False Friends Explained – “Fabrik vs. fabric”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to a new episode of the awesome OEPY-series called False Friends Explained.
What’s OEPY, you wonder… it’s short for One Episode Per Year. Because that’s how this series goes at this point. That’s right. No one cares about false friends.
But today, because it’s Slowevember after all, it’s time for a new instalment. Hooray.
As usual, we’ll not only explore how the false friends actually translate, but we’ll also explore what made them false friends to begin with. Or in other words, which language is to blame for the confusion.
So are you ready for a look at

fabric and Fabrik

Then let’s jump right in.

The main meaning of the English fabric is a general term for the materials clothes are made from.
The German die Fabrik on the other hand is the place where clothes and other stuff is made at. No, not Asia.
It’s the German word for factory.

The origin is the Latin word faber, which meant something like skilled craftsman and was particularly often used for a smith. From that they derived the verb fabricare, which you’ll certainly recognize as the ancestor of to fabricate and I think you can see that the overarching theme is something about manufacturing.
German and English later imported the words from French, and in the beginning the meaning was rather broad and could refer to the process itself.
But then, especially during the industrialization, the German Fabrik ended up as the word for the location where the manufacturing takes place… the factory.

Fabrik does havea a bit of an industrial tone to it, though. Like… it sounds like red-brick buildings, chimneys with dark smoke, and dirty hands. It’s not exactly where you’d want your chocolate to come from and it certainly isn’t what marketing people would want us to associate with a Lambhorgini. So in a lot of contexts you’ll find the word das Werk – especially with food, but also for cars and other things.

Cool.
Now, the English version fabric wasn’t about the building at all. Instead, it was about the manufactured material or structure. This older, more general sense is still visible in phrasings like the fabric of reality, but then fabric took special focus on the context of clothes; particularly, the material they’re made from.
And what’s the German translation for that? It’s der Stoff.

Many of you are now probably like “Wait, is that related to English stuff?”
And yes, it totally is. These two are also imports from French, and funnily enough, the original sense was quilted material. But slowly, the sense broadened and in English stuff can literally refer to all kinds of stuff.
But Stoff is not limited to material for clothes, either. It’s actually used in quite a broad sense of a (raw) material.

And let’s not forget about the chemical Stoff that we’re all breathing. The sour one :)

There’s also der Wasserstoff (the hydrogen) and der Stickstoff (the nitrogen) which makes perfect sense, actually, once you know that the -gen ending, which belongs to the Greek family of genisis and gene,  was used in early chemistry to indictate that the component “produces its name”. So hydrogen is “material that produces water”. So Wasserstoff is the direct translation.

Ha… we’ve veered quite a bit from the original topic, I feel like.
And no need for that, actually, because also in the family of fabric, there are some nice little connections to be found. First of, the verb to forge. Yes, it too, belongs to the family. And I think as far as meaning goes that makes sense. Forging is about handcrafting something. What’s a bit weird is that it seems to be really far away in terms of sound/spelling.
But there’s a nice little connection to help with this. Do you remember the Latin origin faber, which meant craftsman? Well, I think most of you have heard of these famous eggs of a guy named Fabergé. Well, guess what that name is based on. Exactly, his name essentially meant smith. And transforming Fabergé into forge is not hard at all… we just need enough pints of ale :).
Now, some of you might be like “Wait, Fabergé was from Russia, not from France.”
And that’s true. But his grandparents were from France, and that’s where the name is from.
But Russia is actually a really good cue. Or maybe I should say “dobryj”cue :)
You see, dobryj (hope that’s “correct” spelling) is good in most Slavic languages. And the reason I’m saying that is because … get ready… they’re actually related to fabric and Fabrik.
The origin of them all is the outstandingly ancinet Indo-European root *dhab- which meant something like “do with skill”.
And which proves something I have suspected all along. Our Indo-European ancestors might not have had cars or fridges or the math. But they were pretty damn savage and dabbed on them haters all day.

Okay… maybe I fabricated that last bit.
Anyway, that’s it for today. This was our look at the false friends fabric and die Fabrik.
As always, you can check if you remember the main takeaways in the little quiz we have prepared for you.
And of course, if you have any questions or suggestions about fabric or Fabrik or Stoff, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

for members :)

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aoind
aoind

Hey Emanuel I was on a whistle-stop tour taking in Berlin, Potsdam and Frankfurt a week ago following a band on tour and would have been in touch but it was such a flying visit. I was pleasantly surprised to find Zwiebelmettbrötchen at Berlin Hbf as I thought you only got those in Hamburg. I love those things. I also noticed how Germany is pioneering the mixed drink experience with both PepsiCo and Coca Cola producing mixed cola and orange drinks for the German market (Schwip Shwap by PepsiCo was far superior to Coca Cola’s Mezzo Mix). I stayed with a lovely family I know to the south of Frankfurt and spoke only German for 24 hours – easier than I thought with a beer on board but not quite so funny the next morning!

Another thing you only seem to do an a OEPY basis these days are the “the pesky ones” category. May I suggest one? I don’t think you’ve done “auch” yet. I know it’s mostly self-explanatory but there are subtleties there. I mean like I think it can be used a particle to express surprise or disappointment? Maybe that’s not enough to qualify as “pesky” but I think it’s one of the trickier particles to get a feel for,

Francesca Greenoak
Francesca Greenoak

At my class last night we talked a bit about der Kram and stuff like that.

Francesca Greenoak
Francesca Greenoak

:D ?

Jake
Jake

“No, not Asia.” Laughed out loud on that one.

Im Quiz: Wasser ist kein Element, sondern eine Verbindung.

Elsa
Elsa

Hello,
Here come the typos:
“installement” (instal(l)ment – double l for AE);
“ancertor” (ancestor);
“bit of a industrial tone” (bit of an industrial tone);
“Yes, too, belongs to the family” (Yes, it too, belongs to the family);
“dabbed on them haters” (I think you meant dhabbed) :)
“Thsi was our look” (this)
There’s a lot of dyslexic typos this time ;)

Bet you’re gonna get lots of people asking about the last quiz question. Seems we need to know our chemistry to answer it correctly :)

What does then “Kraftwerk” actually mean?

Bis bald!

Barratt
Barratt

“Kraftwerk” is where German Kraft Singles (das Kraft-Single) are manufactured, which are like the American kind except they contain traces of actual milk. Just kidding. “Kraftwerk” means power plant, as in Atomkraftwerk (nuclear power plant) or Kohlekraftwerk (money and power factory… or maybe actually “coal-burning power plant”).

If you’re a physicist, “die Kraft” is actually “force” (mass times acceleration, e.g. “die Erdanziehungskraft” = “earth-attraction-force” or as some like to call it, “the force of gravity”), whereas “power” is “Leistung” (energy per unit time), but in its everyday usage, Kraft could be very well translated as power, strength, might, etc.

-Thomas brauchte all seiner Kraft um Marias Koffer, den sie mit ‘nur dem Nötigsten’ für’s Wochenende gepackt hatte, zu heben.
-Thomas needed all his strength to lift Maria’s suitcase, which she had packed for the weekend with just the ‘bare essentials’.

Alison Rostetter
Alison Rostetter

Kraftwerk is a power station.

Barratt
Barratt

Du hast erwähnt, dass sich das englische Wort “stuff” mit der Zeit gewandelt hat. Eins deiner Beispiele erinnert einen an ein beliebtes Zitat aus Shakespeares “Der Sturm”. Im Original sagt Prospero:
“We are such stuff / as dreams are made on; and our little life / is rounded with a sleep.”
(Wir sind solcher Stoff / aus dem Träume sind; und unser kleines Leben / ist von einem Schlaf umringt.)
Da sieht man vielleicht die alte Verbindung. :-)

Natty
Natty

“dobryj” does mean “good” in most Slavic languages, except Russian actually. It is “horoschyj”

Hraefn
Hraefn

Dobrij means kind in English.

jonasby
jonasby

Just wanted to throw in the great and unusual word “haberdashery” for your drapery store. Cheers!

Anonymous
Anonymous

Hi, thank you for the explanation. This time my score in quiz is not bad, so far is the best.
By the way, I got a little correction at the first example of “der Stoff”, there’s a tiny mistake.
“Look, why sweater is really soft.” -> it should be “my” not “why”. Thanks.

absolutelysundu
absolutelysundu

Now i understand why the german pencil brand is called, “faber castell”

Alan
Alan

Ist “Episdoe” vielleicht ein betrunkenes Rentier

Lesia
Lesia

I can’t tell you how much I love your blog. Occasional is just the right frequency for me to learn new German words and to practise reading the language. I learned it in high school so I haven’t been exposed to it consistently in thirty years, and only have the confidence and active vocabulary to speak it like a toddler now, but I can still read it quite well, and this way I can feel like I’m progressing slowly but surely towards the goal of reclaiming one of my ancestral languages.

Alison Rostetter
Alison Rostetter

There is also ‘Stoffwechsel’ which is, I guess, like Metabolism. Noch mehr Stoff….

stosselgg

So if Wasserstoff is Hydrogen, the genesis of Water, then is Sauerstoff, Oxygen, the genesis of the sauer taste when cabbage is exposed to air?

Denis
Denis

Thanks. That was so informative and interesting ;)

Johno
Johno

I just want to say thanks to any users who might be reading this that put extra money aside to help people out who are not able to afford a membership to the site. I started learning after I met my girlfriend (who is from Austria) and took an A1+ course in Vienna and now trying to teach myself German. Right now I don’t have much money and just started a new job and was able to get a subscription until I get my first paycheck. I appreciate the gesture of Emmanuel and any users who decided to do this. I will be adding onto the pool and getting myself a subscription soon! :)

Ankit
Ankit

Hello Emanuel, I just love your blog and the way you explain made German easy to learn. I also want to thank the community that their efforts have let me become a member. I have no words to thank you guys who made it happen. Vielen Dank!!!!