This blog post was published under the 2015 to 2024 Conservative government

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Leigh Turner

Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Vienna

Part of UK in Austria

7th September 2018 Vienna, Austria

When Austrian German is the best?

The quote that “Britain and America are two nations divided by a common language” is often attributed to Sir Winston Churchill.  A version I hear often in Vienna is “nothing unites Austrians and Germans so much as their divided language” (“nichts verbindet  Österreicher und Deutsche so sehr wie ihre geteilte Sprache”.

Austrian German is full of unique words, some stemming from Vienna’s melting-pot role in the Austro-Hungarian empire before 1918.  Many, such as “Palatschinken” (a pancake), “Paradeiser” (a tomato) or “Beisl” (a restaurant) are to do with food.

For me, one difference is that whereas the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries where English is spoken basically have a single language with a vast range of accents and differences in usage and spellings, in Germany and Austria (and Switzerland) you have a range of dialects which are so different from each other as to be more or less incomprehensible.

If anyone has not seen my “Servus, ich bin Leigh!” video of September 2016, in which I massacre a few words in various Austrian dialects, do have a look.

Of course, I would never suggest that one version of a language is better than another (would anyone?)  But I was intrigued recently to discover an Austrian word which seems to have no “Hochdeutsch” (high German) equivalent.

That word is “Häferl”, meaning a mug.

But wait! I hear you cry – surely in Germany you can have eine Tasse, or einen Becher?

The problem is that neither of these words translates quite so directly into “mug” as “Häferl”.  A “Tasse” is usually more like a tea cup, whereas a “Becher” can equally be a cup, a beaker or something rather larger.

It follows that I have been using the word “Häferl” at every opportunity.

In fact there is quite a trend for Austrian words ending in “-erl”.  My favourites include “Sackerl”, for what many Germans might call a “Tüte” or a plastic carrier bag and “Semmerl” for what in Germany might be a “Brötchen” or bread roll.  I also like the Austrian word “fad” for the Hochdeutsch “langweilig” or boring.  “Es ist mir wurscht”, for “I could not care less”, or possibly “I couldn’t give a sausage” also deserves an honourable mention.

What do you think?  Do you have favourite Austrian words?  Are there other words which exist in Austrian German which do not have a “Hochdeutsch” equivalent?  Do let me know.  And watch out for our rare and collectable British Embassy “Häferl” (pictured above) which we occasionally give away as prizes, or gifts at Embassy functions.

30 comments on “When Austrian German is the best?

  1. What about the most simple words that you need when you go shopping, like:

    Potato – Kartoffel in German, but Erdäpfel in Austrian
    Tomato – Tomate in German, but Paradeiser in Austrian
    Pancakes – Pfannkuchen in German, but Palatschinken in Austrian
    Plum – Pflaume in German, but Zwetschke in Austrian
    Harz Cheese – Harzer Käse in German, but Quargel in Austrian
    Cream – Sahne in German, but Obers in Austrian
    Apricot – Aprikose in German, but Marille in Austrian
    Chestnuts – Esskastanien in German, but Maroni in Austrian

  2. Going to a ‘Beisl’ and order a beer and Gulasch makes your day.
    Could be, during your stay, you may hear ‘zoin bitte’ or just someone
    screaming (not very politely, but the waiter/waitress will hear it) ‘zoin’.
    This is the Viennese word for ‘zahlen’ or ‘zahlen bitte’ = you want to
    pay your meal. And maybe the next surprise will come: The waiter/waitress
    will start an cross examination with you: ‘wos hama g’hobt’ (‘was haben
    wir gehabt’ = what did you have?). Seems to be a tradition in Vienna,
    they serve to the table, but at the end they ask you again about your

  3. ‘Schwein gehabt” means, I was in a lucky situation, or I have been lucky,
    nothing happened to me. ‘Die Polizei hat kontrolliert, aber nicht mich. Da
    habe ich Schwein gehabt, weil ich war betrunken!’. Police control, they did
    not stop me, lucky as I am, because I was drunk.

    But please beware of, you can not use ‘Schwein gehabt’ in reverse!

    There is this story of an Far East/Asian Amabssador, who liked to use the
    german language and all those colloquial phrases. So one day, on the Opera
    Ball, he was asked: ‘The beautiful wife of Ambassador XYZ is round, did you
    dance with her?’. He replied: ‘nein, das Schwein habe ich noch nicht gehabt!’

  4. I find it interesting that in different regions within Austria there are different words for the same thing. In Carinthia, Grüne Bohnen becomes Strankerln, which then becomes Fisolen in Vienna. No hope for those of us who are still learning German…

    1. There is always hope! I continue to study German in the hope that I can improve my skills. But as with every language, there is no upper limit. I like some of the Vienna dialect words such as Beisl (apparently from the Yiddish).

  5. I find it interesting that there are variations for even the most everyday items within Austria – in Carinthia Grüne Bohnen are Strankerln and in Vienna they are called Fisolen! No hope for those of us trying to learn German…

  6. A friend of mine, she is born in South America, studied in the United States, now she is an Austrian, but we still communicate in english – well, she asked me one day: ‘what is -schiach- ?’
    Not so easy to explain, can be used just in certain situations!
    Someting like the english word ‘ugly’, depends on taste.

    – das ist ein schiaches Auto (the car is not my taste)
    – die Blumen sind schon schiach! (the flowers had their best time)
    – mein Nachbar is ein schiacher Mensch (…)
    – mein Nachbar hat eine schiache Frau (…)
    For him ‘schiacher’ for her ‘schiache’ – this make the german language so difficult!
    – das Mädchen ist aber gar nicht schiach! (ironic, in fact one means, she is nice)

  7. I like the phrase “etwas geht sich aus”. It could either mean there’s enough time for something or there’s enough space.

  8. “[…] in Germany and Austria (and Switzerland) you have a range of dialects which are so different from each other as to be more or less incomprehensible.”

    That’s true, but there is an official Austrian standard German. It’s mainly used in the media and in written language. That’s the reason why we have our own dictionary where words like “Paradeiser” and “Häferl” are standardized.

    1. Indeed I have heard that meaning. Hard to understand the connection between a mug and an irritable person…

  9. Jessasmarandjosef! – Oh my God!
    Ein Meterprügel – a small person
    Ein Piefke – somebody from Germany
    Ein Schlagl – a stroke
    Ein Machatschek – boss, somebody in charge of something
    Eine Palatschinken – pancake (in Germany: dünner Eierkuchen)

  10. Gschloder – to thin or bad tasting drink specially coffee/tea

    Wunderwuzi – A jack of all trades, provider of unexpected top performances

    tachinieren – laze while working, avoid work

  11. When I was in Germany for some interviews at first I asked “Können wir uns ein paar Sessel holen?”. I meant some simple chairs to sit on.
    My contact person looked at me in horror: “Wo sollen wir Sessel herbekommen?”

    me “Wir könnten die nehmen die da drüben stehen” pointing to some chairs standing beside

    Then we realized in Germany I would have to ask for a “Stuhl”, the word “Sessel” in Germany means more of an arm chair.

  12. eppa – It’s not used all over Austria and I can only speak for Burgenland on this matter but it basically means “vielleicht” or “maybe/may”.

    To give an example: “wüßt eppa nochha no wos mochn?” “Willst du vielleicht nachher noch etwas unternehmen/machen?”

  13. Kipferl – traditional yeast roll in crescent shape
    Tuchent – in German Federbett, duvet, feather bed
    Polster – in German Kissen – pillow
    Obers – in German Sahne – cream
    Patschen – Hausschuh mit Fersenteil (in Unterscheidung zum Schlapfen) – slippers

Comments are closed.

About Leigh Turner

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of…

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of the UN and other organisations; stories here will reflect that.

About me: I arrived in Vienna in August 2016 for my second posting in this wonderful city, having first served here in the mid-1980s. My previous job was as HM Consul-General and Director-General for Trade and Investment for Turkey, Central Asia and South Caucasus based in Istanbul.

Further back: I grew up in Nigeria, Exeter, Lesotho, Swaziland and Manchester before attending Cambridge University 1976-79. I worked in several government departments before joining the Foreign Office in 1983.

Keen to go to Africa and South America, I’ve had postings in Vienna (twice), Moscow, Bonn, Berlin, Kyiv and Istanbul, plus jobs in London ranging from the EU Budget to the British Overseas Territories.

2002-6 I was lucky enough to spend four years in Berlin running the house, looking after the children (born 1992 and 1994) and doing some writing and journalism.

To return to Vienna as ambassador is a privilege and a pleasure. I hope this blog reflects that.