The surprising origin of OK.

Germans love to complain about their language being flooded with anglicisms – on the other hand, SPA and compliance simply sound better and more technical than Aktienkaufvertrag or Einhaltung von geltenden Rechtsnormen. Nowadays Germans we even seem to prefer saying “Deal” at court for a settlement, instead of Vergleich or Absprache.

But did you know that there is also movement in the other direction as well? For example, the abbreviation OK has German roots. The term comes from book printing and means “ohne Korrektur”, without correction. The two letters made their way into the USA and then back to Germany, and all across the world.

Would you like a more modern example? Francophile football fans should know that “la Mannschaft” is what they call the German national team in France. But this is not done only in France, many Arabic-speaking countries use the term “el Mannschaft” to refer to the German national team.

And for those who like it complicated, there is the term “Hinterland”, which has taken on two quite different, opposite meanings. In Italian, the term refers to the very densely populated area around Milan, while in Australia it means the very thinly populated part of the country in the East, far away from the ocean.

As you can see, a 1 to 1 translation is not always possible. In fact, shifts in meaning when a word goes from one language to another are actually quite common. This is important to know when you are abroad. If a cute blonde Norwegian asks you out to a vorspiel right after meeting you, you should know that that is what Norwegians say to drinking somewhere before going out, and not the sexual term used in German (Vorspiel being the act before the actual act). Nachspiel in Norway is, logically, what in English would be a nightcap.

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