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.

  • Das alte Fabrikgebäude ist jetzt ein Co-Working-Space.
  • The old factory building is now a co-working space.
  • Hast du Charly und die Schokoladenfabrik gesehen?
  • Have you seen Charly and the Chocalate factory?

Fabrik does have 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 Lamborgini. So in a lot of contexts you’ll find the word das Werk – especially with food, but also for cars and other things.

  • Elon Musk schläft heute im Tesla-Werk.
  • Elon Musk is sleeping at the Tesla factory.

By the way, thanks Elon for ruining my Lambo dreams this May!! I know you’re reading this!
Anyway…
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.

  • “Guck mal, mein Pullover ist echt weich.”
    “Woooow, was ist das für ein Stoff?”
    “Das ist Einhornwolle.”
  • “Look, my sweater is really soft.”
    “Woooow, what kind of fabric is that?”
    “It’s unicorn wool.”
  • In meiner Strasse gibt es einen Stoffladen.
  • In my street, there’s a drapery store.
  • Leinen ist mein Lieblingsstoff.
  • Linen is my favorite fabric.

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.

  • Netflix will aus dem Stoff eine Fernsehserie machen.
  • Netflix wants to make a TV series from the material.
  • Das ist der Stoff aus dem Träume sind.
  • That’s what dreams are made of.
  • Der Lehrer hat den Stoff gut erklärt.
  • The teacher explained the material well.
  • Das Land ist klein und hat keine Rohstoffe.
  • The country is small and doesn’t have natural resources.
  • Müsli hat viele Ballaststoffe.
  • Musli has a lot of fibre.

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

  • Pflanzen speichern Kohlenstoffdioxid und erzeugen Sauerstoff.
  • Plants store carbon dioxid and produce oxygen.

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.

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Stratis
Stratis
7 months ago

Amazing text. Thank you

Ankit
Ankit
2 years ago

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!!!!

Johno
Johno
2 years ago

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! :)

Denis
Denis
2 years ago

Thanks. That was so informative and interesting ;)

stosselgg
stosselgg
2 years ago

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?

Alison Rostetter
Alison Rostetter
2 years ago

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

Lesia
Lesia
2 years ago

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.

Alan
Alan
2 years ago

Ist “Episdoe” vielleicht ein betrunkenes Rentier

absolutelysundu
absolutelysundu
2 years ago

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

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago

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.

jonasby
jonasby
2 years ago

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

aoind
aoind
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I love the word but I think you had it better with drapery store. A draper is who you go to for cloth. A haberdasher will sell all the other little bits you need to make clothes, like wool, yarn and thread, needles and pins, dyes etc.

jonasby
jonasby
2 years ago
Reply to  aoind

Ah! I did not know the difference, cheers

Natty
Natty
2 years ago

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

Hraefn
Hraefn
2 years ago
Reply to  Natty

Dobrij means kind in English.

Annasc
Annasc
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Actually it can have the meaning of good. In sentences like “a good part of something”.

Barratt
Barratt
2 years ago

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. :-)

Elsa
Elsa
2 years ago

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
2 years ago
Reply to  Elsa

“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
2 years ago
Reply to  Elsa

Kraftwerk is a power station.

Jake
Jake
2 years ago

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

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

Francesca Greenoak
Francesca Greenoak
2 years ago

:D ?

Francesca Greenoak
Francesca Greenoak
2 years ago

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

Jennifer
Jennifer
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Funny ‘Kram’ means HUGS in Swedish – I wonder how that happened!

aoind
aoind
2 years ago

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,

aoind
aoind
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Maybe not surprise or disappointment exactly, but expressing a negative view of something, like in “Wie konntest du das auch getan haben?” which I take to mean “How COULD you do it?!”. Laying on the opprobrium.

My textbook gives other uses but it seems pretty fluid and limits use as a particle to questions only. Meanings seem to range from wirklich to sonst via untranslatable.

Examples from the book:
Kann ich mich auch darauf verlassen?
Wie konnte er das auch vergessen?
Er gab die Hoffnung auf. Was sollte er auch machen?

Of course as you identified auch has other uses as a component of fixed phrases like auch wenn and wie auch immer. I think it deserves a place in the pesky ones hall of fame!