Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

Origin of the Word ‘Hamburger’

 Happy Fourth of July!In the 13th and 14th centuries Turkic tribes known as Tatars roamed across the plains of what today is Russia. They were known for chopping meat (probably because it was tough), mixing it with spices, and eating it raw. This idea gravitated to the German town of Hamburg, which became famous for its beefsteak Tatar, ground beef served with onions and spices without benefit of the flame. When this ‘Hamburg steak’ reached the US, it was generally served cooked. The term Hamburger steak first appeared in the January 5, 1889 edition of the Walla Walla (Washington) Union. The steak was soon dropped but it wasn’t until the 1930s that the word cheeseburger appeared and by 1939 hamburger had been shortened to burger. At that point, a flood of compounds with this new word began to appear: fishburger, turkeyburger, baconburger, and so on and on and on. (Today’s word is courtesy of Dr. Goodword, himself a Lewisburger celebrating our nation’s birth today in his hometown, Lewisburg, PA, USA.)

9 Responses to “Origin of the Word ‘Hamburger’”

  1. Kat Says:

    Dear doctor,

    I’d like to add one comment. As far as I know Tatars were not Turkish tribes, but Turkic. I suppose there is some difference between ‘turkish’ and ‘turkic’. Please, correct me if I’m wrong.


  2. zmjezhd Says:

    Funny, I always assumed that the US hamburger was an adaptation of the German snack known variously as Frikadelle, Klopse, or Buletten. They’re made of ground beef or pork and have many more ingredients, and they’re fried. They taste, on the whole, better than hamburgers.

  3. Ken Otto Says:

    Actually the term “Hamburger” refers to the German immigrants, from Hamburg Germany, that came to New York in early 20th century where they used to fry meat balls (types of frikadellas) with onions to sell in the street. They found that it was a messy meal to sell to people and someone decided (know one knows exactly who) to press down on the meatballs while cooking (to decrease cooking time) and served them between slices of bread or rolls. Thus the hamburger.

  4. Henry M. Hope Says:

    I am wondering what is the true origin and root of the word, “source.” Joseph Shipley’s DICTIONARY OF WORD ORIGINS (1945)traces another similar word, “sorcerer,” but never mentions
    “source” in connection with it. Shipley did not trace the word “source” at all.

    Recently, on PBS. pop lecturer Dr. Wayne Dyer briefly connected “source” with “sorcerer,” in an effort to persuade his audience that the latter was not pointing to something scary.
    I fear this was “pop etymology” or worse.

  5. rbeard Says:


    Your instincts are correct: ‘source’ and ‘sorcerer’ are unrelated. ‘Source’ came via French from Latin surgere “to rise”, originally based on sub “(from) under” + regere “to lead, regulate”. ‘Sorcerer’ came via French ‘sorciere’, from Latin sortiarius ‘sorcerer’, from Latin sors, sortis “lot, fate, fortune”.

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  7. Fureri de Despate Says:

    Let’s assume a female client walks in and seems to be in fear and terror. If a patient remained obdurate, then he or she would be threatened with expulsion from the hospital. People who are stuck often behave out of defenses built in early life and outside the realm of awareness.

  8. Ron Thacker Says:

    I came to this site because I was curios about the word “hamburger”. Many languages, especially Romance, Germanic, and other European ones have this word, sometimes with this spelling and pronounced similarly. I am guessing that since English is spoken in so many places that this is a borrowed word in those languages. Is that why McDonalds has had international success?

  9. Robert Beard Says:

    I think so. Did you see our Good Word hamburger?

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