English words used in the German language that don’t make sense in English

I’ll never forget how confused I was when, at 14 years old, my German exchange partner asked me “Can I use your handy?” I had no idea what she was on about and I’m pretty sure she thought I was stupid when I couldn’t answer her. She even said “But it’s an English word!” And I suddenly had an image of work men (aka handy men) coming into my house. What the hell did she mean? And then the penny dropped as she showed me her mobile phone and I realised that the English word “Handy” in German means “mobile phone” in English. This was just my first experience of English words used in German that don’t make sense in English. But now that I’m living in Germany, there are a few more words that have successfully confused me:

Home office

Translation: Working From Home (aka WFH)
Funnily enough, I actually catch myself saying “Home Office”, when speaking to German people in English because, well, it’s just easier and allows the conversation to flow better. The term “Home Office” is logical, as you literally make your home your office when working from home, but it’s just not what we say in English.

Partner look

Translation: Twinning
I don’t really remember the first time I heard the term “Partner Look” but I do laugh to myself a bit when I hear people use this term. It’s not a thing! Although to be honest, I’m pretty sure that “twinning” is relatively new, used more commonly by the younger generation (I’d say I still fit into that category- ha!). Prior to “twinning” people would just say “twins” or “matching” but I’m yet to hear the term “Partner Look” in English 🙂


Translation: Face Scrub
The term is “scrub”, “face scrub”. I understand the logic behind it, and when used in German then whatever, fine. But when I hear the term “Peeling” used as a noun in the English language I’m like nooooo!! It’s called a face scrub! Please just call it a face scrub. Hahaha!


Translation: Personal(?)
This one is more of a translation issue, but I thought I’d share anyway…
The German word “privat” is often literally translated as the English word “private”, which often doesn’t fit, hence the question mark above. Not only grammatically but also because of the feeling that the word “private” portrays.
For example, if you have a work mobile phone, in German your personal phone would be referred to as your “privat” phone. However, if an English friend told me they had a “private” phone, I would probably ask them why the phone is a secret that has to be hid from everyone else.
I thought a colleague was so weird when he once told me he had something “private” to do after I asked about his lunch plans. Was this a VIP lunch break and are were in the school playground? Using the English word “private” in such a way gives off the impression of exclusivity and a high amount of secrecy, which is not normally intended. Instead what my colleague meant is that he wouldn’t be joining the rest of the team for lunch as there was something (personal?) he needed to do in the city.

It’s always funny how words get lost in translation and often leave you feeling completely confused. These are just a few English words that are used in the German language but don’t actually make sense in English. What else would you add to the list?

10 thoughts on “English words used in the German language that don’t make sense in English

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  1. Hey Alisa, where is the obvious “Handy”?
    Anyway, somethings might be weird, but then I don’t see much of a problem when you would translate Home Office to “Working from Home” Not much of a difference.
    And “privat” is derived from Latin having many meanings and also it changed and in German means “not public” or “personal” as you said. You might see it in restaurants, airports, shops etc. telling people that behind that door is a “private” space, not accessible to the public, but not necessarily meaning it’s secret or anything. It might be just the boring storing room for cleaning stuff in a restaurant. But obviously the owner doesn’t want anybody to go there.


    1. Hi Bastian,
      “Handy” is the first point mentioned in the opening paragraph.
      I was just saying that “home office” is not a term used in the English language, at least not in the UK, rather “working from home,” regardless of whether there’s much of a difference or not.
      Yep, fully aware that “private” is often found in doors in restaurants etc. Was just making the point that a literal translation from the German “privat” does not always work in English.
      Thanks for reading!


  2. I think we sometimes say Home Office in Australia for WFH, but we don’t have a government department called the Home Office. So when we watch British TV references to the Home Office are a bit confusing initially!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My German speaking in-laws often say that something “fits” when they mean “suits”, as in “that dress really fits you”. I found that quite amusing at first!

    Liked by 1 person

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