Wolfgang Pfeifer (Etymologist)

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Wolfgang Pfeifer (born December 3, 1922 in Leipzig ; † July 9, 2020 in Berlin ) was a German Germanist and linguist .


Wolfgang Pfeifer studied German, Nordic , English , historical linguistics and history. After completing his doctorate at the University of Leipzig in 1950, he did research at the Academy of Sciences in Berlin, where he worked from 1949 to 1960 at the German dictionary of the Brothers Grimm . In 1961, together with other collaborators, he received the national prize of the GDR first class for completing the German dictionary (see 1961 award winners ).

Pfeifer has published numerous articles on linguistics, language and word history and lexicography . The Etymological Dictionary of German , which was created under his direction by a collective of eight to ten authors at the Berlin Academy and appeared in the first edition in May 1989, has been updated since then, most recently online as a component in the digital dictionary of the German Language .

Wolfgang Pfeifer, father of two daughters from his first marriage and widowed, had been married to Gerlinde Pfeifer since the 1980s , who also belongs to the collective of authors of the Etymological Dictionary of German. Pfeifer lived in Berlin.

Hans Magnus Enzensberger saw him as the most important German etymologist alongside the Brothers Grimm, Hermann Paul and Friedrich Kluge .

Publications (selection)


  • Dictionary of German animal names. Insects. 1–6. Akademie-Verlag , Berlin 1963–1968. [Work discontinued as "politically irrelevant".]
  • Dictionary of German animal names. Supplement 1: Beetles. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1963.
  • Dictionary of German animal names: Supplement 2: Cockroach. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1965.
  • Dictionary of German animal names. Supplement 4: Spanish flies and Mayworms: Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1966.
  • Etymological dictionary of German (editor)
    • 3 volumes: Akademie Verlag, Berlin. 1st edition 1989, 2nd edition 1993.
    • Single volume: dtv , 1665 pages (thin print). 1st edition 1995, 2nd edition 1997, further editions, around 6th edition, Munich 2003 (= German volume 32511).
    • Single volume: Akzente Verlagshaus, 2010, 1665 pages, ISBN 978-3-941960-03-9 .
    • Digital: Part of the DWDS , based on the 2nd edition of the three-volume version from 1993.
  • with Heinrich Marzell and Wilhelm Wissmann : Dictionary of German plant names. 1943-1979.


  • The German dictionary. In: Deutsches Jahrbuch für Volkskunde 9 (1963), pp. 190–213 (= Jacob Grimm on the 100th anniversary of his death. Festschrift of the Institute for German Folklore ).
  • History and criticism on lexicography at the academy. In: Inheritance, Legacy and Commitment. On linguistic research in the history of the AdW of the GDR (= Language and Society 10). Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1978, pp. 119-131.
  • Middle Latin dictionary and German etymology. In: Philologus 123 (1979), pp. 170-173.
  • Adelungs position on etymology in his dictionary. In: Werner Bahner (Hrsg.): Language and cultural development in the field of view of the German Late Enlightenment. The contribution of Johann Christoph Adelung . (= Treatises of the Saxon Academy of Sciences . Philological-historical class , vol. 70, no. 4). Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1984, pp. 233-238.
  • Report on the Etymological Dictionary of German. In: Current Trends in West Germanic Etymological Lexicography 1993, pp. 77-89.

Individual evidence

  1. DWDS: In memory of Wolfgang Pfeifer , obituary of the project digital dictionary of the German language , accessed on July 27, 2020.
  2. Hans Magnus Enzensberger: He was a successor to the Grimms and put on a magic hat in the GDR , NZZ of March 14, 2019.
  3. a b Etymological dictionary of German dwds.de