False Friends Explained – “art vs Art”

art-false-friends-german-enHello everyone,

and welcome to a new episode of False Friends Explained. As usual, we’ll take a pair of false friends, see what went wrong with their friendship and then, in an epic, tear-ridden finale we’ll reconcile them.
Meh… okay, I guess we can’t make them friends again. But it’s definitely gonna be super epic because today, we’ll look art, old and contemporary, English and German. Ladies and gentlemen, get ready for

art vs (die) Art

A famous man once said

A poem, a fart,
everything is art.

In English, this statement is controversial. In German not so much.

die Art

In German, everything has some Art to it because the core idea of die Art is “how something is/is done“. The real translation highly depends on context and there are many option like way, type, kind, manner… oh and species.

  • Es gibt verschiedene Arten von Intelligenz.
  • There are different kinds/types of intelligence.
  • Die bayrische Mundart ist schwer zu verstehen.
  • The Bavarian vernacular/dialect is hard to understand.
    (lit.: type of mouth)
  • Die Tonart des Songs ist C-Moll.
  • The key of the song is c minor.
    (lit.: type of tone)
  • Eisbären sind eine bedrohte Tierart.
  • Polar bears are an endangered species.
  • Die Eier stammen von Hennen aus artgerechter Tierhaltung.
  • The eggs are from hens in species-appropriate animal rearing.

These examples all focused on how something is. And here are some that revolve around the idea how something is done.

  • Die Art, wie man küsst, sagt viel darüber aus, wie man im Bett ist.
  • The way you kiss says a great deal about how you are in bed.
  • Das Problem war nicht, was er gesagt hat, sondern die Art und Weise.
  • It’s not what he said but how he said it.
  • Ja, der Manager ist klug. Aber seine arrogante Art geht mir auf die Nerven.
  • Yes, the manager is smart, but his arrogant attitude/way of behaving goes on my nerves.
  • “Schatz, was gibt’s zum Frühstück?”
    “Spiegelei nach Art des Hauses.
    “Also mit Kalkflecken?? Hahah.”
    “Haha…. sehr komisch.”
  • “Honey, what’s for breakfast?”
    “Egg sunny side up à la maison.”
    “So with lots of chalk stains? Hahah”
    “Haha… very funny.”
    (lit.: the way it’s done in that house)

And of course if we talk about Art, we have to mention artig as well. As a standalone, it’s a slightly out of date option for well behaved. What makes it really useful is that you can add it to nouns to create a word with the meaning “like that noun”.

  • Sie bewegt sich gazellenartig.
  • She moves gazelle-esque.
  • Aus meinem Laptop läuft eine ölartige Substanz. Hat irgendjemand eine Idee, was das ist?
  • There’s an oil-like substance coming out of my notebook. Does anyone have an idea what that could be?

And let’s also not forget eigenartig which literally of its own kind, unique but which has shifted has shifted toward strange.

  • Deine Suppe riecht eigenartig.
  • Your soup smells strange.

So… looking at all these examples (and there are actually more related words, though not as common) we can but say that German Art is actually really really really freaking useful. Much more useful than, say… uh… a balloon dog. They have one thing in common though, German Art and a balloon dog…
they’re not art.
Ooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…. burrrrrn.

die Kunst

Whether the balloon dog of Jeff Koons is art is not for us to decide (#irony). What’s sure, though, is that at least the name Koons sounds like art, the German word for art, that is.. die Kunst.

  • Maria hat Kunst studiert.
  • Maria has studied art.
  • Ist das Kunst oder kann das weg?
  • Is that art or can it be removed?
    (this has become kind of an idiom in German,
    used whenever something looks like it should be gone but isn’t… here’s an example… a postcard in that case)
  • Ich bin Künstler.
  • I’m an artist.
  • Diese Suppe ist ein Kunstwerk.
  • This soup is a work of art.

And this word comes from a very famous verb: können. The verb that describes ability. And that makes sense. I mean, creating a piece of art does need inspiration but just look at Michelangelo or Goethe or Debussy… there’s always a lot of skill involved.
And thing you can do well was the original idea of die Kunst. This sense is still visible in words like Schmiedekunst (the profession of smithery) or Braukunst (art of brewing) and it’s also the bridge to the other big idea of the Kunst-family today: the idea of being man-made as opposed to natural. or in one word, artifical.

  • Die BBQ-Soße schmeckt irgendwie künstlich.
  • The BBQ sauce tastes somehow artificial.
  • Künstliche Intelligenz wird ein großes Thema in den nächsten 10 Jahren.
  • Artificial intelligence will be a big topic in the next 10 years.
  • Marias Schuhe sind aus Kunstleder.
  • Maria’s shoes are made from artificial leather.

There’s a whole lot of Kunst-compounds like Kunstfaser (artificial fibre), Kunstrasen (artificial lawn) but the best one of them is Kunststoff which means plastic, synthetic material. Kind of cool name actually, “artificial stuff”.
Anyway, so we’ve seen that die Kunst and art do line up perfectly while die Art doesn’t mean art at all. That leaves us wondering… who screwed up?

So… what happened?

When you know Spanish or French or another Romance language, you’ll know that the art-words also exist there and that they roughly have the same meaning as in English. That’s because it comes from Latin. Back then, it was still about the idea of general skill, piece of work so the evolution is exactly like the one of die Kunst. That’s why you can make a Bachelor of Arts in economy.
Now, from the thing that is made to how a thing is made it’s not THAT far. German has pulled way crazier stunts. So we could assume that German, and a few other Germanic languages like Swedish or Dutch for that matter, just imported it and messed up the meaning at some point.
But in this case, it actually wouldn’t be fair to blame German. Why not? Because the origin of German Art is not entirely certain.

The thing is… about 1000 years ago, there was a word art but that was about the idea of “tilling the field” and it belonged to a completely different family than English art. A few hundred years later, this art had shifted toward the idea of “area where you live, home” and even more general “where you belong”. And from that meaning it’s really not too far to meanings like species and type and the general idea of “how something is“, that the word has today (and has had for a few hundred years). The reason why this is unclear is that there isn’t enough source material for etymologists to make a definite statement but what’s pretty sure is that it’s not just a standard scholar import from Latin that got twisted.
German does have words however that are directly related to English art. The word der Artikel for example. And artikulieren (articulate). And Arm.
Now you’re like “Whaaaaat? What do these have in common?”.

Well, the whole art family goes back to the super ancient European Root ar- and this root was about the simple idea of joining things. Think about it. An Artikel brings together words and ideas, artikulieren is about joining sounds, an Arm is made up of three joined parts. And art… well, we’ve already learned that it originally was about skill and pieces of work. Making a chair or a boat or a house… it’s always kind of about bringing things together, joining things. And now listen to this:
We already mentioned the Bachelor of Art, right? What’s the other big type of bachelor? Exactly, science.
We learned that art comes from joining. Now guess, where science comes from?
From separating, dissecting, shedding – same family as shit.
drops mic

*picks mic back up
Yeah… so… uh… that’s it for today :). This was our look at the pair art and die Art. English art means die Kunst, German die Art means type, way, species, kind and it’s definitely a word you should add to your active vocabulary.
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions about

** vocab **

die Kunst – the art
der/die Künstler(in) – the artist
kunstvoll – artful
künstlerisch – artful

künstlich – artificial
Kunststoff – plastic
Kunst+noun – artificial noun

die Art – the way/type, species, kind, the manner (in which something is done)
artig – well behaved (rare)
X-artig – X-like

eigenartig – strange
abartig – disgusting
ausarten – get out of hand (for parties or meetings or the like)
die Unart – bad manner/bad habit

der Artist – the acrobat

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1 year ago

Hey Emanuel, ich sehe dieser Beitrag ist schon etwas alt, weiß nicht, ob du die Kommentare noch liest..also, mir wurde einmal gesagt: ich mag deine Schuhe, sie sind so artig. Ich habe es damals nicht verstanden und immer noch nicht ganz..ich habe diesen Ausdruck in keinem Wörterbuch gefunden..die Person, die das benutzt hat, hat gesagt es ist ungefähr wie cool..er kommt aus Nordrhein Westfalen, vielleicht ist dieses Wort regional? Verwendet man dieses Wort im Alltag? Und was bedeutet es genau? Vielen Dank!

1 year ago

I have a question about abartig. I always thought this meant abnormal. I tried looking it up but nowhere could I find a definition of disgusting. Is this use slang?

2 years ago

“Aber seine eine arrogante Art geht mir auf die Nerven.” Can you please explain the use and position of “eine”? Danke.

2 years ago

Quote :- “We already mentioned the Bachelor of Art, right?”

Well OK … maybe somewhere there is a BA degree solely in Art (which would be about the study and creating of Art as in paintings and originally in cave drawings).

However my five years of blood, sweat and tears to obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree (in languages) could have been about a huge range of humanities based subjects from philosophy, psychology, economics and anything not included in a BSc (Bachelor of Science) … in fact almost anything perhaps including, but definitely not restricted to, the art of painting, sculpture and other strictly arty-crafty skills that operate under the title of art (with no “s”).

All of this I am sure is well-known to the distinguished Professor Emanuel, but perhaps there are others like me who are easily confused?

Mit besten Wünsche … Roger from “English is Easy”

3 years ago

This now got me curious about the reason we use the word bachelor to describe both single men and degrees… what are your main sources when you look into etymological roots in German and English?

Danke fur ein andere fantastisch Artikel Emmanuel!

3 years ago

This was so much fun to read :D
A while back I was reading an article about a famous circus and there was a sentence like “Sie können das Leben eines
Artisten kennenlernen” it seemed off for me, why would they call a circus worker “an artist” at this point? but I reasoned performers are kinda artists & let it go. Now I see it actually meant “acrobat” XDDDDD

3 years ago

Thanks so much for these incredibly informative and fun posts. They’ve helped me a lot.

Mind if I ask if there is there a reason you opted for “…goes on my nerves” instead of “…gets on my nerves”?


[…] don’t see the complexity of trying to learn German. But, if you are curious, I can recommend yourdailygerman.com as a great blog that takes you through many aspects in a fun and entertaining way. Reading the blog […]

5 years ago

Oh, just thought of another “Art” phrase this morning while staring groggily at my Greek yogurt – or, more accurately, my “Joghurt nach griechischer Art” or “Greek-style yogurt.”

You don’t hear that phrase a lot in conversation or anything, but it’s pretty common to see written on food packaging or restaurant menus. “Nach Art des Hauses” is in the post already, but “nach ______ Art” is probably worth noting as a general way to say “à la _______” or “_______ style.”

John Loftus
John Loftus
5 years ago

Thank you for these articles; I love them, and your English writing skills are brilliant. If I may make one small correction – we say ‘gets on my nerves’, not ‘goes on my nerves’.

Dave M.
Dave M.
5 years ago

I live in the south and I can attest to bless his heart. Usually it is said as a soothing addendum to something terrible. Zum beispiel, he is dumb as a box of rocks, bless his heart. and to up the Youtube game … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLep-GmP83M

Dave M.
Dave M.
5 years ago

Your Youtube link is strong son. Impeccable use of OOOOHH Burn!

5 years ago

It’s like calling someone “different” in Minnesota I suppose. You assume there just wasn’t much else good to say.

5 years ago
Reply to  Kathy

Or (also in the South) saying, “bless his heart!”

5 years ago

Hi, the pdf link isn’t working.

5 years ago

By the way, does “eigenartig” mostly just mean “odd/strange/not quite right,” or can it mean “eccentric”/”idiosyncratic” with reference to a person?

That’s another one of those words that I feel like indicates a difference between German and American mentalities. To me, “eigenartig,” “merkwürdig,” and “wunderlich” all sound like they ought to have positive connotations…

5 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

To me, “eccentric” is really pretty mild/polite. It’s often said that rich people can’t be crazy, only eccentric – to me “eccentric” could be a polite way to describe somebody who’s really nuts, but it can also just describe someone who has funny little ways about them.

So I guess I was wondering if you could describe someone as an “eigenartiger Typ” or something, meaning that they’re a little odd, maybe have weird (but not creepy or anything) habits or preferences.

5 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Ha… depending on who’s saying it and in what tone, “interesting” or “special” can come across as pretty mean ways to describe someone. I think it’s a pretty typical Southern US thing to say someone or something is “interesting” as a way to say, “I can’t think of a single nice thing to say about this person/thing.”

2 years ago
Reply to  berlingrabers

A Chinese curse was said by someone to be
“May you live in interesting times !”

5 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

It totally depends on tone. If you hear a little pause before the word, that’s a good sign that it’s not meant in a positive sense:

– That’s… interesting.
– Yeah, he’s… interesting.

So don’t pause before you say it and you should come across as sincere. :)

5 years ago

It should be “artful”, not “artfull”. (Second and third items in the vocab.)

5 years ago

– Das Problem war nicht, was er gesagt hat, sondern die Art und Weise.
– The problem wasn’t what he said but how/the way he said it.
(is there a succinct way to say this?Native speakers please help)

Beides geht. Besser hätte ich’s nicht übersetzen können. :)

Sie bewegt sich gazellenartig.
She moves gazelle-esque.

Zumindest auf Englisch gilt “-esque” nur als Adjektivendung. Wenn du den Satz unbedingt anders formulieren möchtest als “She moves like a gazelle”, dann vielleicht “She moves in a gazelle-like way.” Eigentlich kann “gazelle-like” als Adverb funktionieren, wobei “She moves gazelle-like” für mich ein bisschen komisch klingt. Als Teil eines längeren Satzes könnte es allerdings schön sein: “She moves, gazelle-like, through the tall grass” oder sowas.

Hier einige ganz unterschiedliche Fragen…

Also “Art und Weise” hört man ziemlich oft als fixe Phrase, wie “auf eine _______ Art und Weise” – kommt “Art” häufiger vor, wenn nur eins von dem Paar verwendet wird? Gibt es Fälle, in denen man lieber “die Weise” benutzt?

Weißt du, ob das Adjektiv “arm” (Gegenteil von “reich”) auch etwas mit *ar- zu tun hat?

Mir ist aufgefallen, dass “der Artist” in der Vokabelliste steht, du hast jedoch gar nichts im Post drüber geschrieben. Hat der Begriff auch mit der aus *ar- stammenden “Arm-artikulieren-Artikel”-Bedeutung zu tun oder wie?

5 years ago

Instead of “The problem wasn’t what he said but how/the way he said it.” I would say either “It’s not what he said but how he said it” or “It’s not what he said but the way he said it”.