Where Hamburgers Come From

26 Aug

At first glance, you might not see the connection between hamburgers and the German language.  You might also be wondering why there is a picture of a cargo boat accompanying this article.  After all, we are talking about a landmark in America’s culinary history…or are we?  Keep reading and the pieces will soon come together.

Maybe some of you out there already knew this, but I only discovered today that hamburgers are not necessarily as purely American as I had once thought.  In general, when I hear the word “hamburger” I think, “fries,” or maybe, “yum.”  So in my German class today when I came across this familiar word, I thought that I had the translation in the bag.  However, I had broken the number one rule for language learners:

When a word in a foreign language looks like a word in your native language, never assume that it has the same meaning.

For my fellow language geeks out there the expression “false friends” should be coming to mind.  This is an elementary idea referring to the fact that most languages share words with identical or similar spellings, but that these words can have completely different meanings from one language to the next.  “Hamburger” is a perfect example.

Here is what the German-English dictionary has to say:

1-Hamburger, der

(n.) native or inhabitant of Hamburg.

(Adj.) Hamburg – der Hamburger Hafen, Hamburg Harbor.

2-Hamburger, der

(n.) hamburger

Are you following me?  Hamburg is a major port city in northern Germany, and the etymology behind this beloved American platter apparently comes from this German word referring to the city’s inhabitants and other miscellaneous things originating there!  To sum things up you can find the American variety if you are hungry, but knowing the word also refers to people and a city helps avoid confusion.

So what culinary masterpieces do Americans have left to boast over?  Between German Hamburgers and French Fries, I guess the search for the quintessential American platter continues.


6 Responses to “Where Hamburgers Come From”

  1. Karl August 26, 2010 at 2:48 pm #

    All of this HAMBURGER news will likely be very confusing, and posibly rather disturbing, to Ronald and The Hamburglar.

  2. formerly a wage slave August 30, 2010 at 1:25 am #

    Yeah, right. Next thing you’ll be telling me that Budweiser isn’t American either!

    • bavariaundercover August 30, 2010 at 5:40 am #

      Your comment intrigued me my Czech friend, and now it is all clear. Budweis is a city in the Czech Rebublic, which of course means that Budweiser is the corresponding German adjective. The linguistic truth behind the name of yet another American gastronomic great has been revealed! Thanks for your input.

      • formerly a wage slave August 31, 2010 at 6:04 am #

        You’re very welcome! The Czechs like to call it “Budvar”, but I suppose you know there were, once upon a time, German speakers there….

  3. E. September 2, 2010 at 8:40 pm #

    Just so you know, I told my boyfriend this story, and he thought it was very funny !!


  1. A Not So American Beer « Bavaria Undercover - September 2, 2010

    […] that this town of  is also known as “Budweis”.  (If you have read my recent post on where Hamburgers come from, maybe you have already put two and two together.) In fact, “Budweiser” is simply a […]

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