‘Just so fun to say’: Are these the best Swiss German words to learn?

From Abfallsackgebühr to Znüni, Swiss German has a long list of charming and unique words. Readers of The Local Switzerland weighed in on some of their faves.

Restaurant Chuchichäschtli in Switzerland
Chuchichäschtli came out on top in a poll of Local readers favourite words. What is your fave? Von Kecko from Switzerland (Rheintal SG) - Andermatt - Schwiizerdütsch, CC BY 2.0

One thing that confounds new arrivals to German-speaking Switzerland is the long and extensive range of words which are unique in the Swiss German language. 

Even fluent, native German speakers can have trouble with words like Büezer, while high German words like Ausland take on a slightly different meaning in the Alpine nation

In August, the Local Switzerland reached out to our readers to get their views on their favourite Swiss German words. 

Almost all of them said that not only do they use the word, they use it when speaking English – such is the impact it’s had on their vocabulary. 

From Abfallsackgebühr to Znüni, Swiss German has a long list of charming and unique words. What’s your fave?

Posted by The Local Switzerland on Thursday, August 6, 2020

With around 20 responses, here are some of their highlights. 

READ: Nine surprising Swiss German words you need to know 


Although there was a diverse array of entrants, Chuchichäschtli was the most popular word among Local readers. 

The word, which means kitchen cupboard or little kitchen cupboard is almost impossible for foreigners – including High German speakers – to get their mouth around, but this didn’t hamper its popularity. 

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. 


In close second was Gruetzi, which is a simple Swiss German greeting. 

Denise, from Canada, said it was her favourite word because it was “So Swiss”. 


While Fägnäscht only appeared once in the list – nominated by reader Andrea – it places highly because of its double meaning. 

Fägnäscht as a noun means a mess or an untidy situation, while when used as a verb, fägnäschte means “to fidget or move around restlessly”. 

READ: Five Swiss German phrases to make you sound like a local 

For anyone with Swiss German children, this word – in either verb or noun form – probably gets a fairly heavy rotation. 


This word makes an appearance in our list not simply because of the explanation one of our readers chose in nominating it. 

Klaus told us he voted for Löli because “you can use it on many politicians without insulting them”. 

For anyone who doesn’t know, Löli is not a nice word to describe a politician – or indeed anyone. 

It means a “clumsy, stupid person”, which might be insulting but is unlikely to be the worst thing that a politician has heard. 


Rob told us that his favourite word was Schätzli, although his explanation left us a little confused. 

Schätzli means little treasure in Swiss German and is therefore an idea word to have close to the top of any list.

But when asked why, Rob said “it just sounds so affectionate – ‘little cat!’”, which makes us think he was referring to Chätzli. 

Either way, great choices. 

Honourable mentions

Tiffany Rodel was unable to pick her favourite Swiss German word, saying it was a tie between äuä and tip-top because both “are just so fun to say”. 

While tip-top might be self-explanatory, äuä is a Bernese word which loosely translates to “really” or “Come on, you must be kidding!”

Amber said her favourite word was “Zvieri” – afternoon snack – but was less forthcoming in explaining why, only telling us in High German “that it’s always good to eat something”. 

We can’t agree more, Amber. 

A lack of imagination 

Most respondents got back to us seriously. But as with any internet poll, there’s bound to be a few smart Alecs.

Max Bork told us via Facebook that his fave word was Bier, while Muhyadin Usman echoed this by saying Fierabig, the Swiss German version of Feierabend – which refers to the feeling and temporal space one is in when they finish work. 

(We’ll assume that with their powers combined they’d choose the very appropriate word Feierabendbier – which is exactly what it sounds like).  

Other words nominated by readers 

We weren’t able to feature all of the words nominated by our readers, but here are some of the better ones which didnt make the list. 

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. 

This article was originally published in August 2020. 

Member comments

  1. My mother (from the Emmenthal) used an expression which translates as “pulls the holes in your socks together” for something which tastes tart or sour, Does anyone know it?

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Why does Swiss German have so many French loan words?

French is often crowned the world’s most beautiful language and has, for centuries, infiltrated Switzerland’s German-speaking region. But why did so many French words end up in Swiss German and which are most commonly used?

Why does Swiss German have so many French loan words?

In the western hemisphere of the 16th century until well into the 19th century, French was considered the world language and courts all over Europe began to emulate the culture made popular by the French nobility.

The French language eventually replaced Latin as the dominant language in science and many Germans figured that it would be easier to adopt what’s already there, rather than spend time finding German language equivalents for scientific terms – much to the detriment of German purists who fought this during the 17th century.

But while much of Europe was embroiled in a game of catch-up with France, the situation was quite different in the Deutschschweiz. The German-speaking part of Switzerland already had an identity of its own, an identity that had as a matter of fact already been intertwined with both the French language and its culture.

For many years, the Swiss had sent a great many mercenaries to serve in the French army up until 1798, while the sons of Bernese patricians were raised in French before taking up administrative posts in French-speaking Vaud (1536 until 1798), then under the rule of Bern. Meanwhile, Solothurn, the resident city of the French ambassador, was almost considered an exclave of France.

Even today, many young people living in German-speaking Swiss cantons travel to the French-speaking part, or Romandy, to work as au pairs and improve their French language skills.

It is not difficult then to see why the Deutschschweiz had an easy time embracing everything French, particularly the cantons bordering the Romandy.

Same, same but different

Though some French language words, known as Gallizismen, that are commonly used in the Deutschschweiz appear to be the same at first glance, they have over time undergone a pronunciation shift and are no longer pronounced in French, but rather in a Swiss German-French mashup dialect. Hence, they are considered both French and Swiss German.

One such example is the word Merci, which you will hear as often as – and in some German-speaking places even more frequently than – the casual Swiss and standard German counterpart Danke.

Unlike the French Merci, which is pronounced MerCI – placing the emphasis on the latter syllable – the Swiss from the Deutschschweiz pronounce the word as MERci, stressing the first syllable instead.

In fact, this is the case with most polysyllabic French words. But there’s more.

In addition to giving French words the Swiss German pronunciation treatment and oftentimes completely forgoing the French accent, some words have also taken on a slightly different meaning.

If you happen to be in a hurry in Switzerland, you’d use the word pressant to express this. While the word in French translates to urgent or pressing, in Swiss German it means to be in a hurry.

In fact, if you’re in a rush, you would say “Ich hans pressant”, rather than the standard German “Ich bin in Eile”.

And when on the road…

If you spot an adult riding a bicycle on the Gehweg or Bürgersteig and reprimand them using the standard German words for pavement, you may be met with a confused (and slightly offended) look.

In German-speaking Switzerland, Trottoir is the word most commonly used for pavement, while the standard German or Hochdeutsch equivalents are seldom heard, if altogether unused.

Likewise, while you’re busy being annoyed that you’ve encountered a rulebreaker – don’t worry, it’s a Swiss thing – remember that using Velo rather than the German alternative Fahrrad may just make you win the argument.

Most commuters living in German-speaking cantons may know that you will be required to pay for a Billet – not a Fahrtkarte – before you head off to find the right Perron, not Plattform, to wait for your train.

In Switzerland, it also makes sense to purchase an Abonnement with the SBB (Swiss Federal Railways), though you’ll also (eventually) get your point across if you ask for a Reisekarte as they would across the Germany-Switzerland border.

READ MORE: 4 things to consider when buying a travel card in Switzerland

Beware of false friends

While the German speakers of Switzerland have a jolly time reinventing the French language to fit their needs, this love for experimenting has also led to a handful of false friends over the years.

Some German-Swiss will fight tooth and nail to convince you that the Swiss German Friseur (or Frisör) is in fact derived from the French language – simply because it sounds French – but this is not the case. French speakers still very much refer to hairdressers as Coiffeur. Ironically, so do many German speakers in Switzerland.

Similarly, the Swiss German favourite Blamage may well have a French twang to it and is often confused as being on loan from the Deutschschweiz’s French-speaking neighbours. Yet, the word – which can loosely be translated to shame or embarrassment – isn’t known to the French.

Handy vocab for on the go

If you’re visiting the German-speaking part of Switzerland from France or the Romandy and find yourself overwhelmed with the gazillion dialects coming at you from every angle, here are some French words you can use on your trip:

Glacé, not Eis (ice cream)

Portemonnaie, not Brieftasche or Geldbörse (wallet)

Couvert – Umschlag or Briefumschlag (envelope)

Duvet – Bettdecke (duvet)

Adieu – Auf Wiedersehen (goodbye)