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LEARNING GERMAN

German phrase of the day: Alter Schwede

So how exactly did the phrase "Old Swedish guy“ become a popular expression in the German language?

German phrase of the day: Alter Schwede
Photo: Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

“Alter Schwede“ does not actually refer to an older Swedish man, but is a colloquial expression, a so-called “Schnack” from Low German. This language is closely related to German and spoken by about 14 percent of the population in Northern Germany. “Alter Schwede” is, however, common as a term throughout Germany. 

READ ALSO: ‘Alter Schwede!: The surprising role of old Swedes in the German language

Without referring to a specific person, “Alter Schwede” is used as an expression of astonishment, with both positive and negative connotation.  

In reference to a person, “Alter Schwede” usually expresses an ironic indignation, but can also be meant seriously, as an  expression of outrage.  

So how did an old Swedish guy end up as a kind of friendly insult? After the end of the Thirty Years’ War, elector Frederick William of Brandenburg recruited experienced Swedish soldiers as instructors for his army to be rebuilt.  

READ ALSO: Nerdy flowers to alcoholic birds: the 12 most colourful German insults

As they were particularly good at drilling their subordinates, they were usually assigned as supervising sergeants.  

Within the army they were colloquially called “Alter Schwede”, and  the expression trickled into everyday speech.  

Example sentences:

“Alter Schwede, hier ist es aber schmutzig!”

“Wow, it’s very dirty here!”

“Alter Schwede, das ist aber eine schöne Überraschung.”

“Oh my, that’s a pleasant surprise.“ 

“Alter Schwede, heute möchtest du mich aber ärgern.”

“Dude, you  really do want to annoy me today.”

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GERMAN WORD OF THE DAY

German word of the day: Rücksicht

Here's how to take this thoughtful word into consideration.

German word of the day: Rücksicht

Why do I need to know Rücksicht?

Because it’s a commonly used word and knowing what it means – and practising it – will make you a better person.

What does Rücksicht mean?

Rücksicht is a feminine noun which means “consideration” or “regard”. It’s made up of the shortened form of the word zurück meaning “back” and Sicht – which means view. So literally, it means, back view, or looking back.

This literal meaning tells you something about how the word is used in German – if you look back to see what’s happened to your friend, you are taking them into consideration.

If you want to really make sure you don’t forget what Rücksicht means – you can watch the following video of Germany’s 1983 Eurovision song contest entry. The catchy ballad – called “Rücksicht” – came in place 5 of the competition that year. 

How to use Rücksicht

When using Rücksicht, bear in mind that it is usually paired with specific verbs and prepositions.

The most commonly used set phrase is Rücksicht auf etwas/jemand nehmen, which is used to mean “to be considerate of” or “to take care of” someone or something. For example:

Radfahrer müssen auf Fußgänger Rücksicht nehmen.

Cyclists must be considerate of pedestrians.

Er nimmt Rücksicht auf die Bedürfnisse seiner schwangeren Frau.

He takes care of his pregnant wife’s needs.

Rücksicht is usually followed by the preposition auf, but it can be preceded by a number of prepositions to compose different phrases. 

Mit Rücksicht auf for example, means “in view of” and ohne Rücksicht auf means “without consideration for”, while aus Rücksicht auf means “out of consideration for.” 

Here are some examples:

Führungen dürfen aus Rücksicht auf die Teilnehmer nicht aufgenommen werden.
Out of consideration of the participants, tours may not be recorded.
 
Er will tun, was er möchte, ohne Rücksicht auf die Anderen.
He wants to do what he wants, without considering other people.
 
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