German word of the day: Der Erdapfel

German is a notoriously difficult language to master. And to make matters worse, some things have different names in different German-speaking regions. This word is a prime example

German word of the day: Der Erdapfel
There are various regional terms for potatoes in the German language. Photo: DPA

German is the 12th most spoken language in the world, with over 130 million speakers worldwide. It is the official language of Germany and Austria, and is one of the official languages in Switzerland.

But the language may not sound as you expect if you visit certain regions, as there are plenty of variations to get your head around. 

One very common example is the different words used to refer to a very popular food: potatoes. 

The normal translation for this beloved carbohydrate would be die Kartoffel, but in Austria, parts of Bavaria and Switzerland the term Erdapfel is far more popular.  

Erdapfel literally translates as ‘earth apple’, which may be confusing for many. Apples, after all, grow on trees, whilst potatoes grow in the ground. 

The word Kartoffel comes from the Italian term tartufo (or tartufolo), which initially referred to truffles. As truffles had a similar appearance and also grew in the ground, the term eventually came to be used for potatoes as well. 

READ ALSO: Can you tell a Bavarian dialect from a north German one? 

While this term emerged in the 16th century, however, it is thought that Erdapfel dates even further back, coming from the Latin malum terrae as a loan translation into medieval German during the Middle Ages.

The Latin (and the corresponding German) term was used back then to refer to any fruit or vegetable that grew in or on the ground, such as melons or pumpkins. 

When potatoes arrived in Europe from South America centuries later, the term expanded in meaning to refer to them too.

Other languages’ terms for potato also have the same translation into English, such as the Dutch aardappel and the French pomme de terre

The regional variations do not stop there, either. Just some of the other terms you may hear on your travels around German speaking countries are Grundbirne (meaning ‘ground pear’, sometimes written as Gromper, or Krumper, or Grumbeere), which is used in Austria and in the some Western regions of Germany, Herdäpfel (or Härdöpfel), which can be heard in Switzerland or the hybrid term Erdbirne.


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The everyday Austrian groceries that have a double meaning

The food that you put in your shopping basket at the Austrian supermarket isn’t just the ingredients for a tasty dinner, it can also add some flavour to your spoken German.

The everyday Austrian groceries that have a double meaning

Like in many languages, spoken German is peppered with colloquialisms that don’t seem to make much sense at first glance. For some reasons, Austrians and Germans are particularly fond of spicing up their Umgangssprache by giving groceries new meanings.

Eier (eggs)
Eier are not just the things that you crack into your frying pan in the morning, they are also the two ovals that hang between a man’s legs.
If you want to compliment a man on his bravery you can say that er hat dicke Eier (he’s got fat eggs).

Or, if you a football hits you in the wrong place you can say “Aua, das hat mich direkt in die Eier getroffen!” (that hit my eggs). 

By the way, your Nudel (pasta) completes the trinity of the male genitalia.

READ ALSO: Nine German expressions that perfectly sum up spring in Austria

Birne (pear)
More anatomy here: your head is sometimes referred to in everyday speech as either your Birne or your Rübe (turnip). This is somewhat equivalent to the word ‘noggin’ in English dialect.

Kartoffel (potato)
The German word for a potato in Germany is also used as an insult for people who are ethnically German. It could also be used ironically by Germans to describe typically German behaviour. Er ist eine richtige Kartoffel! is an insult you might reserve for someone who wears socks and sandals outdoors.

READ ALSO: Austria: Six German expressions to entice your Wanderlust

Kartoffel as a description for Germans has become controversial in recent years, with some conservative politicians warning that it is being used in school playgrounds to bully German children.

In Austria, the word for potato is Erdapflel.

Wurst (sausage)
Austrians famously care about their sausages. Most regions have their own local delicacy and will proudly insist that it is the best in the country. But the word Wurst can also be used to mean that you don’t care.

So, if you want to tell someone you don’t give a toss, you can say: Das ist mir völlig Wurst! (That’s complete sausage to me).

Apparently, the phrase comes from the fact that butchers once used leftover meat in their sausages.

Bier (beer)
An expression using the German word for beer is similar. To say Das ist nicht mein Bier is to say that’s not my business (and is usually used just after you’ve poked you nose into someone else’s affairs).

READ ALSO: These eight words show just how different German and Austrian Deutsch can be

The origins of this phrase seem obscure. One theory has it that the word Bier has come to replace Birne (pear), which is used to mean Sache (thing) in some dialects.

Salat (salad)
The word for lettuce or salad can be used in a couple of ways in everyday speech. If someone is talking gibberish then a Wortsalat is coming out of their mouth.

Additionally, if you have the salad (den Salat haben) then you are counting the cost for a misadventure.

Sahne (cream)
You might not be surprised to hear that the word for cream signifies exclusivity in German. Much like the expression crème de la crème, German speakers call something erste Sahne to mean it is top notch.