jewish English Lexicon classifies this phrase and its variants (sometimes mouth instead of lips, sometimes plural ears, sometimes singular ear) as being used in ‘North America’. This ties in with my own experience: I have once heard the phrase used by a (non-Jewish) American, but never by anyone from the UK.

The equivalent expression in standard German is, according to Redensarten-Index:

»  Dein Wort in Gottes Ohr!  «  (Your word in God’s ear),

which mentions neither lips nor mouth. However, the same source cites an older variant from Wander’s Sprichwörter-Lexikon of 1867–1880, which is closer to the Yiddish/AmE wording:

»  Aus deinem Munde in Gottes Ohr!  «  (From your mouth to God’s ear).2

Note that the publication date of Wander’s dictionary coincides with a period when German-speaking migrants were arriving en masse in the USA; so one could speculate that the German phrase consolidated the influence of its Yiddish counterpart on AmE.


1 Cited in: Nigel Rees, Cassell’s Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins (2002), p. 90.
2 See under section: Ergänzungen.

Noodles / Nudeln

This post is one of a series on ‘Germanisms in American English’ and should be read in conjunction with the introductory post here.

Noodles
Nudeln

Both the American English and German terms above can refer not only to what British English understands as noodles (i.e. the type used in Asian cuisine), but also to some types of what British English would call pasta. Lynne Murphy has a detailed blog post on the ‘pasta/noodle distinction’, in which she mentions the German origin of the word noodle and the significance of this in the American context:

» …I suspect that my default understanding of the word noodle may be more common in the parts of the US that had more northern-European settlement. (…The word noodle comes from German Nudel.…) «

Do you want to come with? / Willst du mitkommen?

This post is one of a series on ‘Germanisms in American English’ and should be read in conjunction with the introductory post here.

Do you want to come with?
Willst du mitkommen?

Some regional varieties of American English treat come and with as two elements of one compound verb, which is exactly how German treats kommen and mit in the verb mitkommen. Standard English, however, treats come as a simple verb and with as a preposition, which must be followed by an object, as in ‘Do you want to come with us?’

The verb come with has its own entry in Wiktionary, where it is described as:

» American English. From a substrate of several Germanic immigrant languages that feature the same construction. «

The ‘immigrant languages’ referred to in the citation are Dutch, German, Norwegian, and Swedish. A discussion thread at WordReference.com mentions the influence of those languages, too, and also suggests bring with and go with as verbs which may be used in the same way as come with in relevant regions of the US. My wife, who is from Illinois with relatives in Minnesota, confirms this to be true and would even add take with to the list. All of the aforementioned American English compound verbs have direct equivalents in German: mitbringen, mitgehen, mitnehmen.

Germanisms in American English

Abbreviations: AmE = American English; BrE = British English

Being a Brit married to an American and living in Germany puts me in a good position to compare British and American English with German. And over the years I’ve been struck by the number of American English expressions that have close equivalents in German, but are not typically associated with British English. For example:

AmE:        Can I get a coffee?
German:  Ich bekomme einen Kaffee (bekommen = to get)

In British English it’s more traditional to order a coffee (or other food and drink) using phrases like Can I have…? or I’ll have. Admittedly, Can I get…? now seems to be fairly well established in BrE, too, but I can remember a time when that usage was only familiar from American TV and films. The same applies to some of the other expressions on my list below.

But before we come to the list, let’s look briefly at some historical reasons why there might be more of what I call ‘Germanisms’ in AmE than in BrE.

Firstly, during the 19th and early 20th century, the United States absorbed several million German immigrants, whose native language influenced the way they spoke English. It has to be said that some of the AmE expressions featured below may not have originated exclusively from German, but also from other immigrant languages with similar constructions. For instance, the fact that many Americans say ‘Do you want to come with?’ (without adding an object such as me or us) is attributable not only to the German verb mitkommen, but also to equivalent constructions in Dutch, Norwegian, and Swedish.

Another group of immigrants that contributed Germanisms to AmE were Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe, who also began to arrive in the US in large numbers in the 19th century. One feature of AmE attributed to Yiddish is the emphatic use of already (e.g. ‘Come on already!’, ‘Enough already!’). However, since the Yiddish word shoyn (=already) is so similar to German schon – which can be used in just the same way – I consider this usage to be a Germanism in the broader sense, even if Yiddish happened to be the main vehicle through which it became widespread in North America.

Germanisms need not be linked to a critical period of mass migration to warrant inclusion in this blog. Some of them may have entered AmE much later (e.g. foosball / ghost driver). In fact the only criterion for including an AmE word or phrase here is that I once happened to notice that a parallel expression existed in German but not in BrE. Whether or not all these so-called Germanisms can actually be traced back to German influence is another matter. And at this point I should make a few disclaimers:

  • There may well be AmE expressions on my list whose resemblance to supposed German counterparts is purely coincidental.
  • In some cases, even if the resemblance is not coincidental, the direction of influence may turn out not be from German to AmE, but rather from AmE to German. For instance, which came first: Have a nice day or Schönen Tag noch?
  • There may also be items on the list whose similarity is not due to borrowing, but due to the shared West Germanic origin of English and German. This may be the case with the phrase What gives? which looks like a loan translation of German Was gibt’s? although the two phrases may in fact originate from the same early Germanic root. When such forms are found only in AmE and not BrE, it may mean that they died out in BrE but survived in AmE – as was the case with the past participle of get: gotten.

For now, at least, I consider it beyond the scope of this blog to ‘prove’ that the AmE expressions listed can be attributed to German influence. Entries 1–7 on the list have already been cited by other sources as having German or Yiddish origins (see the links in the list for details), but the remaining entries have not, as far as I know. So if any readers can share evidence to support or challenge the Germanism hypothesis with reference to specific cases, I look forward to your comments.

Finally, I should say that the following list is by no means exhaustive. Wikipedia has a much longer list of German terms commonly used in English, many but not all of which it says are ‘used in American English, under the influence of German immigration, but not in British English.’ However, Wikipedia’s list consists mainly of isolated nouns, whereas my list is more focused on idiomatic phrases and informal speech. Some of the entries below link to separate posts in which I discuss the language points in detail. Ultimately I intend to add links for all of the entries, but this is still a work in progress…

List of AmE expressions with close equivalents in German:

    1. Do you want to come with? / Willst du mitkommen?
    2. Noodles / Nudeln
    3. Come on already! / Komm schon!
    4. What’s with…? / Was ist mit…?
    5. From your lips to God’s ears / Dein Wort in Gottes Ohr
    6. Foosball / Tischfußball (Kicker)
    7. Ghost driver / Geisterfahrer
    8. Sports fan / Sportsfreund
    9. My eyes are yellow! / Meine Augen sind schon ganz gelb!
    10. Can I get…? / Ich bekomme…
    11. And I don’t know what all / Und was weiß ich nicht alles
    12. I’m through / Ich bin durch
    13. I guess / Ich schätze
    14. Would…would / Würde…würde
    15. Side stitch / Seitenstich
    16. Out of… / Aus… (originating from)
    17. Have a nice day / Schönen Tag noch
    18. Happy holidays / Schöne Feiertage
    19. You know what? / Weißt du was?
    20. To go eat / Essen gehen
    21. To forget sth. somewhere / etw. irgendwo vergessen
    22. With the car / Mit dem Auto
    23. Super (+adjective) / Super (+adjective)
    24. It’s all good / [Es ist] alles gut
    25. Powdered sugar / Puderzucker
    26. Far-sighted / Weitsichtig
    27. Say! / Sag mal!
    28. We won’t melt (in the rain) / Wir sind ja nicht aus Zucker
    29. Three to two / Drei zu zwei (saying the football score ‘3-2 ’)
    30. Grilling weather / Grillwetter
    31. What gives? / Was gibt’s
    32. To wait on someone / Auf jemanden warten
    33. Math / Mathe