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GERMAN LANGUAGE

10 ways to express surprise in German

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

Swedish Fan Tony celebrates shortly before the Grand Final of the 61st annual Eurovision Song Contest, in Stockholm.
Swedish Fan Tony celebrates shortly before the Grand Final of the 61st annual Eurovision Song Contest, in Stockholm. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Britta Pedersen

1. Alter Schwede!

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

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. 

READ ALSO: German word of the day – Alter Schwede

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.

Engraving of a fairy in the picnic park in Enfield in the UK.

Engraving of a fairy in the picnic park in Enfield in the UK. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Mareike Graepel

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!”

READ ALSO: 10 words and phrases that will make you sound like a true German

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 German dogs were generally on the thinner side.

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 Germany 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. Germans use this expression when they can’t believe or grasp something, or to express that they are extremely surprised.

The pig Rosalie stands on a farm in a pasture.

The pig Rosalie stands on a farm in a pasture. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

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.

READ ALSO: Denglisch: The English words that will make you sound German

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.

The green house number nine which won an award for energy-efficient renovation and construction in Saxony-Anhalt.

The green house number nine which won an award for energy-efficient renovation and construction in Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert

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 of Germans.

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, it’s usually used in a positive way, to mean something like “awesome” or “badass”.  

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GERMAN LANGUAGE

10 ways to talk about being drunk in German

Germany is famous for its love of beer and, with Oktoberfest now in full swing, here are some phrases to help you express various levels of inebriation in the German language.

10 ways to talk about being drunk in German

1. Betrunken sein

The most straightforward way to express alcohol-induced intoxication in German, which will leave no one in any doubt as to your state, is to use the word betrunken meaning “drunk”.

Example:

Es ist ihm egal – er ist betrunken!

He doesn’t care – he’s drunk!

2. Saufen

Next up is the most common word for “boozing” in German. Saufen can be used both as a verb and a noun to mean “to get drunk” or “drinking”.

Examples:

Lass uns einfach weiter saufen!

Let’s just keep drinking!

Ich habe kein Problem mit dem Saufen

I don’t have a drinking problem. 

3. Alkoholisiert sein

This is more of a formal way to talk about being drunk, and is equivalent to the English “to be under the influence of alcohol”. You’ll usually hear authorities and newspaper reports using this phrase to talk about alcohol-related incidents.

Examples:

Der Fahrer war alkoholisiert

The driver was under the influence of alcohol

Es ist aus Sicherheitsgründen untersagt, vor Spielbeginn alkoholisiert anzukommen.

For safety reasons, it is prohibited to arrive intoxicated before the start of the game.

4. Blau sein

This expression, meaning literally “to be blue” has a pretty disgusting origin story.

In the middle ages, the plant woad was used to create a blue colour for dyes.

Three young men run at the Bierathlon in Hannover in 2013. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

As only a small amount of alcohol was needed to speed up the dyeing process, using human urine containing alcohol was supposedly the cheapest way to ferment the dye.

READ ALSO: ‘6 German words I now use in English’

So the dyers drank beer all day and urinated into the vat where the plant was fermenting. Remember that next time you wear your favourite blue t-shirt. 

Example:

Er war so blau, dass er seinen Schlüssel nicht in die Tür bekam

He was so drunk that he couldn’t get his key in the door

5. Beschwipst sein

The phrase beschwipst sein is equivalent to the English “to be tipsy” and not yet in the full throws of drunkenness.

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Kneipe

The word was first used in Austria in the 19th century and can be traced back to the verb schwippen, meaning to sway, as it describes a drunk person who finds it increasingly difficult to walk in a straight line.

Example:

Ich bin nicht betrunken, nur ein bisschen beschwipst

I’m not drunk – just a little tipsy

6. Zu tief ins Glas schauen

This idiom is most likely a jokey rethink of the idiom tief ins Augen schauen meaning “to look someone too deeply in the eyes” as a way of saying “to fall in love with someone”.

This phrase for drunkenness has been in use in the German language since around 1700 and has even made appearances in many literary works, including those of Goethe.  

Examples:

Du solltest nicht zu tief ins Glas schauen, sonst musst du dir ein Taxi nehmen

You’d better not get too drunk, or you’ll have to take a taxi

Immer mehr Rentner schauen oft zu tief ins Glas

More and more pensioners get drunk often

 7. voll wie ein Eimer sein

This expression, meaning “to be as full as a bucket” is just one of a multitude of German expressions that include the word voll (“full”) to express drunkenness.

Grapes being carried in buckets to the transport vehicle on a vineyard in Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Heiko Becker

There are numerous phrases that start with voll wie (“as drunk as”) and end in something heavy, such as Granate (grenade), Schwein (pig), Kanone (canon), and even voll wie ein tausend Russen (“full as a thousand Russians”). Why not try making up your own variation?

8. Einen im Tee haben

This idiom is believed to have originated in northern Germany, where a drop of rum was often added to tea on cold winter days for a warm comforting feeling and to protect against the cold – especially by sailors. After one or two, of course, you would be drunk, or at least a little tipsy.

Black tea is poured during a tea ceremony at the Bünting Tea Museum. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sina Schuldt

Example:

Er hatte ganz schön einen im Tee

He’s pretty wasted

9. einen sitzen haben

This phrase is a shortened version of the older einen Affen sitzen haben meaning “to have a monkey sitting” which was used to express a heightened state of inebriation. 

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

The origin of the phrase is disputed, but most believe it is to do with the fact that fools and jesters would often carry a monkey on their shoulder.

Example:

Ich hatte gestern so richtig einen sitzen

I was so drunk yesterday

10. Kater

Although Kater is also the name for a male cat, this is the German term for “hangover” that you will inevitably need to use after consuming too much alcohol.

It’s widely believed that the origin of this word comes from the medical term “Katarrh”, an inflammation of the mucous membrane, which leads to symptoms such as cough, cold, malaise and headache – similar to those of a hangover.

A visitor to Oktoberfest lies heavily drunk on a meadow in 2017. Photo: picture alliance / Tobias Hase/dpa | Tobias Hase

Example:

Ich hatte am Sonntag einen schrecklichen Kater

I had such a terrible hangover on Sunday

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