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German phrase of the day: Ich glaub’ mein Schwein pfeift

When somebody is telling you a tall tale, you'll be pleased to have this quirky German phrase to fall back on.

German phrase of the day: Ich glaub' mein Schwein pfeift

Why do I need to know “mein Schwein pfeift”?

Because it’s not only an amusing way to express your disbelief in something, but will also help you impress your Austrian friends with your knowledge of folksy idioms – you might even teach it to some of them. 

What does it mean?

Quite literally, “Ich glaub’ mein Schwein pfeift” means “I believe my pig is piping”. As you might imagine, a piping pig is a rather unlikely scenario and that’s exactly what the phrase implies.

You can use it if someone tells you an unbelievable anecdote or does something that really surprises you. For example, if your fitness-averse friend tells you they have signed up to compete in a marathon, you could say: “You’re running a marathon? I think my pig is piping!” (“Du läufst einen Marathon? Ich glaub’ mein Schwein pfeift!”)

There isn’t a direct English equivalent for the phrase, but “when pigs fly” is a fairly similar way to show your scepticism about something. Otherwise, an expression like “I can’t believe my ears!” would have the same effect. 

(Photo by Damien MEYER / AFP)

Where does it come from?

The phrase is believed to date back to Berlin slang in the 1920s. Rather than being a farming metaphor, the Schwein in this case refers to the bulbous, round kettles that look a bit like a piggy bank and whistle when the water boils.

To interrupt unpleasant conversations or show that they were astonished by something, people would claim that their pig was whistling (or piping). This was a jokey way of expressing their desire to remove themselves from the conversation, go into the kitchen and have a sit down. 

Over time, the phrase has taken hold as a common way to express surprise.  

Use it like this:

Bist du wirklich schon mit deinen Hausaufgaben fertig? Ich glaub’, mein Schwein pfeift!

Have your really finished your homework already? I think my pig is piping!

Ich glaube, mein Schwein pfeift. Hat er das wirklich zu dir gesagt?

I think my pig is whistling. Did he really say that to you? 

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For members


Austrian word of the day: Beisl

This is a spot you might visit at the end of the working day - or Feierabend - particularly in Austria, as Germany has a different word for these establishments. Here's what this Austrian-German word means and how to use it.

Austrian word of the day: Beisl

Why do I need to know Beisl?

Because you may be invited to one or need to find one on the map.

What does it mean?

Das Beisl, which sounds like this, is the name for a pub or inn in Austrian German where people gather to drink beverages. In Germany, it is usually called a Kneipe.

This isn’t a fancy cocktail bar – it’s a neighbourhood watering hole and forms part of the make-up of towns and cities across Austria. It’s usually unpretentious, often small and used to be very smoky before Austria banned smoking indoors.

The term comes from the Czech “pajzl”, which means pub or dive. It’s a diminutive short form of the noun “hampejz” – with meaning such as “dog house” and even “brothel”.

Other possibilities for its origins include the Yiddish bajiss (house) , and the Austrian dialectal diminutive of the word Beiz – which was a low-class pub until the word got a better reputation.

Nowadays, the Beisl are usually friendly and charming and give an insight into life in Austria. So perhaps ask your Austria friends for a tip on a cool Beisl to visit. Just don’t expect the staff to speak English at all – or take credit cards.

If you’re hungry, keep in mind that Beisl usually doesn’t serve food or at least no hot dishes.

How to use it:
Treffen wir uns am Freitag nach Feierabend im Beisl.
Let’s meet in the pub on Friday after work finishes.
Ich gehe mit den Jungs ins Beisl.
I’m going to the pub with the lads.