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How to insult someone in Austria

Paul Gillingwater · 23 May 2014, 15:57

Published: 23 May 2014 15:57 GMT+02:00

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Austria is a very polite society. Perhaps not quite as polite as the British. I'm pretty sure that Austrians wouldn't have formed an orderly queue for the lifeboats while the Titanic sunk, as the British are reputed to have done.

But beneath a veneer of polite respectability, Austrians have curated a wonderful catalogue of abuse, insults and general invective, to be used liberally when annoyed, angry, or just plain 'ornery'.

Starting at the milder end of the spectrum, a "Huankind" might be best translated as "son-of-a-bitch." Not exactly fighting words, but clearly indicative of an obstreperous frame of mind.

To escalate matters, and especially when referring to their Teutonic neighbours to the west, Austrians will not refrain from calling a spade a spade, or calling a German a "Piefke". There's no direct translation but it's generally believed to be a typically Prussian surname, dating back to the German War of 1886. 

Third on the list is "Foitrottl" - a contraction of "Volltrottel", loosely translated as "complete idiot." Slightly more affectionate than most, this can be reflexively applied when the speaker has done something stupid, along the lines of "Ich bin selbst ein Volltrottel" ("I'm a complete idiot"). 

Presumably, this is the expression used when you realize the last lifeboat has just left, and you're not on it because you were too polite to jump the queue.

Fourthly, and this has enjoyed increasing frequency with the variety of politicians' faces plastered on posters across Austria ahead of the elections, the German word "Backpfeifengesicht" - a face deemed to deserve a good slapping.  (Although some prefer "Watschengesicht.")

While not exactly an insult, you'd have to be a "Dodl" (fool) to not enjoy the economy of usage contained in such an elegant word. And it's more satisfying than giving someone an "ear fig" (Ohrfeige). 

Finally, the classic "Leck mich im Arsch" - loosely translated as "Kiss My Ass" - has a wonderful pedigree as a general all-purpose insult, for use in both low and high society.  

Story continues below…

It reached its apogee in the late 18th century, when a certain Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed a delightful sextet with three part rounds.  

This enlightening and loquacious piece, catalogued as Köchel number K.231, has enchanted musicologists and music students with its scatalogical sense of humour for hundreds of years. Enjoy.

Paul Gillingwater (paul.gillingwater@thelocal.com)

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