From Middle High German diuten, from Old High German diuten, from Proto-Germanic *þiudijanan. Cognate with Dutch duiden, Icelandic þýða (“translate”), Swedish tyda, Danish tyde. Related to Deutsch.


the German word for "German;" see Dutch.


From Middle English Duch (“German, Low Countryman”), from Middle Dutch dūtsch, duutsc (modern Duits (“German”)), northern variant of dietsc (compare modern Diets (“Dutch language”)), from Proto-Germanic *þiudiskaz (compare German Deutsch (“German”), Old English þēodisc (“of the people”)), from *þeudō ‘people’, from Proto-Indo-European *tewtéh₂.

See also Derrick, Teuton, Teutonic. Middle Dutch duutsc is the result of i-mutation (umlaut) typical of central dialects (Brabantine) while dietsc shows the merger of iu with io and weakening to [iə] typical of coastal dialects (Flemish). This led to doublets which split in meaning during the Renaissance.


Noun *tewtéh₂ f people, tribe

The reference to "Deutsch" means they are cognates?

If they are, the semantic change from "tribe" to "interpret" seems confusing.

  • 9
    Reminds me of the word for 'explain' in Hungarian: magyarázat.
    – user1344
    Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 5:49
  • 1
    Conversely, the Hungarian for the German language is "németül" -- or, language-of-the-non-speakers[mutes]. Commented Sep 27, 2012 at 20:13
  • Wikt. on *þiudijaną says "Origin obscure. Possibly a conflated word, partly from ..."; IMHO, compare dot, from a sense "bundle, group, clump" and point. deuten means also "to point, to point out".
    – vectory
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 23:38

3 Answers 3


The semantic extension goes like this: tribe -> explain to the tribe -> interpret. I expect the Hungarian case mentioned by @daf to have an analogous derivation.

  • Thank you!!!It is very helpful to know the common phenomena, although the meaning seems a little strange.
    – archenoo
    Commented Oct 13, 2012 at 15:36
  • I very much doubt this. The root of tewtéh₂ is not settled, so it's possible that *deuten and deutsch simply derive from the same root. It's possible that folk etymology, e.g. along your line of reasoning, obscured deeper, perhaps unrelated roots. Given my native intuition about the word deuten and its extensions, I'd rather consider *deyk- "to show, point out", whence dict- and disk (cp. Norse tysk "German") ... Also compare to tell, Ger. Trieb, treiben (e.g. "to grow", cog. drive), Stamm "stem, tribe", zeigen, Zeiger, Zeichen.
    – vectory
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 23:15
  • Also consider, if Czech Němec "German" derives from a sense unable to speak [Czech], then deutsch might derive from a sense able to speak [German]. das Volk "the people", folgen "to follow" would also be antithetic to show, lead, though that's a false cognate pair, as far as I know. translate, übersetzen also have a sense of movement, though the latter is probably a calque of the former. It follows that words like Bedeutung, Verstehen, understand and unterstützen or Verhalten, Benehmen, and Begriff are terribly difficult, as much as the denoted signs.
    – vectory
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 23:32

In duiden (Dutch) and deuten (German) the native speaker will 'see' in their mind's eye the pointing finger of a person explaining something. In Dutch this is exemplified by the verb aanduiden, which implies the indicative gesture even stronger.


Not quite contrary to your sources I would try to relate this to the root of teach, Ger. zeigen, Lat. digit or dict-. The set ührase is "Zeichen deuten" and deuten is otherwise synonymous with zeigen. The semantic derivation--preceding a probably folk etymologic reinterpretation towards "deutsch"--would be *deyḱ-, show > teach > teach language > interpreter [e.g. of records] > explain to the tribe > ...

Compare lector, "someone [able to, in the profession] to read"; doctor "?"; ein Deut, chiefly used in "keinen Deut besser" (not one bit better), imaginably from "kein' Deut verstehen" ("to understand not one Deut"). Looking at talk, PIE *del- I come to think, the sequence of derivation may well be different, as a comparison Latin debeo, habeo and lego, elect and delinquo may suggest, as the latter relates to PIE *leykʷ- (perfective "to leave") deriving words relating to "remains" and "inheritance" in various languages, and interpretation of cultural heritage through oral tradition and associated cryptic signs is what I'm riffing on.

Speaking of dict-, compare pregnant "pre+gnoss-", i.e. showing first signs, foreboding, foretelling, vs idiomatic Ger. dicker Bauch "big belly", akin to thick, but with only Germanic and Celtic derivations at the PIE level. I'm saying dick stems from a sense "in-dic-ation"; ironically, big is rather uncertain and likely pertains to the root *bhew-, that's often glossed "to swell", whence also Ger. Bauch, "belly". The wonders of life, ey? Venus figurines of big belly girls are among the oldest pieces of art we know, around 30.000 years old.

I also see "dick" here, comparing "digitus".

I'm not sure how *tewteH-, "strong, powerfull, mighty" figures into this. Maybe compare to tug, Ger. ziehen, Zug, PIE *dewk- "to pull; to lead" (Note the accent on ḱ for *deyḱ- though). For the Anlaut we can compare *(s)teH- "stand, set" on the one hand and *deH- "do, put place" on the other, with various extenstions around *(s)te- (for stiff, etc. etc.). Arguably, a prefix *(s)- could fortify a coda *deH- to *(s)t- > *t-. I'm betting on the prefix reflecting "ex".

Further compare dyke, "ditch", *dʰeygʷ- ‘to stick, set up’; The difference should be as small as between Ger. "Zeugs", "Zeug" and "zeugen"; (saying so because for dyke we observe "Lithuanian diegti ‘to prick; plant’, dýgsti ‘to geminate, grow’"; cp. Ger. Erzeugnis, "produce"; Further, cogante German Teich "pond", Latin fīgō "to affix" imply that Ger. angelegt relates, which pertains to seed beds as well as to ponds, further to clothes and eventually to ships tied in harbor"). Thus, "ditch" does remind of the above mentioned "leave" as well as of Lat. "lego", or rather Ger. "legen".

And then some ...

All that's to say, it--das Deuten--is yet uncertain.

  • Why was vectory's answer downvoted?
    – user31021
    Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 7:18
  • Because it is a long rambling mess that mostly doesn't answer the question and where it tried to, it's wrong. The root *deyk is not going to become deut- in German.
    – siride
    Commented Jan 5, 2022 at 18:20
  • @siride A long rambling mess? Whereas the development of PIE to Germanic was a short, clean (enirely regular, ha ha, not!) process? To the other point, you have to read "*deyḱ" as a symbol with meaning derived from its context. The given context is not focused on sound laws, so WTH are you talking about? If strict adherence to established sound laws inhibits your reading ability, I cannot help it. PIE *h₂éḱmō is also not going to become PBS *akmō and yet, here it is! smh
    – vectory
    Commented Jan 14, 2022 at 13:25

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