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

These eight words show just how different German and Austrian Deutsch can be
Archive photo shows tomatoes growing in Osterweddingen, Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: DPA
Germany and Austria may share a common language - but often with a very different vocabulary. Here are eight of the most common terms which sound completely different if you're in Vienna versus Berlin.

Austria and Germany — it’s a love-hate relationship really. They share a language (for the most part), a similar culture at least with Bavaria), and an intertwined history.

However, there are some regional differences — and they are especially present in language. While Bavarians and Austrians understand each other well, people from other German regions might get lost in translation. 

In order to never be confused again, here’s eight things which go by very different names in Austria. Spoiler: A lot of them are related to food.

READ ALSO: Top 12: The best words in Austrian German

Paradeiser – Tomaten

Eating a good, sun-ripened, juicy tomato (perhaps with some mozzarella, olive oil and basil) really does taste like a glimpse of paradise. So naturally, tomatoes are not called die Tomaten in Austria, but der Paradeiser.

That’s exactly where the word comes from. When tomatoes first became known in Europe, the juicy red fruit was called der Paradiesapfel, apple of paradise. While the term die Tomate, adopted from the Mexican indigenous language Nahuatl, later became more prevalent in Germany, Austrians have kept the more lyrical term Paradeiser.

Melanzani – Auberginen 

Let’s stay with Mediterranean food a bit longer. It tastes exceptionally good with tomatoes, is nutritious and immediately invokes the feeling of a warm summer evening on an Italian patio: the eggplant in American English, or aubergine in British English. 

The name of this versatile vegetable takes us around the whole Mediterranean Sea. In Germany, it is also called die Aubergine, derived from the French l’aubergine. However, Austrians call it Melanzani, from the Italien le melanzane. Both words do however share the same origin. 

L’aubergine, the French term, was actually taken from the Catalan word albergínia. 

Grilled veggies at a restaurant in Cologne, including the Aubergine/Melanzani. Photo: DPA

The Catalan term however stems from the Arabic al-badenjan. In the 8th century, Catalonia for a short period became a part of Al-Andalus, the Muslim dynasty that ruled great parts of Spain during the time. It is however unknown if the word became incorporated in Catalan language during this period.  

READ ALSO: Seven German words which stem from Arabic

Funny enough, Melanzani is also derived from al-badenjan, but somewhere along history became mixed up with the greek word melanós, which means black or dark. The word was established in Italy during the 16th century and eventually made its way to Austria. 

Erdäpfel – Kartoffel

We already established that der Paradeiser stems from Paradiesapfel. Austrians really seem to love the term der Apfel (apple), `cause guess how potatoes are called? Yes, you guessed it: der Erdapfel. Apple that comes from the earth. Pretty logical, right? 

In this case, it wasn’t the looks of the potato that reminded people of an apple, but rather an etymological reason. In Latin, all vegetables and fruits that grow in or on the floor were called malum terrae — fruit of the earth. Which explains why potatoes are called pretty much the same in France: Pomme de Terre

The German word die Kartoffel, stems from tartufolo, which is Italian and — of course — eventually came from the Latin terrae tuber (tuber from the earth). Whether it’s an apple or a tuber — the most important point is: It came out of the earth. 

READ ALSO: 10 German words which come from Italian

Marille – Aprikose

In Germany, apricots are called die Aprikose, which sounds quite similar to English. Both words stem from the same Latin expression: Persicum praecoquum, which literally means unripe peach. Through various transformations in different languages around the Mediterranean Sea, it turned into the French l’apricot, where both the German and the English term stem from. 

Funny enough, die Marille is also derived from a Latin expression: Armenicum pomum — the Armenian apple. Apparently the old Romans were unable to decide what an apricot resembled better — peach or apple? Again, through various transformations the Armenian apple became die Marille. Interestingly, until the 17th century Marille was also used in Germany, and the term changed only with increasing French influence. 

Jänner – Januar

Moving on from food, but staying with terms of Latin origin: der Januar, as the Germans say, or der Jänner, as the Austrians say. 

Both terms come from the Latin word Ianuarius, which refers to a month in the Roman Julian calendar. Legend has it, that the month was named after the ancient Roman good Janus, who is often portrayed with two faces sharing one head and staring in opposite directions.

He is said to be the god of endings and new beginnings. When the Julian calendar was reformed and replaced by the Gregorian calendar that we still follow today, January became the first month of the new year.

Both terms mean the same thing and stem from the same origin. So where does the difference stem from? 

The history of how der Januar came together is quickly recalled: The Latin suffix -us was common in German until the 18th century, before it was dropped in order to make the word sound more German. 

The history of der Jänner is a little more complicated: 

Latin, like any other language changed throughout history. In spoken Latin, contrary to written Latin, Ianuarius turned into Ienuarius. Speakers of Medieval German borrowed that form and turned it into Jenner, which in the 18th century turned into Jänner. However, Januar became more common in most of Germany, perhaps because it sounded more Latin and therefore more sophisticated. But Austria, and some parts of Bavaria stood by the older form der Jänner, and keep using it until today. 

Jammern – sudern

Archive photo of the Berlin Marathon shows a sign reading, ‘Don’t complain/nag, believe in yourself.’ Photo: DPA

What is — according to the world — a common stereotype about German people? They are said to take every little inconvenience quite seriously. A red light, when they’re late for work? Catastrophe. Someone skipping the line at the grocery store? Train wreck. And when that happens: It’s time to get naggy, or as the Germans say jammern, or as the Austrians say sudern.

Jammern comes form the medieval German word der Jammer (misery) and probably stems from the literal sound of someone wailing. Sudern however comes from der Sud, which describes a boiling liquid, like a broth.

So when Austrians are nagging they’re boiling of anger, but when Germans are nagging they’re wailing.

READ ALSO: 10 German words with simply hilarious literal translations

Spital – Krankenhaus 

After Germans, as well as Austrians, have spent some time nagging (see above), they might be very exhausted and need some rest. Das Spital is derived from das Hospital, (like l’hospital, the hospital, el hospital…), which stems from the old Latin word hospitalium meaning guest room. That’s a bit of a stretch — from welcoming guests to welcoming the sick, but language after all is an adaptable thing. 

Quite contrary, the German das Krankenhaus is as literal as a word can be. It is a composed word of das Haus (house) and krank (sick). So, yep, it means exactly what you think it does. 

Häf’n – Gefängnis

Attention: der Häf’n (prison) is not used everywhere in Austria, but mostly in Vienna. 

It stems from the old German word haven, which meant harbor, but also vessel. In modern German, haven changed into der Hafen, which still means harbor, but no longer vessel. 

It is not entirely clear how haven became Häf’n. Legend has it, that the inside of a pot might might feel like the inside of a prison, and the word Häf’n therefore became a figure of speech. 

In Germany, people will probably just give you a very confused look if you use Häf’n. They rather speak of das Gefängnis. The term is derived from gefangen (captive) and is used in the sense of prison since the 15th century.

By Lisa Schneider 

Were you surprised about some of these words? Leave us a comment below!


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  1. Let us not forget that most important difference. Schlagobers/Schlagsahne.

    When our daughter was born in Vienna at the Rudolfinerhaus in 1973 she was so white, plump, and sweet the nurses nicked named her Schlagobers. She is still known as Schlag in the family just as sweet but less plump.

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