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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

‘6 German words I now use in English’

One of the consequences of learning a foreign language is that some words end up slipping into your everyday English. Sarah Magill explains why she uses these German words more often than their English equivalents.

'6 German words I now use in English'

Getting to a stage where I feel comfortable using the German language has been a long, arduous process which has taken me nearly eight years.

But one thing I didn’t expect about becoming a German speaker, was that I would find myself using German words in my everyday English, too.

READ ALSO: 10 German words that English should adopt

Sometimes due to laziness, sometimes for conciseness, or sometimes just because I like the sound of the word, I often use these words now amongst German-speaking friends instead of their English equivalents. 

(die) Bescheinigung

I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I love this word. Be-schein-i-gung. It’s got a nice, bouncy ring to it, even though it means something pretty dull.

Bescheinigung is a German word for “certificate” or and is used for all kinds of formal certifications.

Sick notes lie on a table. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Büttner

It’s often stuck to the end of other words too, to mean a specific type of certificate, for example – Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung (sick note) or Anmeldebescheinigung (registration certificate).

I often find myself saying things like “But I don’t have the right Bescheinigung” or “do I need a Bescheinigung for that?”

anmelden

The frequency with which you have to anmelden in Germany, may explain why this word is so firmly rooted in my everyday vocabulary.

Anmelden is a verb which can mean “to register”, “to enrol” and “to login”, and it’s a word I encounter on a daily basis, as it appears on most websites, as well as in front of Covid test centres or at reception areas in medical and government buildings. 

READ ALSO: REVEALED: The German versions of famous English sayings

I’m ashamed to admit that I have also corrupted this word slightly for my own convenience and sometimes say things like “oh I need to anmeld myself” which is of course, very, very wrong.

(die) Kupplung

If you don’t drive or only drive automatic cars, this isn’t a word you generally need to know. But for me, the German word for “clutch” is forever seared into my brain after having it shouted at me by an enraged German driving teacher on numerous occasions.

The interior of a Skoda Octavia TS 1200, with the clutch and brake pedals visible. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/SMB | Skoda Auto Deutschland GmbH

Kupplung is a very nice German word in that it describes what the mechanical elements of a clutch do – they connect and disconnect two rotating shafts, or “couple” them.

I can sometimes be heard saying things like: “Oh I took my foot off the Kupplung too quickly”.

Leider

Whereas the English equivalent – “unfortunately” – can sound a bit clunky and overly formal, leider is a nice little word which you can use to add a touch of polite regret in all kinds of circumstances in German.

The sign above a shop door reads “sadly closed”. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Nicolas Armer

Thanks to its brevity and the way it can be stuck quite easily into a sentence, this word has crept into my everyday English, and into phrases such as “we are going to have to wait, leider”.

(der) Feierabend

This is just one of the many German words that we don’t have in English, so it’s perhaps more forgivable that I use this in English conversations quite a lot. 

Literally meaning “celebration evening” the word Feierabend is used for the free time after work and it invariably gets a nice response when you tell colleagues or shop assistants schönen Feierabend! (have a nice free evening!).

(die) Kasse

I like to use this German word a lot because – surprisingly – it’s actually easier than having to find the right equivalent word in English.  

A notice reading “No free choice of seats – please register at the entrance” hangs on the outside wall of an inn in Freiburg’s old town. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Philipp von Ditfurth

For example, in English we have separate words for “checkout”, “till”, “paypoint”, “ticket office” and “cash register”, but in German, the word Kasse covers them all. 

So it’s a rare example of a German word being less specific than English, and it’s also short and easy to say. 

READ ALSO: 7 ways to talk about money like a German

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