Home » German » Literal Translation of “Roller Coaster” in Languages Across the Globe

Literal Translation of “Roller Coaster” in Languages Across the Globe

If you had to name a new invention, how would you go about it? Would you come up with a term that reflected its physical appearance? Its function? Its history or origins? The feeling or effect of the invention? This challenge was faced pre-21st century with the invention of what is now known, in the English-speaking world at least, as the roller coaster. What about in other languages? What terms did they come up with for this invention?

Russian Mountains

There are several languages around the globe that refer to roller coasters as ‘Russian Mountains.’  This has been attributed to the origins of the roller coaster.

The predecessor to the modern-day roller coaster started in Russia in the 14th century. Although this ride was much simpler than its modern counterpart —a large ice-covered, man-made hill that was used to slide down on bobsled-like objects—, it was this idea that was brought to France in 1804. Despite the original name used in Russia (‘flying mountains’), the ride was introduced in Paris as Les Montagnes Russes. On the heels of this first ride, a second such ride was opened, this time under the name Promenades Aériennes (‘Aerial Walks’) (Pescovitz 2017).

The earliest roller coasters were large ice-covered slides made of wood.

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Although either term, Russian Mountains or Aerial Walks, could have in theory lived on in French, Russian Mountain was the one that stuck not only in French, but across nearly all of the Romance languages: montaña rusa (Spanish, Galician), montanha russa (Portuguese), montagne russe (Italian), muntanya russa (Catalan), muntogna russa (Romansh).

Beyond the Romance languages, russian mountain is also the term used in Bulgaria (руска планина/ruska planina). This is not surprising given that Bulgarian, despite being a Slavic language, has taken several loan words from the French language (Sakareva 2006).

Trains and Railways

One of the next steps in the development of the roller coaster took place in the 19th Century with the Mauch Chunk Switchback Railway in Pennsylvania. This railway started out as a means to move coal, but eventually had people paying to ride down the rails for fun (Pescovitz). Following along with this concept of railways and trains, there are several languages with terms that make reference to these concepts.

File:Mount Pisgah plane looking up.jpg

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The Turkish name for roller coaster is hız treni (‘speed train’) or lunapark hız treni (‘amusement park speed train’) ( In Greek: τρενάκι σε Λούνα Παρκ/trenáki se Loúna Park (‘little train in amusement park’)( Broken down further, ‘little train’ is actually the traslation of the first word above: τρενάκι. Train (τρενα) + diminutive suffix (-ακι) (Ourania).

Both in Turkish and Greek, the word for amusement park is Luna Park. This could be attributed to an amusement park that opened in Coney Island, New York in 1903. Following this amusement park, several others with this same name started popping up, ultimately becoming used as the term for amusement parks in certain languages, including Turkish and Greek, although in Turkish the literal translation of amusement park is also used (eğlence parkı)(

Metal Waves

Plunging further into the history of roller coasters, we see the development of steel roller coasters in the mid-century (Pescovitz). Hungarian refers to roller coasters as ‘wavy iron roads’ (hullámvasút). This term refers not only to the material used to construct these new non-wood roller coasters, iron (út), but also to the concept of a railway. Vasút is the word for railway in Hungarian (iron (vas) + way (út))(


The following languages have selected terms that reference the traditional figure-8 shape of early coasters. In Italian and French, there are two words for roller coasters: russian mountains and, in Italian, ‘flying eight’ (ottovolante), and in French,  ‘great eight’ (grand huit)(

The term in German is Achterbahn (‘eight-like way’). Although hard to provide a precise literal translation, this word can be broken down into three parts: acht-er-bahn. Acht is the number eight; -er is a suffix that can be attached to nouns to form an adjective; and Bahn has several meanings, all relating to some type of pathway: U-Bahn (subway), S-Bahn (commuter train), Autobahn (highway), Bahn (railway/train), Bahnhof (train station)( So, essentially, describing a path as being in the shape of an 8.

Not surprisingly given their geographical and linguistic proximity, the Dutch also refer to their coasters using the similar term Achtbaan.

Going back to the Germans, although Achterbahn is the most widely-used term for roller coasters, another, perhaps more outdated term, is Berg-und-Tal-Bahn (‘mountain and valley path’), which leads us to the next grouping of languages.

Mountain and Valley Path

In both Norwegian and Swedish, roller coasters are referred to as ‘mountain and valley paths’: Berg-og-dal-bane (Norwegian) and Berg och dalbana (Swedish).

Although I found some information indicating that the origins of this name could have come from the fact that mountains and valleys were painted on these rides, I was unable to find sufficient reliable information to confirm this.

Along this same vein, the Czech language refers to their roller coasters simply as ‘mountain paths’ (horská dráha). Dráha is used in Czech for a running track, trajectory/path (e.g. career path) and railroads. Interestingly, although they don’t use the term Russian Mountains to refer to roller coasters, they do for some reason refer to Ferris Wheels as ‘russian wheels’ (ruské kolo)(

Now that we’ve  come this far, you may be asking yourself, “What about the Russians?”

American Slides

The early name given to these rides (‘flying mountains’) in Russian didn’t stick for whatever reason and instead they became known as ‘american slides’ (американские горки). Although this may seem random at first, this name could be based on the fact that America was where the roller coaster really took off and developed into the rid it is today.

Either way, it is also interesting to look at some of the other countries that were former parts of Russia, many of which also refer to roller coasters as ‘American Slides’: ameerika mäed (Estonian) and америка́нські гі́рки (Ukrainian).

Although not an American slide, the Danish refer to roller coasters using the term Rutsjebane (unofficial but also used spelling: Rutschebane), which literally means ‘slide’ ( This is in fact the same exact word for a playground slide.

The Creatives

This category covers languages that have opted for more unique terms. Although Japanese uses a simple transliteration of roller coaster (ローラーコースター), the language also has a second word used in certain regions of Japan to refer to roller coasters: a ‘jet coaster’ (ジェットコースタ). And if that doesn’t sound intense enough for you, the term in Japanese for thrill rides in general translates as something along the lines of ‘shout/scream machine’ (絶叫マシン).

Even more intense yet are the ‘trains of death’ in Croatian (vlak smrti).

Big Dippers and Roller Coasters

Coming back to English, how did we end up with “roller coaster”? As mentioned above, Figure-8s were common in early parks, with other similar rides being named Centrifugal Railway. Why didn’t we end up with one of these terms instead?

There are several potential explanations for the name in English. One refers to a specific design of ride that involved tracks with rollers placed on them so that sleds could coast over the tracks. Another theory takes us to Haverhill, Massachusetts, basically with the same idea. The owners of a roller skating rink opened the “Roller Toboggan” ride, with sleds sliding down rollers on a track. The owners of this ride claim that they were the first to start using the term roller coaster (Dreamer  3).

Although in modern-day America roller coaster is the clear winner, in British English, roller coasters are referred to as Big Dippers. Historically they were also referred to as switchbacks, although from what I understand, you would sound quite dated and old-timey if you used this term nowadays.

If you spot any errors, have any other languages to add, or happen to know the equivalent of the expression “an emotional roller coaster” in English in any another language, please comment below!


Den Danske Ordbok

Dreamer, Randy J. Roller Coasters! Record Breakers & Fan Favorites.



Ourania. Make it small with Greek diminutives. Transparent Language

Oxford Dictionaries. s.v. “Big dipper.”

Pescovitz, David. Encyclopedia Britanncia. s.v. “Roller coaster.” Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 2017.

Sakareva, Ivanka. Changes in the Bulgarian language during the centuries: Impact of different cultures on the language in the past. TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16 (2006).

Sesli Sözlük. s.v. “Roller coaster.”

Sztaki Szótár

Tureng. s.v. “Roller coaster.”


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