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The word "Blitzkrieg" (German: “lightning war”) comes from a method of warfare used during World War II.

  1. Can the word "Blitzkrieg" be used in other contexts as well? For example: "Blitzkrieg approach to write code"
  2. Would the meaning described in (1) be understandable for an average native speaker?
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    Worth noting that a term which has so much connection with Nazi Germany may be insensitive, if not worse, in a number of situations. – Michael Harvey Mar 30 at 10:12
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    As an "average native speaker": I've never heard "blitzkrieg" used in conversation. IMO most people would understand it in written text. The word "blitz" is a better alternative that we use and understand. – D_Bester Apr 1 at 11:47
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    If you told me you took a "Blitzkrieg approach to writing code", I'd understand that your goal was to eliminate as much code as possible as quickly as possible, without taking into consideration possible consequences in long term future. I'd probably think of a coder I'd not want to work with. I am a native german speaker. – René Nyffenegger Apr 1 at 13:55
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    As the answers indicate, native speakers have an idea of what blitzkrieg means. BUT no native author would use a phrase like a "blitzkrieg approach to writing code" without explaining what it means, because it's just an analogy and the precise meaning is not obvious to native speakers at all. It provides only connotations.... so is this the question you really want to ask? If you're going to explain it anyway, does it matter if we really know the meaning? – Matt Timmermans Apr 1 at 21:35
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    @Mazura Please don't be extreme. You're a user on an English enthusiasts site, and this is not representative of many completely competent English speakers who have no need or desire to remember terms specific to WWII. – Azor Ahai -him- Apr 2 at 16:02
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In English blitzkrieg is also informally used to refer more generally to a blitz. I think, contextwise, the term would be intuitively understood.

A blitzkrieg is a fast and intense military attack that takes the enemy by surprise and is intended to achieve a very quick victory.

Journalists sometimes refer to a rapid and powerful attack or campaign in, for example, sport, politics, or advertising as a blitzkrieg. [informal] ...a blitzkrieg of media hype.

(Collins Dictionary)

A few usage examples:

From Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line By Michael Gibney - 2014

A blitzkrieg of tickets has piled up, two dozen tables—at least.This is where the hammer comes down. “Fun don't stop, boys,” Chef says. He reads off another ticket.

From Too Late.: How we lost the battle with climate change by Geoffrey Maslen - 2017

Earlier, human hunter-gatherers created what biologists call a 'blitzkrieg of extinctions' that killed off all the megafauna...

From A Decade of Delusions: From Speculative Contagion to the Great Recession By Frank K. Martin - 2011

The unintended side effect was a blitzkrieg of dubious, and sometimes extreme, financial innovations that became dangerously complex and interdependent.

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    +1 for 'blitz'. It's a common (American) football play ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blitz_(gridiron_football) ) where a large portion of the defense just rushes the quarterback. So usage of 'blitz' would be transferrable to any similar scenario when speaking to Americans. – Gus Mar 30 at 18:16
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    "Blitz" is also used in chess, to refer to a game with extremely fast time controls. – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Mar 30 at 23:22
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    They are not synomyms. I would describe the Gibney quotation as illiterate, no actual or symbolic war being involved. – user207421 Apr 2 at 2:41
  • @user207421 I'd dare say your reading of the quote is illiterate. There is very clearly and obviously a symbolic war going on: a war of the demands of the customers versus the capabilities of those working the kitchen. Many professional chefs can also be very demanding on-the-job, making it also kind of a war of the staff versus the Chef (meet his demands and expectations or get fired). Comparisons to war are common for any high-intensity, high-stress situation. – zibadawa timmy Apr 2 at 3:41
  • @user207421 I think the usage is fine. In fact all of the stated examples appear to use blitzkrieg as a synonym for torrent. They both relate to a swift and forceful outpouring of something which is why they are often used in a similar metaphorical context. Perhaps what makes blitzkrieg different from torrent is it's negative connotation (overwhelmed with issues, extinctions, poor business decisions) – Cole Apr 7 at 22:25
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As a native speaker myself, yes - I would say I do understand the term Blitzkrieg.

Without looking at your definition, off the top of my head, I would consider it to be a relentless or quick-paced approach.

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    The OQ asked for "average native speakers". I speak German and know about WWII, so my opinion doesn't count. – John Lawler Mar 30 at 17:35
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    Any "average native speakers" who give an answer from their own perspective have "answered the question"! – D_Bester Apr 1 at 11:45
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    Perhaps the stack needs a poll feature for cases where we're just counting heads... a mess of subjective answers like this doesn't really provide much clarity. – J... Apr 1 at 18:03
  • @D_Bester No. "Average speaker" is a statistical, normative measure of a collective. "One person" is one person. There's no average and no meaningful statistics derived from one data point. Just as most parents think their kids are smart, when definitional reality says half of all kids are below average, personal assertions of one's "averageness" are not at all useful in gauging information about a group. They could be underselling themselves, or arrogantly tooting their own horn, etc. etc. – zibadawa timmy Apr 2 at 3:46
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    @zibadawatimmy TL;DR feel free to say "this sort of answer is low-quality". It is utterly incorrect to say they "fail to answer the question". – obscurans Apr 2 at 4:26
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For the title question, "is 'blitzkrieg' understood by the average native speaker?", there are several ways to address this. One can rely on the introspection and experience of language experts (not just lexicographers but secondary school teachers and professional writers). My expectation of what they would say is that 'blitzkrieg' is most widely known as a historical term learned when studying WWII in high school (in both US and UK). In that, students are universally exposed to the word. However, many vocabulary items that one is exposed to are often lost without repetition. I'd guess that most college educated Americans would vaguely recognize it as something maybe having to do with WWII and maybe speed. The word 'blitz' is more well known (a football term for a fast attack); 'krieg' is not a recognizable word by itself, so the mental state upon hearing 'blitzkrieg' gets most of its feeling from 'blitz'.

But that is a qualitative explanation which only depends on your trust of my assessment.

A more quantitative result can be extracted from frequency counts of the appearance of the word. One can take frequency as a proxy for population understanding. If a word appears frequently, one can infer that more writers expect that the reader will understand it. Of course there are no guarantees and one is relying on are large number of instances of all words and of the target word to be sure.

Google NGrams is one source of frequency data.

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Google NGrams gives a big spike during WWII (0.0000500%) but then falls pretty quickly to bouncing around a third of the frequency all the way up to now. This rough frequency (0.0000150%) falls around the OED's Band 5 or 4 similar in frequency to words like 'galvanize', 'surreptitiously', 'Jungian', 'egregious', 'sequester'. It's not a perfect measure but it is in the ballpark.

Note that any corpus may have difficulties and Google NGram's are well known. But the data is trustworthy enough to say something vague like 'most people with a college education, with context, would understand what is meant, but not necessarily remember the history behind it'.

As to whether the word can be used figuratively and be understood, sure but it all depends on the construction of the sentence and context. For example 'scrum' is a well known word in software but the general American public unfamiliar with rugby may not get it at all.

Blitzkrieg approach for gettings things code.

is not a full natural English sentence so it by itself may be puzzling to a native speaker for many reasons and so it would be hard to gauge if the first word is the cause of that or something else. A more natural composition using those same elements would be:

We're using a blitzkrieg approach for coding things up.

Note also that I've been using the uncapitalized version 'blitzkrieg'. In German, a noun is always capitalized 'Blitzkrieg' but that is not the case in English orthography. In any case, the NGrams are almost the same shape for both.

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    @jsw29 "The London Blitz" wasn't a form of blitzkreig warfare. The former was a sustained bombing campaign; the latter was a form of land warfare that used tanks to perform high-mobility attacks, the most notable use of which was against France. – nick012000 Mar 31 at 0:00
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    "However, many vocabulary items that one is exposed to are often lost without repetition."...hmmnn, as a former teacher we used to have a dictum that recall of a new term required repetition of at least 5 times, and better 7. – Cascabel Mar 31 at 18:32
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    @Cascabel ...and not just in that first class. It needs to be repeated at intervals over life. I hear 'blitz' from sports all the time, and 'the Blitz' for bombing of British cities during WWII and much less often 'blitzkrieg' (because...I read more British things than invasion of France things?) – Mitch Mar 31 at 20:40
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    I find NGrams an interesting tool, but i do NOT understand the vertical axis AT ALL. Is it the fraction of all words written in tracked publication? If you do an analysis on a common word like "she", you get variations of the order of 0.2%. "he" will get you similar only about about three times oftener (0.6%). No suprise in the sexism there. But these are extraordinarily common words, so i did a search on "the", which comes up very similar to "he". Unless there are more Earnest Wrights out there than i thought, these fractions don't seem right to me, so i clearly don't understand the meaning. – Selene Routley Apr 2 at 17:25
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    Hi @SeleneRoutley Perhaps this kind of query might have a place on EL&U meta...here it only invites a discussion in comment, something which is discouraged. Looking forward to your post, as it is interesting. – Cascabel Apr 2 at 17:53
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It would be lowercase “blitzkrieg”. Older people will understand it, anyone under 20 or 30 is welcome to comment. Often abbreviated as “blitz”. “To blitz” is also used as a term for turning all kinds of vegetables or fruit into juice with a very strong blender, that usage is relatively new. And it has been used for years as a term for a very fast chess game under extreme time limits.

It’s not a word I’d recommend you to use outside of discussing war strategies.

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As a native english speaker, yes, I think most people would understand what blitzkrieg means.

The word blitz is also commonly used in American football to describe a play where the defense aggressively rushes the quarter back, hoping to tackle him and end the play quickly before they throw the ball. This concept is very similar to blitzkrieg in that you are seeking to quickly and aggressively shutdown your opponent through use of intense force. In this sense, I think most Americans would be able to infer the meaning even if they were not familiar with the word.

I would also note that blitz or blitzkrieg can sometimes carry the connotation of being messy or leaving behind a trail of chaos/disorder. I would keep this in mind when using the term.

I also happen to be a programmer, so I'll throw in my two cents with regard to your second question. If someone said they had a "blitzkrieg approach to coding" I would assume that it was a rapid, intense, and highly focused method. I would be slightly worried, however, that such an approach might be too focused on getting results as fast as possible and might produce messy or hard to maintain code by favoring speed over readability, portability, maintainability, or other factors that are important for software health but not necessary for producing immediate results. These concerns are tied to the negative connotation that I mentioned earlier.

Finally, some people have raised concerns that blitzkrieg could be interpreted as being offensive. From an American perspective, I do not think the average person would take offense at its use.

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    As a fellow American (and a Jew, even) I agree with all your points, including the last one. Unfortunately, not many Americans seem to fit into the "average person would (not) take offense" category anymore. It's quite fashionable to take offense at everything. Witness the (expected) list below of people taking offense at my comment. – FreeMan Apr 2 at 16:39
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    @FreeMan An astute observation. It is astounding how so many people these days feel offended by seemingly innocuous statements which do not impinge on them directly, just their sense of "social justice". My worry is that if we make these words taboo it will only contribute to the erasure from memory of the larger issues, as witnessed in "holocaust denial". – Cascabel Apr 2 at 18:07
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To answer point 2 of your original question—I'm a software engineer and "Blitzkrieg approach to writing code" sounds a bit odd to me. As user 66974 said, blitzkrieg is often used colloquially to mean a "rapid and powerful attack or campaign"—in other words, it tends to be used in contexts where the such military metaphors as "attack" and "campaign" are also used. Those contexts include advertising, politics, and sports, but not writing code.

As an aside, in chess I've heard both "blitz" and "blitzkrieg" used but to the best of my knowledge they are not interchangeable in English chess jargon. Blitz means chess with tight time limits (often each side only gets five minutes for the entire game. Meanwhile "blitzkrieg" is another term for the scholar's mate: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scholar%27s_mate

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    A common idiom is "to attack a problem" so in this sense I would say one is attacking a problem by writing code which solves it. Seems like a reasonable enough fit for the attack/campaign framework to me, although I would agree it is an uncommon usage of the word. – Cole Apr 1 at 4:23
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The other answers have already explained that this is a term that most speakers of English would kind of, sort of, vaguely understand, even though it is not a part of the vocabulary that they use regularly. More, however, needs to be said about whether it is a good idea to use it metaphorically in the way that the OP proposes.

As the question itself states, the term stands for (1) a certain method of warfare, (2) which was used by Nazi Germany during World War II. Now, for some present-day English speakers, only (1) is the meaning of the term; they perceive (2) as a historical fact that is not a part of its meaning. In other words, they see blitzkrieg as a generic term for a method that can be used for both good and bad purposes. I suspect that most of those who associate the term with similar terms in football and chess are in this category. Some other English speakers, however, perceive (2) as a part of the meaning of the term; in their understanding of the term, it functions as a proper name for the particular historical events in which this method of warfare was used for evil purposes. Those whose understanding of the term is based on vaguely remembering what they have learnt in their history lessons are probably in that category.

For the people in the latter category, the term, by definition, stands for something bad, and they are likely to be confused if they hear it used metaphorically in a way that implies that it stands for something commendable. Because of that, such use of the term is ill advised.

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  • +1. But words like 'Nazi' are used metaphorically. So maybe ill-advised to use 'blitzkrieg' -in a commendable manner-; it may well be very appropriate for incommendable situations. – Mitch Apr 2 at 14:55
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The example you gave would not be normal English. Most people would understand the reference but the intended interpretation is not clear.

More common is "blitz" on its own. As a noun or adjective, it means done quickly when applied to a task or activity, with some extra connotations. As a verb, it means something got thoroughly destroyed or someone got extremely intoxicated.

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Both the Duden (the essential dictionary of the German language) - https://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/Blitzkrieg - and the german Wikipedia - https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blitzkrieg - describe the term "Blitzkrieg" exclusively in military terms.

Likewise, a search on a german-language set Google finds only military historic references on the first page.

So no, you can not rely on a native speaker to understand the term if you use it in a different context. Some people may make the connection, but many will not.

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