I just saw a British made documentary about Heinrich Himmler with mostly native English speakers being interviewed. What struck me was that everyone (?) pronounced Third Reich with a "hard" C (=k) while they pronounced Heinrich Himmler's name with a soft C (in other words, the pronunciation was reasonably near how Germans would have pronounced it).

Until now I have always thought that native English speakers simply couldn't pronounce -eich as it should be pronounced but obviously that's not true so why do they always mispronounce "Third Reich"?

The people in this program were professors, PhDs and similar so well educated and should be aware of how "reich" should be pronounced.

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    Heinrice Himmler? I don't think that's quite right. What do you mean by "soft c"? In English, that's an "s" sound.
    – nick012000
    Dec 17, 2019 at 11:57
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    'Should'? Should all Anglophones pronounce 'Paris' the way Parisians do? The French even spell the English capital 'the wrong way'. But that's not why many voted for Brexit. Vive la différence. Usage drives acceptability. How do Anglophone pronunciation guides say 'Reich' is usually pronounced by Anglophones? (I've just checked in Macmillan; they give different prevailing pronunciations in the US and the UK!) And 'third' is not very German, either. Dritte? Dec 17, 2019 at 12:03
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    I've just checked in Macmillan; they give different prevailing pronunciations in the US and the UK! @EdwinAshworth: ahem, that's weird: the voice in British version pronounces according to the US transcription and vice versa. Dec 17, 2019 at 12:25
  • The Scottish word loch is familiar to most English people, but I expect many of us pronounce it lock when talking quickly, not because we don't know any better but because the correct sound doesn't come naturally to us. Dec 17, 2019 at 12:52
  • @KateBunting, yes, but we used to be able to pronounce it correctly. Most English words that contain "gh" originally had those two letters pronounced with that same "ch" sound. Dec 17, 2019 at 14:29

2 Answers 2


Reich has been in the English language for over two centuries, and thus has had time to assimilate to English pronunciation.

The OED ("Reich, n.") includes citations as early as the 18th and 19th centuries:

1762 P. Murdoch tr. A. F. Büsching New Syst. Geogr. IV. 4 The Empire [Ger. das deutsche Reich] is differently denominated as well by Germans themselves as by others. It is called the Reich [Ger. das Reich]..by way of eminence, as also the German Reich [Ger. das deutsche Reich].

1852 Times 6 July 6/4 It was the old court of appeal of the Reich, remarkable in its time, even among other courts, for its majestic slowness of procedure.

So it had two centuries to standardize its pronunciation to stay in line with other end-[ch] sounds. Greg Brooks categorizes these in his Dictionary of the British English Spelling System (available for free in PDF) as pronounced /k/ (irrespective of position), and examples include


broch, loch, pibroch, Sassenach (when pronounced with /k/ rather than Scots /x/)

stomach, triptych, pentateuch, diptych, distich

cromlech (in some dialects it's /x/ rather than /k/)

as well as all the fun words where it doesn't appear at the end, like Christ, chianti, schooner, and masochist (p.283-4).

Meanwhile, German names (Brooks notes Schumacher; you note Heinrich) tend to keep phonemes closer to their language of origin, especially if the person is not native English-speaking. For example, Brooks says that Schumacher keeps the /x/ from German (p.286). For Heinrich, educated speakers may pronounce someone's name from Germany with /x/ (I've heard that pronunciation), but note that transition to /k/ has been ongoing for people who emigrated from Germany some time ago. For instance, here is how one person insists the [ch] in the name "Michael Heinrich Horse" be pronounced: /k/. (YouTube)

  • What's more, people nowadays pay more attention to approximating the native pronunciation. Just think of instances where names were translated completely. For example, Georg Friedrich Händel – George Frederick Handel or John Lackland – Johann Ohneland.
    – Cacambo
    Jan 20, 2020 at 7:14

This is speculation; I don't have any solid evidence for it (except for the first sentence below).

The word Reich was fairly rare in the English language before the 1930s (See Google Ngrams). During World War II, I suspect people made no effort to pronounce German words correctly — possibly anybody who tried to pronounce it correctly would have been open to accusations of being a Nazi sympathizer. And after the war, the incorrect pronunciation was already too well established for it to change.

  • A similar point can be made about Heinrich though.
    – JD2000
    Jan 16, 2020 at 16:40
  • @JD2000: I expect the incorrect pronunciation of Heinrich wasn't widespread enough for it not to change after the war ended. Jan 16, 2020 at 16:42
  • Well I guess he would just have been referred to as Himmler or Herr Himmler so you may be right there.
    – JD2000
    Jan 16, 2020 at 16:47

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