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LEARNING GERMAN

German word of the day: Servus

Today’s word of the day is one you are likely to stumble on if you're making it to Munich for the last days of Oktoberfest. It's widely used in southern Germany (and Austria).

German word of the day: Servus
Photo: depositphotos

Servus is a general, friendly way of greeting someone – so it can be used for saying hello as well as for saying good-bye. The roots of this greeting date far back; it comes from the Latin word servus, which means “slave” or “servant.”

SEE ALSO: Grüß Gott, Moin, Hallo! The complete guide to regional dialects around Germany

So if someone greets you with Servus, it roughly translates to “I’m your servant” or “At your service!”

In wide parts of Southern Germany, it’s quite common to greet people with a hearty “Servus!”

But this notion is actually spread even further – it is a traditional greeting in wide parts of Central Europe. Servus, or slight variations of the word, are used in other parts of southern Germany, Austria, Poland, Croatia, Hungary and Romania, to name a few.

This video takes a look at how “Servus” and other words in Bavarian German are used.

Usually, servus is a colloquial way of greeting people you know better, especially friends. It is also one of the few historical words that is widely used amongst teenagers.

In Bavaria, servus has another meaning as well, though: If you hear someone say “Na servus,” that usually means that they are surprised, but in a disapproving way.

Examples:

Servus, lieber Freund.

Hello dear friend.

Servus miteinander!

Hello everyone.

Do you have a favourite word you'd like to see us cover? If so, please email our editor Rachel Stern with your suggestion.

Member comments

  1. Wow, that video gave me a headache. I never knew Bavarian was so different to standard Deutsch. So, if I move there, will people be able to understand and reply if I speak standard Deutsch?

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GERMAN WORD OF THE DAY

German phrase of the day: Lügen haben kurze Beine

This phrase tells you why you should try not to lie.

German phrase of the day: Lügen haben kurze Beine

Why do I need to know Lügen haben kurze Beine?

From the serpent in the Bible to the spectacular fall of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (see the Spiegel cover below with the title ‘one lie too many’), lying has always been morally and socially unacceptable.

Yet everyone lies. Anyone who says otherwise is probably telling fibs. Past research has suggested people lie once or twice per day on average. So, the Germans have found a unique way of tackling lies with this proverb.

What does it mean?

Lügen haben kurze Beine (which sounds like this) literally translates to ‘lies have short legs’. In English you might say: ‘the truth will out’ or ‘lies won’t get you far’.

This proverb was reportedly first found in a German dictionary as early as 1663. As you might expect, this saying is based on the idea that someone with shorter legs can’t run super fast – the metaphor being that a lie won’t escape, it will be found out.

The moral of the story is that honesty is the best policy because nothing can run away from the truth. This symbolic proverb is taught to many German children by their parents. 

But what about white lies? In German, they are pleasingly called Notlüge (emergency lies) and we all know that sometimes not telling the whole truth is appropriate or needed in certain social situations. We’ll look at this in more detail in a future word of the day. 

Use it like this:

Irgendwann wird er mein Geheimnis entdecken, denn Lügen haben kurze Beine.

At some point he will discover my secret, because the truth will out. 

Lügen haben kurze Beine, vor allem im Internet.

Lies can’t get far, especially on the internet.

Ich rate Ihnen, heute die Wahrheit zu sagen. Lügen haben kurze Beine.

I advise you to tell the truth today. Lies won’t travel far. 

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