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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

9 simple things German speakers have way too many words for

Just as soon as you think you’ve mastered the German language, you may feel that confidence completely shattered after finding that there can be dozens of different words for one thing, depending on where you are in Austria or Germany.

9 simple things German speakers have way too many words for
Do you eat Pfannkuchen or Palatschinken? Photo: Paul Gillingwater

Regional dialects and culinary traditions can complicate the matter because everyone seems to stick to their own terms for slippers, or for what to call their particular “local cuisine” – even if it's essentially the same recipe as in the state next door.

Ordering a Pfannkuchen in Berlin might get you your jelly-filled donut, but doing the same in most other places in Germany will get you a pancake. In Austria however, you need to ask for Palatschinken.

Here are a look at some of the concepts that the German language could perhaps consolidate a bit, based on research by Spiegel Online, Tages-Anzeiger and the app “Dialäkt Äpp”.

1. There are at least 25 different words for hiccup

What’s the German word for hiccup? That depends on who you ask and where. You might hear the more standard Hochdeutsch (high German) term Schluckauf.

Or Hädscher is you’re in the region of Franconia in central to southern Germany. And venture even further south to hear Hecker, Schnackler or even Schnackerl in Austria.

And of course the Swiss have to put their cutesy -i ending on their term: Hitzgi.

2. There are 12 different words for a pancake

For an English-speaker, the term Pfannkuchen makes the most sense as a literal translation of pancake (Pfanne means pan, Kuchen means cake). But while this word is understood in most of the country to be a round, flat, pan-cooked treat, in and around Berlin the word actually refers to jelly-filled donuts. Berliners – as well as other east Germans – prefer the term Eierkuchen for pancake.

And it’s not just Berlin that has its own name for the fairly standard breakfast fare.

Das Omlett or die Omelette is preferred in the west, particularly near the borders with France, or around German-speaking parts of Switzerland.

And then there’s Plinse or Plinz, which is heard near Leipzig or along the Polish border, which is basically a pancake, though English speakers might call them blintzes.

In Austria, the term Palatschinke, or Palatschinken is used.

3. There are 12 words for a gingerbread man

We dare you to find another English term for gingerbread man, but in the German-speaking world, it might actually be hard to agree on just one.

The term Lebkuchenmann is almost never spoken in the far west of Germany, according to Spiegel, but it seems to be the standard in cities like Munich, Berlin and Hanover.

Weckmann or Weckmännchen is far more preferred in the Rhineland and southwest, while Stutenkerl (literally fruit loaf fellow) is preferred in the northwest of Germany. But the difference in regional recipes might be part of why there are various names: Lebkuchen is a spiced dough, more similar to gingerbread, while Stuten often has raisins.

The area around Stuttgart and Karlsruhe seems to have its own unique name for such a dessert: Dambedei.

Meanwhile the man-shaped festive treat enjoyed within Austria is named after the region’s sinister demon creature who punishes bad children at Christmas time: Krampus.

4. 15 words for what’s basically a meatball

If you’ve sampled German and Austrian cuisine, you know a lot of it has to do with ground meat, whether in a sausage or other form.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that there is debate about what to call what is essentially a meatball.

Frikadelle, if you live in central west to northwest Germany, but Fleischküchle if in the southwest. Klops or Kloss in certain parts of east Germany, especially around Leipzig. But Beefsteak is even quite common for both Leipzig and Dresden.

And Fleischplanzl or Fleischpflanzerl if in Bavaria, especially Munich. And when in Austria, ask for Faschierten Laibchen, commonly called Fleischlaberl.

5. Nine different words for making small talk

There are certainly a number of colloquial phrases for having a casual chat in English – shooting the breeze in the US or having a chitchat in the UK. But German speakers seem to really like thinking up words for this daily ritual.

Quatschen is a favourite in both east and west Germany, though not so much right in the middle. Ratschen is much more common in south Germany, while the north and northwest seem to like klönen.

Schnacken is also a fun one from the north, around Hamburg. And babbeln is a good one to throw out there when in Hesse or Baden-Württemberg. In Austria, it’s more common to hear tratschen.

6. ‘Slippers’ come in ten varieties

You might have learnt to call your cozy, well-worn slippers Pantoffeln, but not everyone would agree with this vocabulary. In Austria, you’re more likely to hear them called them Schlapfen.

You could call them the almost Dr Seuss-sounding Schluffen, but that’s really only used in the western Rhineland, and perhaps in Frankfurt.

Just referring to them as Hausschuhe will probably get you the farthest no matter where you are in the German-speaking world. But you might also be tempted to use this fun-to-say east German word: Bambuschen.

7. 11 ways to talk about a slingshot

Ok German speakers, how many words do you need for slingshot? Apparently at least 11: Schleuder, Zwille, Fletsche, Flitsche, Katsche and more.

Are all of them really necessary?

8. 14 ways to mash potato

Part of the great variety on this one is that Austrians and southern Germans often say Erdapfel (literally ‘earth apple’) instead of Kartoffel. And on top of that you can add the ending of -brei, -püree or stock, depending on where you live.

But then there are those Germans who live in the historical region of Upper Lusatia in the east near Poland and the Czech Republic who have their own word for the dish: Mauke.

9. More than 50 words for the end piece of bread

We at The Local struggled to find just one English word to define the end piece of a loaf of bread. But perhaps we should steal one from Germans, because they have at least 51 different ways to describe this concept.

Which one’s your favourite? Take your pick:

  1. Kanten – throughout Germany

  2. Kante – mostly Germany

  3. Anschnitt – mostly Baden-Württemberg

  4. Anhau – parts of Switzerland

  5. Kipf – mostly southern Germany, around Munich

  6. Kipfel – mostly southern Germany and Hesse

  7. Ranft – southern, central and eastern Germany

  8. Ränftchen – centre and east Germany

  9. Raftl – not so common: parts southern Germany and Austria

  10. Rankl – mostly Bavaria

  11. Rämpftla – Bavaria and Saxony

  12. Knorze – Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate

  13. Knorzen – Frankfurt

  14. Knust – throughout Germany

  15. Knüstchen – mostly central west Germany

  16. Knietzchen – the very centre of Germany

  17. Kniesje – near the border with France

  18. Knäuschen – mostly west and southwest

  19. Knäusle – mostly Baden-Württemberg

  20. Knerzel – Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate

  21. Knetzla – Mostly Cologne and Nurenberg

  22. Knerzje – Rhineland-Palatinate

  23. Scherz – parts of Bavaria and Austria

  24. Scherzel – parts of Bavaria and Austria

  25. Scherzerl – parts of Bavaria and Austria

  26. Zipfel – Vienna, parts of Switzerland and southern Germany

  27. Kruste – mostly western germany and Frankfurt

  28. Krust – Cochem, Rhineland Palatinate

  29. Krüstchen – mostly western Germany

  30. Kirschte – parts of west Germany

  31. Kierschtsche – parts of west Germany

  32. Korscht – parts of west Germany

  33. Kuuscht – parts of west Germany

  34. Kürstchen – parts of west Germany

  35. Knäppke – west and northwest Germany

  36. Knippchen – parts of west Germany

  37. Mürggu – Switzerland

  38. Mirggel – parts of Switzerland

  39. Muger – parts of Switzerland

  40. Mutsch – parts of Switzerland

  41. Küppla – parts of northern Bavaria

  42. Küpple – central Germany

  43. Köppla – parts of northern Bavaria

  44. Kübbele – central Germany

  45. Reifle – parts of southern Germany

  46. Riebele – mostly Baden-Württemberg, but also Bonn and Hamburg

  47. Rindl – parts of Bavaria and east Germany

  48. Chäppeli – Switzerland

  49. Chäppi – Switzerland

  50. Houdi -Switzerland

  51. Das Ende – various parts of Germany

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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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