Germanic Gets Sophisticated: High-Register Germanic-Based Roots in Standard English Usage


By J. Wes Ulm, MD, PhD

Medical researcher, physician, linguist, and author

Echoes of the Mystic Chords: A Novel, Book One of The Leibniz Demon Trilogy



A list of Germanic-origin“high-register” words in common use in the English language. While the more sophisticated, intellectual, legal, and technical registers of English tend to be heavily inhabited by Greco-Latin-derived vocabulary (as is also the case with Dutch and German to varying degrees), English also makes use of its Germanic wordstock for such communication, to a degree seldom appreciated. Unlike the everyday core of the language (which we pick up as children), the words below tend to be reserved for such high-level communication – they comprise the sort of lexicon you’d see in use for posh magazine articles, classic works, technical publications, and legal or business communications.



abide, abroad, adrift, afield, afoot, aforethought, afterglow, aftermath, aftershock, afterthought, agape, aghast, ailments, albeit, angst, arouse, awry, backdraft, backdrop, backfire, background, backlog, backtrack, baggage (Fr fr Gmc), balk, balloon (as vbOfr fr Gmc), bandwidth, bandy (about), barnstorm, baron (Fr fr Gmc), bearing, bedevil, bedrock, befall, behalf, behest, behold, belated, beleaguer, bemoan, benchmark, bent (as noun), bequeath, bereft, bespeak, bestow, betrothed, bewilder, bide, binding, birthright, blight, blinded (e.g. for a research study), blind spot, blindsided, bloated (ON), bloodshed, bloodstream, bluffing, blunder, blunt (as vb), body of water, bodybuilding, bond, bone marrow, booking, bookmark, brain, brainwash, brand (e.g. product), breadth, breakout, brethren, bridge (as vb), brinkmanship, broadside, browbeat, bumpers, burnout, business, busybody, bygone, bylaw, bystander, callow, caretaker, castoff, churn (noun, figurative sense), cleave, cleft, clever, clout, comeback, comeuppance, cow (as vb), crackdown, cripple, crumble, cutting-edge, dashboard, deadbeat, deadlock, dead end, defang, deft, demean, disenfranchise, dogged, dovetail, downdraft, downfall, downplay, downright, downstream, downtime, (rough) draft, dragnet, drawback, drift, driver, drumbeat, dry spell, earl, earmark, earshot, earwig, elder, embed, endgame, erstwhile, etiquette (Fr fr Gmc), evenhanded, everlasting, evildoer, eyewitness (law), fallback, fallout, fallow, far-reaching, fathom, feeler, fellowship, fickle, field, fieldwork, finding, firebrand, flagship, flat (music), fledgling, fleeting, flighty, flinch (Fr fr Gmc), floodgates, flow, flyer, footage, foothold, footing, foreshorten, foxhole, freewheeling, full-fledged, foresee, forestall, forgo, former, foremost, forthcoming, forthwith, frameshift, framework, fraught (with), fulfill, fulsome, furlough, gainsay, gait (ON), gatekeeper, gesellschaft (Ger), gestalt (Ger), ghastly, glaring (Du/LG), goad, goodwill, graft (multiple uses), grapple with, grasp, grassroots, gridlock, gripping, grit, groundbreaking, groundswell, groundwork, haggard (Fr fr Gmc), hail, hair trigger, hallmark, hamstring, handmaiden, handwringing, hardball, hardscrabble, hardship, hash (Fr fr Gmc), haunt (Fr fr Gmc), headhunter, headway, headwinds, hearing (legal sense), hearken, hearsay, heartburn, heartfelt, heartless, heartthrob, hedge, helm, henceforth, herald (Fr fr Gmc), hideout, highlight, highly, hilt, hindsight, hinge on, hobbyhorse, holdout, hoodwink, horsemanship, hotbed, hotspot, humdrum, hurdle, husband (as vb), husbandry, hustings, illness, in-depth, infighting, inlaid,  inroads, insofar, intake, ironclad, keen, keepsake, keyword, kickback, knotty, laggard, lagging and leading (e.g. indicator), laid-back, lambast (ON), landmark, laptop, lawmaker, layaway, layoff, leadership, leaflet, leapfrog, leeway, legwork, lest, listless, lithe, livestock, lockdown, lockstep, loom (as vb), lopsided, lowbrow, mainframe, makeshift, makeup, manifold, markdown, marked, masthead, meltdown, midwife, mindset, misbegotten, misfit, misgiving, mishap, misleading, misstep, mothball, newsworthy, nod (fig.), notwithstanding, nutshell, odds, offset, offspring, on the rise, ongoing, onslaught, open reading frame, ore, outcast, outcropping, outfit, outflank, outgrowth, outlandish, outlay, outlet, outlier, outreach, outstrip, outpouching, outskirts, outstrip, overbearing, overhang, overhaul, overhead, overlap, overlay, overload, oversee, overshadow, overshoot, oversight, overspill, overstep, overtime, overweening, ownership, packet, pathfinder, performance (Fr fr Gmc), pink slip, pithy, playbook, plight, plot, raft (of), rafter, rainbow, rambling, ramp up (Fr fr Gmc), ramrod, range (Fr fr Gmc), ranking (Fr fr Gmc), rat race, red tape, rider, rift (ON), right (as noun), rim, ringleader, rip off, roadblock, roughshod, runner (for a drawer), saddle, sandbag, sawtoothed, scattershot, schadenfreude, scoop, scot-free, screed, seamless, seaworthy, seesaw, set (as in math and data analysis), setting, settle, settle for, shackle, shady, sham, shame, sharp (music), sheath, sheen, sheer, shell game, shelve (as verb), shepherd (as verb), shift, shifty, shipping and handling, shock (esp. medical condition), shortcoming, shorthand, shotgun (scientific sense), showboat, showmanship, showroom, showrunner, shroud, shuffle, shun, shunt, shuttle, sideburns, sidelight, sidestep, sidetrack, sidle, skill, skirt (as verb), skit, skittish, skyrocket, slack, slacker, slat, slate, sleek, slick (as adj), sliding (as in scale), slippery slope, slipstream, slope, slump, smokescreen, sniveling, snowball, snowpack, souped-up, spadework, spearhead, splinter (as vb), spotlight, sprachraum (Ger), sprawling, spring-loaded, spur, staff, stakeholder, stalk, standstill, staple (food), steadfast, stealth, stent, stepped-wedge, sterling, stewardship, stilted, stoke, storm, straightaway, straw man, stride, string (in comp sci), stroke, strongarm, sty, swath, sway, sweeping, sweepstakes, swoon, tailspin, tailwinds, take stock of, teeter (Scandinavian), telling, telltale, tether, thorny, thoroughfare, thrash, thread, threadbare, threshold, thrift (ON), throughput, throwback, thrush, thwart (ON), ticket (Fr fr Gmc), topple, trade wind, trappings, treadle, trendsetter, trough, truism, trust (financial), trustworthy, unbecoming, uncalled for, uncouth, underbelly, underdog, undergird, underhanded, underlie, underpinnings, understaffed, undo, undoing, unfazed, unhinged, unmet, unmoored, unsettling, unsparing, unstinting, untimely, untold, untoward, unwitting, pend, upheaval, uphold, upkeep, uplifting, uproot, upstart, upswing, utmost, walkthrough, ward off, warden (Fr fr Gmc), wardrobe (Fr fr Gmc), warhead, warlord, warped, watchdog, waterfall, watermark, wavelength, waylay, wayside, wedlock, welfare, weltanschauung, welt (ON), welter (LG), weltschmerz, whereabouts, whet, whipsaw, whistleblower, whitewash, wholesome, widespread, wield, wildlife, wince, windfall, woo, working group (i.e. committee), workout, workshop, worldwide, wrongdoing, yardstick, yield, zeitgeist, zugzwang (Ger.)


Please feel free to quote from, print, and cite this essay as, “Germanic Gets Sophisticated: High-Register Germanic-Based Roots in Standard English Usage,” by J. Wes Ulm, originally published on Harvard University personal website, URL:  , © 2016.


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