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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

8 ways Austrians get English totally wrong

As much as English-speakers might feel insecure about their Deutsch skills when faced with Austrians' comparatively widespread grasp of English, German-speakers themselves often mess up English - in some pretty hilarious ways.

8 ways Austrians get English totally wrong
Photo: Flickr

The mutual exchange of the German and English languages have led to such great developments as Anglos saying Doppelgänger or Wanderlust – and of course the wonder of Denglisch.

But there are some English words that Austrians and Germans have adopted into their vernacular – and then proceeded to mutate their meanings beyond recognition.

The Local brings you some of these often absurd mix-ups.

1. Bodybag

Photos: CJ Baker / Flickr Creative Commons. Wikimedia Commons.

What to English-speakers means the sack in which one sticks a corpse is actually to Germans something entirely different.

Google Bodybag in Austria and police might not find your search history suspicious at all, thinking you were just looking for a hip new messenger bag, rather than finding somewhere to stash your latest victim.

2. Public Viewing

Photos: Templar52 / Wikimedia Commons. AxelHH / Wikimedia Commons.

Another quite inappropriate misuse of English is the term Public Viewing.

When your grandmother dies in the English-speaking world, you might be invited to her public viewing to say your last goodbyes before she's buried.

But in Austria, getting an invitation to a Public Viewing means donning more colourful attire than black. The term actually refers to a public broadcast of a sports match or other big event.

3. Shitstorm

At times, “shitstorm” may be the only apt way to describe a horribly messed up or controversial situation in English. But while the word fits well in banter among friends, it's certainly not a word to use in polite conversation or in any formal setting.

That's not the case in Austria and Germany. Shitstorm is a favourite phrase among mainstream, daytime news broadcasters, as well as tabloids and more respected publications like Der Standard.

The word was even dubbed the “best English gift to the German language” in 2012 as the Anglicism of the Year by a group of language experts.

4. Streetworker

Photos: Tomas Castelazo / Wikimedia Commons. DPA.

In English, if someone is “working the streets”, they are certainly doing social outreach of some sort, but probably not what Germans have in mind. You might also understandably think the term refers to people who perform road repairs.

But a Streetworker in Germany is a social worker who conducts outreach programmes with people who otherwise may not receive health services, such as homeless people, drug addicts or youth members of gangs.

While in English the phrase “street worker” could also sometimes refer to social workers, English-speakers may more commonly assume the term refers to prostitutes, especially since it sounds a lot like “streetwalker”.

5. Castingshow

Photo: ORF screengrab, Die grosse Chance

This Anglicism actually does make literal sense, though it may still be a head-scratcher for native English speakers.

In German, a Castingshow is any sort of talent show where people audition and compete as singers, dancers, models or otherwise – like American Idol or Next Top Model.

English-speakers would tend to call these kinds of programmes reality shows.

6. Smoking

Photo: Paul Gillingwater

German is known for excessively long words, but sometimes – surprisingly – German-speakers take English words and simplify them into something that doesn't quite make sense to Anglos.

That's apparently how the German word Smoking came to be, meaning a tuxedo or formal dinner jacket, not the act of puffing on a cigarette.

7. Beamer

No, not one of these. Photo: HLW/Wikimedia

If an Austrian friend starts bragging about their nice new Beamer, don't get too excited for them – it's not a brand new BMW.

The word actually means projector in German and is derived from the English word beam, as in beam of light.

So when said friend invites you over to check out the Beamer, bringing popcorn is perhaps more advisable than getting ready for a joyride along the Autobahn.

8. Oldtimer

Photo: Bjenks/Wikimedia

Let's rent an Oldtimer! If you hear this sentence, you might think your Austrian friends want to borrow someone's grandparents for the day. But no, they're talking about a vintage car. The term Oldtimer is so commonly used in German that you can find it everywhere – in magazines, on exhibitions signs, and at car dealerships.

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

How to swear like an Austrian

We are certainly not advocating the use of these words, but they are important to know (in case anyone uses them against you). Here are some words you certainly shouldn’t use with the in-laws or around the kids.

A specific book listing Austrian words
An Austrian language (i.e. German) book. Photo: Wikicommons

Geil

We’ll start with a word so common you’ve probably even heard some embarrassing politicians use it as they try to get down with the cool kids. 

Geil is used to mean “cool” or “wow”. To show extreme approval, you can draw it out and say guy-el.

The word literally means “horny”. It is often used in the following phrase “ej, du geile Sau”, which is a pretty crude way of telling someone you find them attractive (hey, you horny pig).

Our advice: be careful with this word! As common as “geil” is in everyday slang, it could still cause your conservative father-in-law to choke on his Lebkuchen during Christmas dinner.

Kruzifix!

This one is a shout out to all the old Austrian men out there. “Kruzifix!” or “Sakrament!” is something you shout out in pain in the southern state if you’ve stubbed a toe or accidentally hit your finger with a hammer.

Our rule: don’t scream this word out in the presence of a priest. Avoid using on Sundays.

Mist

Here is a classic German joke for you: An American tourist driving through the countryside is lost. He pulls up at a farm and shouts to the nearest farm hand “Hey Mister, I need some help.” The puzzled farmhand replies “Ich bin nicht der Mister, ich bin der Melker.”

The joke being – a Melker is someone who milks the cows. A Mister would theoretically be someone who cleans out the Mist, the manure.

The word Mist, which you mutter when something has gone wrong, literally dung, is even an acceptable word for children to use and is equivalent to “flip or “darn it” in English.

Our advice: one to avoid if you’re trying to impress teenagers, otherwise safe.

Leck mich im Arsch!

Literally translated, this means “lick my ass/arse.” But for any of you budding sexy smooth talkers out there, it’s not to be used in an amorous context – it’s English equivalent would be “kiss my ass/arse”, although it’s perhaps a little harsher. 

For you classical music fans out there, it’s also the name of a Mozart canon composed in Vienna in 1782. As you can probably guess, it’s not one of his best-known works – think of it as the Mozart equivalent of a diss track. 

Our rule: It generally shouldn’t be directed at anyone you like. Other than in a classical music context, you’re most likely to hear it screamed by frustrated bus drivers or footballers. 

<em>A young Mozart, presumably about to have his mouth washed out with soap. Image: Wikicommons</em>
A young Mozart, presumably about to have his mouth washed out with soap. Image: Wikicommons

Schattenparker!

This word belongs to the fantastic tradition of making up insults to throw at people based on perceived cowardly behaviour.

A Schattenparker is literally someone who parks in a shadow. Sensible behaviour, one might think. Not to the hardy driver though – parking in shadow proves you can’t take the heat.

Famed members of this very manly collection are Warmduscher (warm showerer) and Frauenversteher (woman understander) – even if these should not exactly be insults.

You can make up just about anything to add to the list, as this website proves.

Our advice: throw in a few original ones at Christmas dinner and your future relatives will be cooing at the progress you’re making in German.

Vollpfosten

This word is the equivalent to the English expression “as thick as two planks.”

You use it to insult someone’s intelligence “Ej, du Vollpfosten”, which means “hey, thicko”, or literally “you big pole”.

Our advice: One to keep in your arsenal if a driver cuts you off on your cycle to work and then fails to apologise.

A book listing uniquely Austrian words
You won’t find most of these words in this book. Photo: Von DONT TALK TO MY CAT – Eigenes Werk, CC, Wikicommons

Scheiße

We all know the German word for shit, but one of its most appealing qualities is the fact that you can stick it to the front of just about any noun to indicate disapproval.

“Der Scheißkerl” means “that arsehole”, but you can add it to anything, really. Scheißwetter, Scheißaufgabe, Scheißauto (weather, task, car)… the possibilities are endless.

In Austria, the term “Geh scheißn“, is often used, which politely put is a command telling someone to go use the bathroom because you don’t care what they do.  A similar expression is “es ist mir scheißegal”, which means “I don’t give a shit”. 

Another colourful term is “Dir haben’s ins Hirn gschissen”, translated as “Someone must have taken a dump in your brain”.  

Our advice: have fun with this one, but keep in mind that non-German speakers are probably going to understand you. 

Viennese swear words

The Viennese dialect features a number of colourful swear words including Schiache Funsn (ugly woman), Heast du Beidl (you dick) and Oasch (Arse). 

A Schastrommel is a word describing a gossip who spreads bad news about other people .

Fetznschädl means “cloth head”, and can be used to berate a forgetful person. 

If you want to really up the Viennese feeling, simply add the term Oida to any swear word. It can be loosely translated as ‘dude’, but can be used in almost any situation. 

So one way to tell some one to get lost is to say: “Schleich di Oida”, which means, “slither away dude”. 

Arschkalt

A seasonally relevant one to end things. Literally “arse cold” – we’re not really sure why – but it’s a good way to hate on the long, grey winter.

Our advice: We don’t recommend swearing in front of someone you’ve not met – but on a cold winter’s day, all you need to do is nod and say “Arschkalt, oder?” and you’ll have a new friend. 

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