meaning both “economy” and “pub”/“restaurant”
Back in the days, when I watched my father reading the Wirtschaftsnachrichten (“economy news”), I honestly thought he was trying to get informed about new restaurants in town. The German language offers a bunch of seemingly unexplainable homonyms like Kiefer (meaning both “pine” and “jawbone”), Schuppen (“shed”, “dendruff”) or Hahn (“tap”, “cock”—the one that makes cock-a-doodle-doo, not what you think). However, the “economy”-”pub”-confusion was the one that struck me most when I was young.
From what I could find, the “pub” concept is the original one, if you so will, but it has undergone an extreme expansion of meaning over time. A Wirt is simply a “host”, while the second syllable -schaft is cognate to “-ship” as in the English word “friendship”. So in its purest form, you could translate Wirtschaft to something like “hostship”. The concept of someone who hosts and takes care of a public house has later been transferred to housekeeping in general, subsequently to farming and agriculture, and eventually to the totality of human activity and the tools and facilities required to satisfy needs.
If you are an English speaking person who turns up your nose at strange German homonyms: note that the etymology of the English word “economy” follows a surprisingly similar concept, deriving from greek oikos (“house”, “household”) and nemein (“to allocate”). Apart from this, I will not take it from someone who uses the same word for a ball hitting device as for a flying mammal.