SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

SWISS GERMAN

Nine fun Swiss German words without an English translation

Some Swiss German words are so culturally specific, or just so strange, that it is impossible to translate them – at least not in a simple, elegant way. From dogs' funerals to egg bumping, some Swiss German words just don't make it across the translation divide.

A large herd of sheep stare directly at the camera.
Schafseckel? What did you call me? Be careful of the language that you use. It might get you in trouble. Photo by Andrea Lightfoot on Unsplash

Often summed up by a phrase which starts “the Germans actually have a word for…”, the extensive vocabulary of the German language is legendary. 

Much of this is due to the German phenomenon of composite nouns, which creates single words which would be multiple words in other languages such as English. 

Examples of this include Aufenthaltstitel (residency permit) and Unabhängigkeitserklärung (declaration of independence). The word ‘Waldeinsamkeit’ literally translates to ‘forest loneliness’, a specific feeling that in most languages would require several words. 

When you add Swiss German into the mix, you have a wide range of words which are either difficult or impossible to translate. 

Here are some of the best. Want more fun Swiss German words? Then check out the following. 

Bettmümpfeli

Did you wake up with crumbs in the bed this morning? Or was there a mysterious plate by the kitchen sink when you went to make coffee?

Chances are that someone in the house got an attack of the late-night munchies, or as it called in Swiss German, a Bettmümpfeli.

Translating literally to ‘bedtime treats’, Bettmümpfeli is a difficult word to say but a feeling we all understand. 

Hundsverlocheti

The Swiss German word ‘Hundsverlocheti’ literally means a ‘dog’s burial’ but it has nothing to do with canine expiration.

Instead, the term refers to an event no one in their right mind would want to go to.

For example, you might say to someone who goes out to every party or happening in town no matter how unexciting it is “Du gosch a jede Hundesverlochti”.

This means something along the lines of “You’ll find any old reason to go out (even a dog’s burial)”.

Feierabend

The Swiss work a lot: around 40 to 42 hours a week is average for a full-time job at a Swiss company. But the plus side is that, generally speaking, the Swiss don’t take their work home.

That magical moment when the working day is done and you are free to leave is known as ‘Feierabend’ (literally ‘celebration evening’) and is pronounced something like Fürabet – depending, of course, what part of Switzerland you are in.

You could, for example, ask someone: ‘Wenn hesch fürabet?’, which means “When do you get off (work)?”

The word is also commonly used in high German. 

READ MORE: Why every country should get on board with the German Feierabend

What’s the best way to celebrate Feierabend? With a Feierabendbier, of course. 

Eiertütsche

It’s safe to say that ‘Eiertütsche’ is not the most useful word on this list, but is popular at certain times of the year as it is seasonal.

Eiertütsche (or ‘Egg bumping) refers to a game in which animal products and sublimated warfare are combined in one brilliant package. The combat involves hard-boiled eggs being knocked against each other.

The owner of the egg with the harder shell (the one that doesn’t break) is the winner. Anyone familiar with the British game of conkers where chestnuts are smashed into each other will get the picture. Who knew Easter could be this much fun?

READ MORE: Five of the more peculiar Swiss Easter traditions

Schafseckel

No list of Swiss German words would be complete without one swear word containing a) a reference to an animal and b) a reference to an anatomical nether region.

In this case, the animal is a sheep (Schaf) and the part of the anatomy is the testicles (from ‘Seckel’ meaning something like sack or bag).

Although the word might sound cute, it is a strong insult akin to ‘wanker’ or ‘asshole’. You have been warned.

Chuchichäschtli

The word Chuchichäschtli came in on top of a poll of Local readers favourite Swiss German words in 2020. 

It means kitchen cupboard or little kitchen cupboard is almost impossible for foreigners – including High German speakers – to get their mouth around. 

On Facebook, Jackie Amey said the word was her “dad’s favourite”. “He was English and he learned how to say it”. 

READ MORE: Seven English words Swiss Germans get delightfully wrong 

Margaret Weber and Sharon Baur also selected the word as their fave. 

Blueschtfaehrtli

When spring finally comes around after Switzerland’s long, cold winter, it’s time to take the convertible out of the garage (preferably an ‘old timer’, as vintage cars are known in Switzerland) and go for a ‘Blueschtfaehrtli’.

A combination of the words for ‘blossom’ and ‘little drive’, this difficult-to-pronounce word refers to the Swiss tradition of going out to admire the technicolour blossoms on the fruit trees.

Little flowers in the Bern Rosengarten.

Have you gone for a little drive (or walk) to check out the flowers while you’ve been in Switzerland? Photo by Jonas Zürcher on Unsplash

Bürogummi

The Swiss equivalent of the seat-warming, pencil-pushing bureaucrat is the delightfully-named ‘Bürogummi’ or, which literally translates to ‘office eraser’ or ‘office rubber band’. 

Röstigraben

The Germans had the Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall) and Donald Trump wanted to build a wall with Mexico but in Switzerland, the cultural and linguistic divide between the French and German-speaking parts of the country is an invisible border known as the Röstigraben after the typically Swiss German potato dish rösti.

The direct translation: the potato dish ditch.

If you’re interested in the Röstigraben, or just want to find out which side of it you are on, then check out the following link. 

Röstigraben: What is Switzerland’s invisible language and culture barrier?

Honourable mentions

Cheib: Rascal, mean person

Güselchübel: Moving van, garbage can or good friend (yeah, this one confuses us too). 

Chrüsimüsi: Literally meaning ‘I need to be crucified’, this refers to a chaotic mess one can find oneself in. 

Trottel: Not unlike Löli (see above), this refers to a clumsy or dumb person. 

For members

GERMAN LANGUAGE

10 words to help you enjoy the German summer

Summer has arrived in Germany, so we’ve put together a list of ten words to help you navigate the hottest season.

10 words to help you enjoy the German summer

1. (die) Sommersprossen

A close-up of a woman with prominent freckles.

A close-up of a woman with prominent freckles. Photo: pa/obs/myBody / Shutterstock | Irina Bg

The German word for ‘freckles’, translates literally as “summer sprouts”, as these little spots start to appear on many people’s faces as soon as the sun begins to shine in spring and summer.

2. eincremen

A woman applies sun lotion on a summer's day.

A woman applies sun lotion on a summer’s day. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

To help protect against sunburn, it’s important to use a lot of sunscreen during warm summer days in Germany. Thanks to the magic of German separable verbs, there is a specific word for applying creme to the skin – eincremen – which can also be used to talk about applying sun lotion.

Examples:

Den gesamten Körper vor dem Aufenthalt in der Sonne eincremen

Apply creme to the entire body before sun exposure.

Einmal eincremen reicht nicht, um die Haut einen ganzen Tag lang vor Sonne zu schützen.

It’s not enough to apply sun cream just once to protect the skin from the sun for a whole day.

3. (die) Hundstage

A dog lies exhausted on the stones of a terrace in summer temperatures.

A dog lies exhausted on the stones of a terrace in summer temperatures. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Martin Gerten

‘Dog days’ are colloquially referred to in Europe as the hottest period in summer from July 23rd to August 23rd.

The term ‘dog days’ dates back to the 14th century and was originally associated with the first appearance of the star Sirius of the “Great Dog” constellation. However, due to the changing position of the Earth’s axis, the time period has shifted by about four weeks.

Nevertheless, you’ll still hear people all over Germany referring to the “Hundstage.”

4. eisgekühlt

A glass of mineral water with ice and lemon.

A glass of mineral water with ice and lemon. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Daniel Karmann

There’s nothing better than cooling off with a refreshing, ice-cold drink on a hot summer day, so make sure to use this word at the beach bar to specify that you want your drinks at a near-zero temperature!

Examples:

Das Kokoswasser schmeckt am besten eisgekühlt.

The coconut water tastes best ice-cold.

5. (die) Waldbrandstufe

A sign on a forest path indicates forest fire level five.

A sign on a forest path indicates forest fire level five. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-centralpicture | Soeren Stache

The Waldbrandstufe – meaning forest fire level – is a warning system that has been used in all German states since 2014 to indicate the level of forest fire risk, based on the local heat and dryness levels.

Level 1 stands for very low fire risk in forests and level 5 for very high risk. When the Stufe (level) is above 3 or 4, certain measures – such as banning barbecues – will come into force locally.

You will often see the Waldbrandstufe sign in woodland areas, near beaches, or on weather reports over the summer.

Example:

Lagerfeuer werden aufgrund der hohen Waldbrandstufe nicht geduldet.
 
Due to the danger of forest fires campfires will not be tolerated.

6. (der) Strandkorb

Beach chairs stand in sunny weather on the beach in the Baltic resort of Binz on the island of Rügen.

Beach chairs on the beach in the Baltic resort of Binz on the island of Rügen. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

The “Strandkorb”, literally meaning beach basket, is a special type of beach chair that you will find on almost every German beach. The traditional beach chair was invented in 1882 by German basket maker Wilhelm Bartelmann in Rostock.

Example:

Hier kannst du in der Ostsee baden oder dich in einem Strandkorb entspannen.

Here you can swim in the Baltic Sea or relax in a beach chair.

7. (die) Radtour

A man and a woman cycle through Lüneburg Heath.

A man and a woman cycle through Lüneburg Heath. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/HeideRegion Uelzen e.V. | Jürgen Clauß, HeideRegion Uelz

Germans love biking, so it’s no surprise that a specific word exists for the summer phenomenon of going on a Radtour – bike tour.

READ ALSO: 10 things to consider for a bike trip in Germany

Example: 

Der gesamte Rundweg ist eine leichte Radtour.
 
The entire circular route is an easy bike ride.

8. Sonne tanken

A man on an air mattress sunbathing on a lake while a model boat passes him by.

A man on an air mattress sunbathing on a lake while a model boat passes him by. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Warnack

If you love summer, then you probably like to lie in the sun and soak up the rays. In German, you would call this “Sonne tanken” – literally to fuel up on sun.

Example:

Ich will einfach nur Sonne tanken!

I just want to soak up the sun!

9. (die) Sommergewitter

Lightning striking in the Hanover region in June 2021.

Lightning striking in the Hanover region in June 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

Another very specific word, this term is used to describe the phenomenon of summer thunderstorms.

Example:

Die ersten Sommergewitter rollen quer durch Deutschland.

The first summer thunderstorms are rolling across Germany.

10. (die) Eisdiele

A scoop of strawberry ice cream is placed on top of another scoop in a waffle cone at the "Eiskultur" ice cream parlor in Schöneweide.

A scoop of strawberry ice cream is placed on top of another scoop in a waffle cone at the “Eiskultur” ice cream parlor in Schöneweide. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jens Kalaene

Finally, no summer would be complete without a generous helping of ice cream. In German, the most common name for an ice-creme parlour is “Eisdiele”. 

The word seems to have joined the German language when the very first ice-creme parlour was opened in Hamburg in 1799.

READ ALSO: Spaghetti ice cream to Wobbly Peter: Why we love Germany’s sweet summer snacks

Example:

Es gibt eine sehr gute Eisdiele an der Promenade.

There is a really good ice-creme parlour on the promenade.

SHOW COMMENTS