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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 word of the day: Witzfigur

You may like to think your jokes are "witzig" - but beware of getting labelled with this German word. It's not nearly as funny as it sounds.

German word of the day: Witzfigur

Witz, the German word for “joke”, is one of the first words a lot of foreigners come to learn when they start learning German. But it may be a little longer until you encounter what’s known as a Witzfigur.

Combine the word der Witz (joke) with the word die Figur (figure or character) and you get die Witzfigur (wits·fii·guur) – someone who may well be (unintentionally) funny, but is more likely to be the butt of somebody else’s joke. 

Think of it a little bit like the English expression “figure of fun”, or – more commonly used – a laughing stock. 

A Witzfigur may pop up in jokes, stories and songs as a clownish sidekick who offers some light relief.

In some cases, these Witzfiguren are there to act as the wise fool and reveal some deeper insight into what’s going on. In many cases, though, they’re just there to get a cream pie chucked in their face. 

It’s worth remembering that not every character in a joke is the butt of it – that is to say, not every Witzfigur is a Witzfigur.

In German, there’s a tradition of jokes involving Klein Fritzchen (little Fritz) – a fictional boy who pops up time and time again in various comedic scenarios, usually in order to say something insulting to someone. 

READ ALSO: German words you need to know: Der Zappelphilipp

Little Fritz is not so much a figure of fun as a literal Witzfigur: a character in a joke. And in fact, his role in the jokes often involve delivering the punchline that makes someone else the laughing stock. 

That said, if you hear someone described as a Witzfigur in real life, it usually doesn’t mean anything good.

In fact, it often means they’ve done something pretty peinlich (embarrassing) or deserving of public mockery. And yes, it can often be applied to politicians.

By way of example, the term was recently used by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) to describe Gerhard Schröder, the former chancellor of Germany who has recently been stripped of many of his perks for insisting on taking Kremlin-linked jobs.

When asked about Schröder, Lauterbach said: “He has succeeded in being a former chancellor (who is) now on the verge of being a laughing stock.”

So, by all means, make a “Witz” or two, and definitely don’t be afraid of doing anything “witzig” (witty or funny), but if you ever find yourself on the verge of become a Witzfigur, it could be time for a change of course.

Examples 

Er ist nur eine Witzfigur. Vergiss ihn. 

He’s just a joke. Forget about him. 

Ich habe angst davor, eine Witzfigur zu werden.

I’m afraid of becoming a laughing stock. 

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