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Austria’s ‘Word of the Year’ and what it tells us about the country

Austria has named its Word of the Year for 2021, and it offers an insight into both Austrian politics and the national sense of humour.

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Find out why 'Shadow Chancellor' was voted the word that best defined Austria in 2021. Photo: Joshua Hoehne/Unsplash

The word is Schattenkanzler which literally means ‘Shadow Chancellor’.

The Austrian Word of the Year is decided by an online vote and this year 11,843 votes were submitted after 5,362 words were suggested. Schattenkanzler received 2,104 votes, which was closely followed by 2,092 votes for “3G”.

So why Schattenkanzler?

The word was used ironically by many Austrians after the resignation of former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz earlier this year amidst corruption allegations, to imply that he would continue to determine government policy despite Alexander Schallenberg taking over as Federal Chancellor.

Kurz retained his role as head of his party, the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP), and Schallenberg was a close ally, leaving many sceptical that it would be a clean break. On Thursday however, Kurz announced he was leaving politics.

READ ALSO: These are the major differences between Austrian and High German

The runner-up term 3G is used to describe the conditions of the Covid-19 health pass in Austria, which requires proof of a negative test, recovery from the virus or full vaccination (getestet, genesen, geimpft). It’s become part of everyday speech in Austria, with 3G rules (and in some cases 2G or tested/recovered only) required for entry to many business and services.

In joint second place for Word of the Year was Ninja Pass, the name the system used by children and teenagers in Austria to show proof of Covid tests. And Klimaticket (climate ticket) came in third place with 898 votes, a nod to the popularity of the nationwide public transport tickets launched this year under the name.

The jury, led by the University of Graz’s Society for Austrian German (GSÖD), also named the ‘Unwort‘ or roughly ‘bad word’ of the year, which in 2021 was Querdenker (unconventional thinkers). This word is traditionally used as a compliment and refers to people that think outside of the box, but the context has changed during the pandemic.

The jury’s notes said: “Today, however, this new group of unconventional thinkers consists predominantly of corona deniers, vaccine refusers and conspiracy theorists.”

FOR MEMBERS: Why is German-speaking Europe lagging on Covid vaccines?

In another nod to a political situation in Austria, the Saying of the Year is Eli, es ist vorbei (Eli, it’s over). This comes from a statement by ex-head of the liberal Neos party boss Mathias Strolz to Minister Elisabeth Köstinger of the ÖVP party, who defended Kurz on the TV program Im Zentrum shortly after his resignation.

The Word of the Year awards were set up in 1999 by Rudolf Muhr from the Society for Austrian German in cooperation with the Austria Press Agency (APA). 

In 2020, the Word of the Year was, unsurprisingly, “Corona” and in 2019 it was “Ibiza” in reference to yet another political scandal involving former far-right Freedom Party Austria (FPÖ) leader Heinz-Christian Strache.

Strache resigned as Vice Chancellor in 2019 after video footage emerged of him pursuing lucrative public contracts in exchange for campaign support at a luxury resort in Ibiza, which became known as the “Ibiza scandal”.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about the Ibizagate political corruption scandal

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