German word of the day: Der Erdapfel

German word of the day: Der Erdapfel
There are various regional terms for potatoes in the German language. Photo: DPA
German is a notoriously difficult language to master. And to make matters worse, some things have different names in different German-speaking regions. This word is a prime example

German is the 12th most spoken language in the world, with over 130 million speakers worldwide. It is the official language of Germany and Austria, and is one of the official languages in Switzerland.

But the language may not sound as you expect if you visit certain regions, as there are plenty of variations to get your head around. 

One very common example is the different words used to refer to a very popular food: potatoes. 

The normal translation for this beloved carbohydrate would be die Kartoffel, but in Austria, parts of Bavaria and Switzerland the term Erdapfel is far more popular.  

Erdapfel literally translates as ‘earth apple’, which may be confusing for many. Apples, after all, grow on trees, whilst potatoes grow in the ground. 

The word Kartoffel comes from the Italian term tartufo (or tartufolo), which initially referred to truffles. As truffles had a similar appearance and also grew in the ground, the term eventually came to be used for potatoes as well. 

READ ALSO: Can you tell a Bavarian dialect from a north German one? 

While this term emerged in the 16th century, however, it is thought that Erdapfel dates even further back, coming from the Latin malum terrae as a loan translation into medieval German during the Middle Ages.

The Latin (and the corresponding German) term was used back then to refer to any fruit or vegetable that grew in or on the ground, such as melons or pumpkins. 

When potatoes arrived in Europe from South America centuries later, the term expanded in meaning to refer to them too.

Other languages’ terms for potato also have the same translation into English, such as the Dutch aardappel and the French pomme de terre

The regional variations do not stop there, either. Just some of the other terms you may hear on your travels around German speaking countries are Grundbirne (meaning ‘ground pear’, sometimes written as Gromper, or Krumper, or Grumbeere), which is used in Austria and in the some Western regions of Germany, Herdäpfel (or Härdöpfel), which can be heard in Switzerland or the hybrid term Erdbirne.

 

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