Advertisement

German language For Members

10 ways to express surprise in German

Sarah Magill
Sarah Magill - [email protected]
10 ways to express surprise in German
The beautiful Vienna Woods. ((c) Niederösterreich Werbung/Andreas Hofer)

From woodland fairies to whistling pigs, the German language has a colourful variety of phrases to express surprise.

Advertisement

1. Alter Schwede!

You may recognise this phrase from the cheese aisle at the supermarket, but it’s also a popular expression in Germany and Austria for communicating surprise. 

Advertisement

The phrase, which means "old Swede" comes from the 17th century when King Frederick William enlisted the help of experienced Swedish soldiers to fight in the Thirty Years' War.

Because of their outstanding performance in battle, the Swedish soldiers became popular and respected among the Prussians, and they were respectfully addressed as "Old Swede". Over the last three hundred years, the phrase developed into one to convey awed astonishment. 

2. Holla, die Waldfee!

This curious expression literally means “Holla, the wood fairy”. It can be used both as an exclamation of astonishment and to insinuate that something is ridiculous.

There are various explanations as to how the forest fairy made it into the German lexicon. Some say that it comes from the Grimm's fairy tale "Frau Holle,” while others say it comes from an old song called "Shoo, shoo, the forest fairy!"

3. Das ist ja ein dicker Hund!

Literally meaning “That is indeed a fat dog!” this expression of surprise presumably originates from a time in the past when dogs were generally on the thinner side.

Advertisement

4. Ich glaube, ich spinne!

The origin of this expression is questionable because the word "Spinne” means "spider" and also "I spin”. Either way, it's used all over Austria to mean “I think I’m going crazy” as an expression of surprise.

5. Ich glaube, mein Schwein pfeift!

The idea of a pig whistling is pretty ridiculous, and that's where the phrase  – meaning "I think my pig whistles" - comes from. Austrians use this expression when they can't believe or grasp something or to express that they are extremely surprised.

6. Meine Güte!

This straightforward phrase simply means “my goodness” and is a commonly used expression of astonishment.

7. Oha!

More of a sound than a word, this short exclamation will let the world know that you are shocked by something.

8. heilige Blechle!

Often when surprised or outraged, we might let slip an exclamation that refers to something sacred. This phrase fits into that bracket, as it means “holy tin box”. 

The peculiar expression comes from the Swabian dialect and refers to the cash box from which the poor were paid by the Church in the Middle Ages.

9. ach du grüne Neune!

This slightly antiquated expression literally means “oh you green nine!”, or “oh, my goodness!" and is one you're more likely to hear among the older generation.

The origin of the phrase is disputed. One explanation claims that it comes from the famous 19th-century Berlin dance hall "Conventgarten" which, although it was located in Blumenstraße No. 9, had its main entrance in "Grüner Weg". Therefore, the locals renamed it as "Grüne Neune" (Green Nine).

Another explanation is that the phrase comes from fairs where playing cards were used to read the future. In German card games, the "nine of spades" is called "green nine" - and pulling this card in a fortune telling is a bad omen.

10. Krass!

The word Krass in German is an adjective that means blatant or extreme, but when said on its own, it’s an expression of surprise. Popular among young Germans - but making its way to Austria, it’s usually used in a positive way, to mean something like “awesome” or “badass”.  

More

Comments

Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also