The word ‘Leuchtmittel’ is an all-embracing term:
Gegenstand, mit dem [besonders elektrisches] Licht erzeugt werden kann (z.B. Glühlampe, Neonröhre, Leuchtdiode) [Duden online]
We’re talking about the assorted lighting products that we screw or wire into light fittings, in order to create light. (What we’re not talking about is floral lamp shades.)
Finding an English equivalent is no easy task. There’s no immediately obvious way to convey the same breadth of meaning, and the online dictionaries are of little help. Beolingus offers us nothing; the good people at WordReference are equally clueless. Leo and dict.cc fare a little better, at least throwing up ‘illuminant’ and ‘lamp’, but we shouldn’t be too hasty to scribble these translations into our own work.
On the surface, ‘illuminant’ may seem to provide the nifty blanket term we’re looking for, but it really signifies any ‘means of lighting or source of light’ [Oxford Dictionaries Online], including things like oil for oil lamps. And when the term is used, this is generally in a scientific context reserved for boffin-types. (Your average Joe doesn’t head down to the supermarket for ‘illuminants’!)
‘Lamps’ is used by some lighting manufacturers to describe a variety of Leuchtmittel; the word is still problematic however. First and foremost, the term ‘lamps’ makes us think of light fittings: reading lamps, standing lamps, lava lamps, etc. So we would come a cropper if we tried to use ‘lamps’ as a straight-forward equivalent for ‘Leuchtmittel’ in all contexts. Lamps are primarily things we like to match with our home décor – Leuchtmittel less so…
Another translation we might consider is ‘bulbs’ or ‘light bulbs,’ as a considerable selection of Leuchtmittel may be described this way. We hit a wall however when our Leuchtmittel include things like fluorescent tubes and LEDs. Retailers of electrical goods do sometimes class these as ‘bulbs’ on their websites, but these aren’t what we generally think of as ‘bulbs’, as they don’t take the defining shape.
So what is the best translation?
The inconvenient truth is that there is no one word which expresses all that ‘Leuchtmittel’ conveys. Which term we choose therefore depends on context, but what we can conclude is:
· If it’s really necessary to pick one term, ‘(light) bulbs’ is probably the best option, as it covers a variety of Leuchtmittel quite nicely: halogen, fluorescent and spotlight bulbs etc.
· If however we’re talking about a variety of Leuchtmittel, such as incandescent bulbs and fluorescent tubes, it might be a bright idea (naff pun intended) to translate Leuchtmittel as ‘bulbs and tubes’ for the sake of accuracy.
It’s perhaps also worth bearing in mind that if we’re dealing with one type of Leuchtmittel exclusively, such as ‘Leuchtstoffröhren’ or ‘LED Leuchtmittel’, it’s possible to translate these simply as ‘tubes’ or ‘LEDs’ – here we don’t actually need the blanket term.
Hopefully this explanation has provided some enlightenment (har har).