Wednesday 6 February 2013

die Londoner U-Bahn

I recently came across a spoof German ‘translation’ of the London tube map, the work of one Horst Prillinger. He made it as long ago as 2004.

All the station names appear in German guise. Some are straightforward unremarkable translations, as when King’s Cross appears as Königskreuz, Westferry as Westfähre, Shepherd’s Bush as Hirtenbusch and Old Street as Alte Straße.

Others are in varying degrees ridiculous, as when East Ham becomes Ostschinken (Schinken is the German for ham, the meat product). The German for a fish’s fin is Flosse, so Finsbury Park becomes Flossenstadtpark. The map tells us that the translation uses “actual meanings, associations and sound-alike words”.

Moorgate could have retained its etymology and meaning by appearing as the cognate Moorengasse, but instead becomes Mohrentor ‘blackamoor’s gateway’. Dagenham becomes Tagesschinken, in which the -schinken part is again literally ‘ham’, but the Tages- part means ‘day’s’, perhaps because of the resemblance of English Dag- to the Dutch daag dag ‘day’, cognate with German Tag. Vauxhall comes out as Fuchshalle ‘fox shed’, although the name has nothing to do with foxes. I don’t know why my own local station, Wimbledon, features as Wunibaldshügel (Hügel means ‘hill’). And why is Clapham transformed into Schinkenklatschen (‘ham gossip’)? I suppose because klatschen also means to clap.

Harrow is rendered as Heidenhügel ‘heath hill’, though a literal translation might be Egge, which I think would have been more fun. For Barbican, Frisierdose (‘hair dressing tin’) is indeed fun, although Außenwerk would have been a literal translation.

One or two of Prillinger’s choices are of particular phonetic interest. According to David Mills’s London Place Names, the second element in Tooting Bec reflects the name of its owner from 1086, the Benedictine Abbey of St Mary of Bech (Bec-Hellouin in Normandy). So why does it become Zurücktuten? Because to a speaker of German, though not to a NS of English, ‘Bec’ is evidently a homophone of ‘back’ (zurück).

The conversion of Hounslow ˈhaʊnzləʊ into Hundslangsam ‘dog’s slow’ depends on ignoring the distinction between s and z. The native English pronunciation would rather suggest the translation Hundsniedrig or even Hundsmuhen, both ‘dog’s low’.

Ah, well. It’s ‘still a work in progress’, we read.


  1. I'd guess that Wimbledon is or might be from a name resembling or cognate with Wunibald. The suffix is surely OE don 'hill, down'.

  2. That's tickled me on my way to work, will use it with my German students today.

  3. As always I enjoy reading your blog. Today I spotted one minor error: the Dutch word for 'day' is 'dag', not 'daag'.

    Tim Wigboldus

  4. Concerning Moorgate --- I am not sure if 'moor' here is 'bog', 'swamp', or something like it, but if yes, I'd think it would be Moorgasse in German, there are many 'Gassen' in Germany called so, rather than 'Moorengasse' (which, however, is met-with in D too).

    Has 'gate' ever mean 'street' in English? It means 'narrow street' or such in German, 'Gasse', and simply 'street' in Scandinavian ('gata' in Sw., Icel. and Faroe., partly Norwegian, 'gate' Norwegian, 'gade' Danish, there was a Danish composer so called).

    'Dag' indeed in Dutch, with a short, back a, like in 'father' only short and backer. Unlike German, Dutch did not have lengthening before single consonants in late Middle Ages. In plural it's 'dagen', with a long, frontish a. 'Dag meneer!' as they say, in their dry, sober, concise way, two long vowels would be to much....\

    Well, someone should tell them -ham is their '-heim' or '-em'... but that would be kill-joy-like, wouldn't it?

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    1. If you go to York, many of the old streets are called gates. In Scots, gate is/was a normal word for street (the DSL defines gate as "a way, road, path, a street (now esp. in street and farm-names, e.g. Canongate, Trongate, Gallowgate, Overgate, Gateside); “a narrow road, a footpath”, a narrow, fenced road").

    2. I don't think I've ever said "dag meneer", unless in a micking way :) Also never thought of Dutch as dry, sober or concise, for that matter...

    3. That must be "mocking" of course...

    4. I have heard 'dag meneer, dag mevrouw, graag gedaan' and such-like, in perhaps somewhat artificial contexts, and I must say I quite liked the 'dry and sober' (though not unfriendly, but friendly the Dutch way) tone in which they were said. (Especially contrasted with their French _Urbilder_: bonjour monsieur, etc.).

      Anyway, compare the North-German greeting 'Taach' with your 'dag' --- I mean first of all in the vowel-length...

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    5. Gate meaning 'street' is common over much of England and Scotland, particularly where the Danes were. Well to the south of York, there are many Gates in Nottingham. There's also a Bar where a gate used to be. I have a memory of a Victoria Gate in Leicester, but I also have a memory of being told that I'd got it wrong.

    6.  Ad Войчех·em:
       It is true that the vowel of the Dutch noun dag ‘day’ is short and almost completely back, so this remark of yours was not among your alleged 66% of jocular contributions.
       However when used as an interjection (tussenwerpsel) the vowel of dag may be extremely long and rather front.
       This is reflected in the Van Dale entry for dag:

      ¹dag (de; m; meervoud: dagen; verkleinwoord: dagje of daagje)

      ²dag (tussenwerpsel)
      1 groet (ook dag!, dáág!, dááág!)

       According to the OED gate ‘opening’ is from ON. gat whereas gate ‘way’ is from ON. gata.

       Charlie Ruland

    7. expressive lenghtening?

      What I have in my ears is this dry, matter-of-factly 'dag meneer', let's proceed to the usual business of our coffiemaatschappij... while what you are quoting sounds like the North-German 'Taach'.

      There is a poem by Toon Hermans in which he says: there are many loners, that's all right (het mag),

      maar kom je ze tegen
      zeg dan op z'n minst even: dag

      if you cross your paths with one of them, say at least 'hullo'.

      It's funny to think that a Dutchman saying 'dag' is wishing his addressee 'have a day', not necessarily a nice one, but: just have it. That's what I mean by 'sober': don't expect too much of your days, just live them. But your 'daag' has certainly a different import.

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    8. York has a very large number of roads that end in -gate, but it can be found in many other areas. The eastern areas of England were colonised by Danes, and the use of "gate" in this sense is one of the remnants.

      Another is the suffix -thorpe for a village. This can be found in Yorkshire, the East Midlands and East Anglia: the areas that the Danes colonised. If you were to go back a hundred years, you'd find more similarities than there are today.

      Ed Aveyard

  5. Thank you Thomas Widmann, you have widened my knowledge (talking about things narrow).

    As a general comment: I sort of feel John is a bit unfair to poor Mr. Prilinger when he calls some of his translations 'ridiculous'. I think Prilinger's is typically German humour which, like Justice Wolsey's pornography, cannot be defined but can be recognised for what it is when come across. Well, attempting a definition: it's mocking German pedantry (by a German!), a school-teacheresqe attitude (Oberlehrehaftigkeit), and sarcastic driving-to-the-extreme (with intentional errors like 'schinken' for 'ham') of the days-of-yore German tendency to Germanise whatever comes their way (Rundfunk, Fernsehen, Fernmeldegeraet and what not). I too sometimes indulged in this kind of humour sending someone to 'Ochsenfurt' (Oxford) or referring to a medieval English philosopher Richard Swineshead as 'R. Schweinshaupt'. So a better word would be perchance 'trying to be funny the German way' or just 'funny' (keeping the rest 'im Hinterkopf', your hind-cup) rather than 'ridiculous'....

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  6. So what IS (since it is not 'Day's ham') the etymology of Dagenham?

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    1. "homestead or village of a man called '*Dæcca'". In 677 AD recorded as Dæccanham.

    2. Thank you, John :)

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  7. As an English speaker living in Berlin, I often entertain myself by translating local U-Bahn station names into English. Rosenthaler Platz becomes Rosedale Square, Birkenstraße becomes Birch Street, Turmstraße becomes Tower Street, and so forth. I didn't know other people enjoyed the same game!

  8. When I saw "Gruendorf", I wonder if -wich were the equivalent of -thorpe or -thwaite in other areas of the county. However, Wikipedia says that -wich denotes a place on the bay or near the mouth of a river.

    Why is Epping represented as "Huegeldorf"? This translates literally as "hill village"? Is Epping a hilly place? It doesn't look very hilly on a map.

    Ed Aveyard

    1. Some early spellings have Upping, and the origin is thought to be yppingas, ‘upland dwellers’, referring to this settlement.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. There's more in the way of cross-language cartography from Mr Prillinger at
    (the Viennese metro in Italian).
    Compare his map of the real thing at

    This appears to be less jokey than his Londoner Untergrund map (though it perhaps contains jokes I don't get), but it still has a lot to interest the amateur philologist.

    For instance I was intrigued by Via del Paese sullo Stagno < Gumpendorfer Straße. What was the etymology of that Gumpendorf toponym?

    If my researches are correct then Gumpe (which means a pool -- i.e. a part of a river where the water runs very slowly because of a deep hollow in the stream bed) is a cognate of the English coomb (alias comb, combe, coombe) -- a short valley or deep hollow. A Gumpe is wet and a coomb is dry, but the essential idea of a hollow is the same.

    Now coomb is one of those famous few words which the arriving English are said to have "borrowed" from the already settled British in the aftermath of the Anglo-Saxon invasions. (Collins gives the etymology "Old English cumb (in place names), probably of Celtic origin; compare Old French combe small valley and Welsh cwm valley".) I'd never heard of any Continental cognates but now, having consulted the Grimms' Deutsches Wörterbuch online and the Trésor de la Langue Française informatisé, I see both suggesting Celtic antecedents for, respectively, Gumpe and combe (in the latter case: Gaulish *cumba, meaning a valley in general). So now I'm wondering: did the Anglo-Saxons already know a word like coomb, which was merely reinforced by their contact with the Brythonic antecedent of cwm

    In any case, in my projected English-language version of the Vienna U-Bahn Gumpendorfer Straße will feature as ...Cumthorp Street.

    Kevin Flynn

  11. For the benefit of my German relations and my Italian visitors I sometimes translate some Gdańsk geographical names into German and Italian, e.g. Żabianka, ʐa'bʲanka or ʒa'bʲanka, or -ŋka respectively: Froschteich, Stagno delle Rane.

    Not always is the business easy, e.g. with 'Złota Karczma' (zwɔ- ... rʈʂm...) I first got it wrong, 'Goldene Kaschemme', where it in fact is or was 'Goldkrug', or non-dangerous, as with 'Sopot Kamienny Potok', where I was in the habit of loudly exclaiming 'Zoppot Steinbach' to 'my' Germans in the carriages of our metropolitan railway, 'Steinbach' being the name of a German politician once widely feared in Poland. (My late mother was concerned I might get a beating for saying 'Steinbach' under such circumstances, which I never did.) But (next to) always is it entertaining. And like (next to) all things entertaining, a bit silly, too. Mr Prilinger has, obviously, resources to indulge in such.

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