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AUGH! From German to English

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

AUGH! It’s not just a cry of distress, it’s an anglicization.

German Ach cartoon

Aaugh - Charlie Brown & Lucy football

Augh! Why do we see lots of names ending in -augh? Baugh, Grumbaugh, Brumbaugh? A lot of these are German names, and that sure is not how they are spelled in German. What happened?

German has that sound and spells it as <ch>, as do the Scots, such as "It's a braw bricht moonlit nicht the nicht." (‘It’s a fine bright moonlit night tonight’, with each < ch > pronounced as the raspy kh.

Now when English speakers would hear German names with a -kh- sound like when you gargle, they needed a way to spell it, and they had one. Middle English had had that sound, and spelled it gh, and that spelling has continued, even after the English dropped the kh sound. Scots cruelly spells it with a < ch >, as we saw above. English used it as well for Irish words that originally had that sound- McNaughton, Dougherty, McCullough, McLoughlin.

And so when Americans of the 1700’s and 1800’s heard kh, they used their go-to spelling, and that is how an immigrant named Bach might wind up with the spelling Baugh. Or Back.

English words ending in -augh generally came to be pronounced -aw, and the German names have often come to be pronounced that way: Harbaugh, Grumbaugh and the like.

Sometimes, English speakers pronounce German < ch > as k, like Bach, or Shuhmacher or Shoemaker, or Hecht department stores.

English at its core is a German-based language, and many of our words are still very similar. Here are a few examples of where German has kept the kh sound and English has kept it- in writing only.

daughter vs. Tochter

slaughter vs. Schlacht

brought vs. brachte

thought vs. dachte

good night vs. gute Nacht

laugh vs. lachen

though vs. doch

German Baughman Graveystone

Here are some examples of where that shows up in family names:

Bachmann and Bauchmann (‘Creek-man’ and ‘Belly-man’) both may turn into Baughman.

Grünbach (‘greencreek’) and Braunbach (‘browncreek’) can become Grumbaugh and Brumbaugh.

Achenbach might turn into Aughenbaugh, Stambach > Stombaugh.

German -echt tends to anglicize into English -ight, such as Albrecht > Albright

The name Brechbühl has shown up as Brightbill. Or Brackbill or Brechbeil or Brechbill,

More than just the people changed as they came across the ocean. Always keep an eye open to names changing as they migrate!


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