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The German Wikipedia page for Nazi claims that the word Nazi is a diminutive form of Ignatius (Ignatz). The cited source is etymonline.com:

The 24th edition of Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache (2002) says the word Nazi was favored in southern Germany (supposedly from c.1924) among opponents of National Socialism because the nickname Nazi (from the masc. proper name Ignatz, German form of Ignatius) was used colloquially to mean "a foolish person, clumsy or awkward person." Ignatz was a popular name in Catholic Austria, and according to one source in World War I Nazi was a generic name in the German Empire for the soldiers of Austria-Hungary.

The page also states the commonly held belief for the origin of the name:

1930, noun and adjective, from Ger. Nazi, abbreviation of German pronunciation of Nationalsozialist (based on earlier Ger. sozi, popular abbreviaton [sic] of "socialist"), from Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei "National Socialist German Workers' Party," led by Hitler from 1920.

It also mentions the year 1903 as another (slim) possibility for the first known use of Nazi.

I find this new explanation rather dubious at this late date. There is also only a difference of six years between it and the generally accepted version.

A book called The Etymologicon apparently has a related entry:

Nazi – an insult in use long before the rise of Adolf Hitler's party. It was a derogatory term for a backwards peasant – being a shortened version of Ignatius, a common name in Bavaria, the area from which the Nazis emerged. Opponents seized on this and shortened the party's title Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, to the dismissive "Nazi"

Can anyone confirm if the Ignatius theory holds water and if Ignatz was ever used to refer to a "foolish person" from Austria?

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    Sounds to me like the Nationalist Socialist German Worker's Party was what it was originally coined as, and opponents decided on the other meaning to ridicule them. – Rory Alsop Nov 7 '12 at 17:19
  • @RoryAlsop I've added a further reference. – user7920 Nov 7 '12 at 17:26
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    As a native speaker of German I can say: "Ignatz" is a rarely used colloquial term for nicknaming somebody as "a foolish or awkward person", answering the second part of the question. The "z" in Nazi is pronounced like the "tz" in Ignatz, so both are pronounced the same. Nazi is pronounced like the beginning of "National" in NSDAP. – Konsta Nov 8 '12 at 14:04
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    @Konsta Are you from a part where Ignatz is a common name though? Say, Austria or Southern Bavaria? I could imagine that “Ignatz” is (or was) used as an insult in those regions even if it isn’t in other parts of Germany. – Konrad Rudolph Mar 7 '13 at 11:40
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The Oxford English Dictionary elaborates:

Etymology: German Nazi (c1920), shortened Nationalsozialist or Nationalsozialistisch (see National Socialist adj. and n.). Compare French Nazi (1930). The spelling with z probably arose by analogy with Sozi (shortened Sozialist socialist n. and adj.).

The term was originally used by opponents of the National Socialist German Workers' Party and may have been influenced by Bavarian Nazi, a familiar form of the proper name Ignatius and used to refer to or characterize an awkward or clumsy person. The German form Inter-Nazi (shortened Internationale n.) which is attested much earlier may also have contributed to the adoption of the term Nazi.

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    Doesn't the spelling with "z" simply reflect the way the first two syllables of "Nationalsozialist" are pronounced? If it were spelled "Nati," it would look like it was supposed to be pronounced "Nathie," right? – purposeful porpoise Oct 1 '15 at 22:50
  • That is correct. It is a simply a voiced "s". But remember we need to cite sources. – denten Oct 2 '15 at 18:32
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    @denten more like ts. Otherwise it would've become Nasi "small nose". – Chieron Jul 14 '16 at 13:55
  • Right. Note "voiced." – denten Jul 14 '16 at 14:52
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    @denen: Chieron is correct: the German z is not a voiced s. It's not even voiced. It is an (unvoiced) ts. Think pizza. – TonyK Jul 14 '16 at 15:25
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Yes and no.
Nazi can be and was a diminutive form of the name Ignatius. In Bavaria and Austria is is no longer that popular in this form now.

To name a quite prominent example:

Johann Nepomuk Eduard Ambrosius Nestroy (7 December 1801 – 25 May 1862) was a singer, actor and playwright in the popular Austrian tradition of the Biedermeier period and its immediate aftermath.

Genres Out of the 83 recorded works of Nestroy, a total of some 56 were designated as some form of Posse, meaning a farce or 'broad comedy', including 32 Possen mit Gesang (farce with singing).

In his play Eulenspiegel (Nestroy, 1835) we find a figure called Natzi in the German version (PDF [here] (http://daten.digitale-sammlungen.de/~db/0005/bsb00050466/images/)4) or sometimes OCRed as Nazi in the Austrian version (archive.org). (Full text online on zeno )

One of his first lines in that play is

NATZI. So einen Eigensinn, wie die hat, den find't man nicht in alle fünf Weltteil', nicht in Europa, Amerika, Asina, Afrika und Paprika.
__transl__You can't find such a stubbornness in all five parts of the world, not in Europe, America, Asina, Africa and peppers.

Then shortly after

NATZI with piquancy to Mehlwurm. If we two stand next to each other, it is just like two flour sacks'; one is the reject, the other is the extract. With reference to Mehlwurm. The reject is the rough one, there is therefore little demand', that remains behind. With relation to itself. The extract is the best, it is sought, it is strong, that's why I go. Come d' Mrs. Mother! Goes off with Cordula to the middle.

We might read a lot of foreshadowing into that.

Anyway, there is quite some prior art for using Nazi to refer to a simpleton:

Google Books gives the examples of Nazi Semmelbachers hochzeitsreise, 1911 Auerbach's Dorfgeschichten, 1848

Most convincingly this pars-pro-toto usage is illustrated in

Arthur Michelis: Reiseschule für Touristen und Curgäste. Leipzig, 1869.
Denn das Heu, das seit Monaten einen Bretterverschlag gefüllt und irgend einem Nazi oder Sepperl zur Lagerstätte gedient, hat einen andern Athem, als das, Großstädtern bekannte, frisch gemähte, auf einer Wiese ausgebreitete.
__transl__For the hay that has filled a wooden shack for months and served as a deposit for some Nazi (Ignatz) or Sepperl (Joseph) has a different breath (air) than the freshly mown hay known to city dwellers spread out on a meadow.

The first use of Nazi to insult someone is older than the Hitler party. When they presented the name and ideas, that contraction 'came natural'. And it was partly embraced early on by party members:

"The Nazi-Sozi" by Joseph Goebbels, 1926 (Ten Commandments for Each National Socialist).

In 1922 Kurt Tucholsky then closes the circle to illustrate that Austrian provincialism and chauvinism is closely connected to the term:

Die »Nazis«

I am neither a relative nor a relative of the accused (we would both strongly forbid it) - but as far as the immigration of foreign elements is concerned, there is one case where I liked to climb onto the Berlin City Hall and, looking at the capital lying at my feet with tears fluttering around my eyes, would say: "You shouldn't have it! Namely the "Nazis" not Berlin.

Don't look at me, reader. Let us quickly agree that by the "Nazis," I mean that certain genre of the Austrian, Moravian, and especially Viennese artist folk, which begins to pollute the above-mentioned Berlin in the most violent way. But we don't want that any more.

I know exactly what an unfortunate role the Poznan-born Berliner plays on journeys ("Det is der Kölner Dom! Haben Se keenen größern?"). But no Berliner has ever been as cheeky and local-chauvinistic as this kind of "Nazis" (which I deliberately don't call Austrian, because Otto Weininger is one and Peter Altenberg and Karl Kraus and Alfred Polgar - but we agree who we mean).

The University of Vechta has a FAQ-like tidbit on the development:

The Illustrierte Lexikon der deutschen Umgangssprache by Heinz Küpper (Stuttgart 1984) states - in analogy with the Historical Dictionary of German Figurative Use by Keith Spalding (Oxford 1984) - "The abbreviation 'Nazi' referred in 1903 to the 'Nationalsozialen' under Friedrich Naumann. For the National Socialist first (?) documented by Kurt Tucholsky in 1923. In any case, Nazi propaganda minister Dr. Joseph Goebbels is not the creator" (p. 2021). –– The first known use of the word National Socialist is, by the way, even older; Cornelia Berning ("Vom 'Abstammungsnachweis' zum 'Zuchtwart': Vokabular des Nationalsozialismus", Berlin 1964, p. 138) she proves it for 1887 in the German Adelsblatt. Under the heading "Fürst Bismarck der erste Nationalsozialist" (Prince Bismarck the First National Socialist), it says: "The state is not, according to today's party system, a sum of individual wills, but the overall will as an expression of the National Spirit. Therefore, however, he knows, as only One God, also for the present only one reasonable party concept, namely, so one could say, National Socialism with the One Program of the Christian commandment of justice and love. The first representative of such a Unity National Party can be recognized in Prince Bismarck".
(Own translation, links added)

If the liberal Naumann raises concerns about word usage and proper history, perhaps National Socialism Before Nazism: Friedrich Naumann and Theodor Fritsch, 1890-1914 might help to better understand the word itself (but surely not the meaning of it in political analysis!).
(For completeness sake: the right-wing etymological conspiracy theory sometimes found on the web that the term nazi was coined by ancient Greek Jews is … complete confabulation relying on purposely misreading Nazirite.)

A related post on GermanSE https://german.stackexchange.com/q/32721/29694 reveals the widespread usage of Nazi in contrast to Sozi in Austrian newspaper from 1920 (example, example). But is seems that Nazi in these articles is of two almost different mothers: not really referring to German NSDAP members in the first but illustrating again the overlap of austro-fascism with provincialist chauvinism in Austria; in the second case describing tendencies in politics in Berlin. Before 1920 the term in Austrian newspapers is apparently reserved as a nickname for actual persons and as the character stereotype. (Most comics would have been overdoing it as "Nazis", src, 1903)

The above should prove sufficiently that the following summary is roughly correct:

The use of the term Nazi is a well-established convention in English. It emerged around 1924 among opponents of National Socialism, who borrowed it from the nickname Nazi (from the masculine proper name Ignatz, the German form of Ignatius), meaning “a foolish, clumsy, or awkward person.” The NSDAP briefly adopted the Nazi designation as what the Germans call a “spite word,” but they soon gave this up and generally avoided the term, considering it derogatory. Before 1930, English speakers had called the party members National Socialists, a term that dates from 1923. The use of “Nazi Germany,” “Nazi regime,” and so on was popularized by German exiles abroad. From them, the term spread into other languages and eventually was brought back to Germany after the war.

Anson Rabinbach & Sander L. Gilman (Eds): "The Third Reich Sourcebook", University of California Press: Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 2013, p 4.

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It is worth noting that the name or word "Nazi" does not appear in Hitler's book My Struggle [see Hitler, Adolph, Mein Kampf, translated by Ralph Manheim] nor does it appear in the speeches of Herman Goering [See Selected Speeches of Field Marshal Hermann Goring, available on Amazon Kindle]. Hitler Youth leader Melita Maschmann wrote a book about her experience entitled "Account Rendered." [Maschmann, Melita, Account Rendered: A Dossier On My Former Self, originally published in 1963, republished in 2016, Plunkett Lake Press]. Nowhere does she use the word Nazi either. Hitler's Table Talk, a compendium of conversations of Hitler from 1941 through 1944 does not contain the word "Nazi" either. [Bormann, Martin, compiler, et. al., Hitler's Table Talk, republished 2016]. All four sources refer frequently to themselves as "National Socialists" and their movement as "National Socialism," but never as Nazis.

In 1933 581 members of the National Socialist Party answered interview questions put to them by Professor Theodore Abel. I cannot find any example of them referring to themselves as Nazis. The original interview responses in German are online on the Stanford University Library web site. Many are translated in the 1975 book Political Violence Under the Swastika, [Merkl, Peter H., Political Violence Under the Swastika, 1975] but the use of the word "Nazi" in that book is by the author, and not by the 581 subjects who were interviewed by Professor Abel.

The first German use of the term Nazi is in 1926 in a publication by Joesph Goebbel called Der Nazi-Sozi [The Nazi-Sozi]. In that publication, translated at Elberfeld, Verlag der Nationalsozialistischen Briefe, 1927. [Publishing the National Socialist Letters] the word "Nazi" is only used in combination with "Sozi" to refer the National Socialist Party, the NSDAP.

In English newspapers the name "Nazi" referring to Germans appears to make its first appearance in 1930 in the New York Daily News. [See newspapers.com--being careful to check the actual publication date on the newspapers themselves] A biography of Hitler was published in American newspapers on October 12, 1930, for example on page 64 of the New York Daily News. There he is not described as a Nazi, but as a "National Socialist."

Prior to that there are references to an Italian minister named Nuncio Nazi, but he is not affiliated with Germany.

The National Socialist Party came into existence on January 5 of 1919. In short because the term "Nazi" first appears seven years after the founding of the Party, in Goebbel's pamphlet, and then only appears when linked with the word "Sozi" it appears that Nazi-Sozi was an abbreviation of National Socialism.

Because of the absence of references to the name "Nazi" in English language sources prior to 1930, the more logical explanation is that "Nazi" + "Sozi" was used as a contraction of Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or in English "National Socialism."

The "Ignatius" explanation, referring to Bavarians as Ignats or "Nazis" as "stupid Bavarians" is unsupported by evidence. It is unlikely that Goebbels would have used the term to describe the followers of National Socialism, or the leader of the Party, or himself, since he was not a Bavarian.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

  • Hitler 'was introduced' much earlier inquiriesjournal.com/articles/1129/… – LаngLаngС Feb 21 at 13:20
  • By "introduced" I mean that I can find no biography of him in English sources prior to that date. He is mentioned in connection with the Beer Hall Putsch, but I suspect that he was not of sufficient interest to English speaking audiences until his party made gains in the Reichstag in 1930. – Rod Sullivan Feb 21 at 21:10
  • It reads as if you have to source your assertions. Many numbers for years seem off to me (NSDAP came into existence in 1921? Typo or his is this?) "Never": I'd say 'rarely'? An easily accessible book would be the diaries of Goebbels. He mentions the term Nazi quite a few times to refer to his movement and its members. – LаngLаngС Feb 21 at 23:22
  • In January 1920 Anton Drexler formed the German Workers' Party. On February 24, 1920 the name of the party was changed to NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or National Socialist German Workers' Party). It wasn't until July 29, 1921 that Hitler took control of the party that it became more than a debating club. So the July 1921 date is significant. – Rod Sullivan Feb 22 at 15:20
  • I will have to locate a copy of the Goebbels' diaries to confirm your assertion. However, as I mentioned, Goebbels used Nazi in connection with Sozi in the sources I have seen, to reflect that he was a National Socialist and that his movement was National Socialism. It does not seem credible that he used the term Nazi to express that he and the members of his movement were "stupid and clumsy Bavarians" since he himself was not a Bavarian. – Rod Sullivan Feb 22 at 15:24

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