Why do the English call the German “Maß” stein?
Ever wondered why you call a stein a stein? You’re about to find out! The original German term was used first back in the late 1800s!
Every fan of Oktoberfest knows about steins. Those huge beer glasses that hold a whole litre of beer. Oh, how we love them! However, in Munich, they are not actually called steins. They are called Maß!
The first steins in Germany were actually called “Steinkrug”, which literally means “stone jug”. They were made of pottery or clay and usually had a lid, too, like this:
Any Germans amongst our readers? Ask your grandparents about this kind of mug – we bet you that 90% of them will have at least one of these in their homes. They used to be extremely popular as memorabilia – with an engraving on top of the lid tailored to the occasion you wanted to remember. In most pubs in Bavaria, people even used to have their own Steinkrug with a picture (usually a Christian-themed one) on the lid and they would leave them in the pub to drink out of their own mug every time.
These stone mugs were used at Oktoberfest until 1892, which is when the first glass steins were introduced. By 1893, glass steins replaced stone mugs for good. After all, glass is not as heavy as clay/pottery and you can actually see right away, if you’ve been poured the full stein! Nowadays, glass steins are standard for Oktoberfest both in Munich and all over the world.
One more thing to find out then: Why do Germans call it “Maß”? Maß was originally a measurement unit like litres or ounces. One Bavarian Maß used to be exactly 1.069 litres. Over time, glasses became more standardised all over Germany (and Europe), so that eventually a Maß changed to be one litre.
So, the word “stein” derives from the clay-based mug called “Steinkrug”, whilst a Maß used to be a measurement unit. Our guess is that “stein” was the easiest one of the two words to take over in English, also taking into consideration that the Germans have many more words for the same mug in different parts of the country.
Fun fact: Hitting someone with a stein creates a force of 8,500 Newton. Turns out crashing a skull only takes 4,000 Newton. If the glass actually breaks, this is due to wear and tear and the force not being as hard as originally. So, guys, please don’t hit each other with steins, just clink them to say cheers!