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LEARNING GERMAN

These eight words show just how different German and Austrian Deutsch can be

Germany and Austria may share a common language - but often with a very different vocabulary. Here are eight of the most common terms which sound completely different if you're in Vienna versus Berlin.

These eight words show just how different German and Austrian Deutsch can be
Archive photo shows tomatoes growing in Osterweddingen, Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: DPA

Austria and Germany — it’s a love-hate relationship really. They share a language (for the most part), a similar culture at least with Bavaria), and an intertwined history.

However, there are some regional differences — and they are especially present in language. While Bavarians and Austrians understand each other well, people from other German regions might get lost in translation. 

In order to never be confused again, here’s eight things which go by very different names in Austria. Spoiler: A lot of them are related to food.

READ ALSO: Top 12: The best words in Austrian German

Paradeiser – Tomaten

Eating a good, sun-ripened, juicy tomato (perhaps with some mozzarella, olive oil and basil) really does taste like a glimpse of paradise. So naturally, tomatoes are not called die Tomaten in Austria, but der Paradeiser.

That’s exactly where the word comes from. When tomatoes first became known in Europe, the juicy red fruit was called der Paradiesapfel, apple of paradise. While the term die Tomate, adopted from the Mexican indigenous language Nahuatl, later became more prevalent in Germany, Austrians have kept the more lyrical term Paradeiser.

Melanzani – Auberginen 

Let’s stay with Mediterranean food a bit longer. It tastes exceptionally good with tomatoes, is nutritious and immediately invokes the feeling of a warm summer evening on an Italian patio: the eggplant in American English, or aubergine in British English. 

The name of this versatile vegetable takes us around the whole Mediterranean Sea. In Germany, it is also called die Aubergine, derived from the French l’aubergine. However, Austrians call it Melanzani, from the Italien le melanzane. Both words do however share the same origin. 

L’aubergine, the French term, was actually taken from the Catalan word albergínia. 

Grilled veggies at a restaurant in Cologne, including the Aubergine/Melanzani. Photo: DPA

The Catalan term however stems from the Arabic al-badenjan. In the 8th century, Catalonia for a short period became a part of Al-Andalus, the Muslim dynasty that ruled great parts of Spain during the time. It is however unknown if the word became incorporated in Catalan language during this period.  

READ ALSO: Seven German words which stem from Arabic

Funny enough, Melanzani is also derived from al-badenjan, but somewhere along history became mixed up with the greek word melanós, which means black or dark. The word was established in Italy during the 16th century and eventually made its way to Austria. 

Erdäpfel – Kartoffel

We already established that der Paradeiser stems from Paradiesapfel. Austrians really seem to love the term der Apfel (apple), `cause guess how potatoes are called? Yes, you guessed it: der Erdapfel. Apple that comes from the earth. Pretty logical, right? 

In this case, it wasn’t the looks of the potato that reminded people of an apple, but rather an etymological reason. In Latin, all vegetables and fruits that grow in or on the floor were called malum terrae — fruit of the earth. Which explains why potatoes are called pretty much the same in France: Pomme de Terre

The German word die Kartoffel, stems from tartufolo, which is Italian and — of course — eventually came from the Latin terrae tuber (tuber from the earth). Whether it’s an apple or a tuber — the most important point is: It came out of the earth. 

READ ALSO: 10 German words which come from Italian

Marille – Aprikose

In Germany, apricots are called die Aprikose, which sounds quite similar to English. Both words stem from the same Latin expression: Persicum praecoquum, which literally means unripe peach. Through various transformations in different languages around the Mediterranean Sea, it turned into the French l’apricot, where both the German and the English term stem from. 

Funny enough, die Marille is also derived from a Latin expression: Armenicum pomum — the Armenian apple. Apparently the old Romans were unable to decide what an apricot resembled better — peach or apple? Again, through various transformations the Armenian apple became die Marille. Interestingly, until the 17th century Marille was also used in Germany, and the term changed only with increasing French influence. 

Jänner – Januar

Moving on from food, but staying with terms of Latin origin: der Januar, as the Germans say, or der Jänner, as the Austrians say. 

Both terms come from the Latin word Ianuarius, which refers to a month in the Roman Julian calendar. Legend has it, that the month was named after the ancient Roman good Janus, who is often portrayed with two faces sharing one head and staring in opposite directions.

He is said to be the god of endings and new beginnings. When the Julian calendar was reformed and replaced by the Gregorian calendar that we still follow today, January became the first month of the new year.

Both terms mean the same thing and stem from the same origin. So where does the difference stem from? 

The history of how der Januar came together is quickly recalled: The Latin suffix -us was common in German until the 18th century, before it was dropped in order to make the word sound more German. 

The history of der Jänner is a little more complicated: 

Latin, like any other language changed throughout history. In spoken Latin, contrary to written Latin, Ianuarius turned into Ienuarius. Speakers of Medieval German borrowed that form and turned it into Jenner, which in the 18th century turned into Jänner. However, Januar became more common in most of Germany, perhaps because it sounded more Latin and therefore more sophisticated. But Austria, and some parts of Bavaria stood by the older form der Jänner, and keep using it until today. 

Jammern – sudern

Archive photo of the Berlin Marathon shows a sign reading, ‘Don’t complain/nag, believe in yourself.’ Photo: DPA

What is — according to the world — a common stereotype about German people? They are said to take every little inconvenience quite seriously. A red light, when they’re late for work? Catastrophe. Someone skipping the line at the grocery store? Train wreck. And when that happens: It’s time to get naggy, or as the Germans say jammern, or as the Austrians say sudern.

Jammern comes form the medieval German word der Jammer (misery) and probably stems from the literal sound of someone wailing. Sudern however comes from der Sud, which describes a boiling liquid, like a broth.

So when Austrians are nagging they’re boiling of anger, but when Germans are nagging they’re wailing.

READ ALSO: 10 German words with simply hilarious literal translations

Spital – Krankenhaus 

After Germans, as well as Austrians, have spent some time nagging (see above), they might be very exhausted and need some rest. Das Spital is derived from das Hospital, (like l’hospital, the hospital, el hospital…), which stems from the old Latin word hospitalium meaning guest room. That’s a bit of a stretch — from welcoming guests to welcoming the sick, but language after all is an adaptable thing. 

Quite contrary, the German das Krankenhaus is as literal as a word can be. It is a composed word of das Haus (house) and krank (sick). So, yep, it means exactly what you think it does. 

Häf’n – Gefängnis

Attention: der Häf’n (prison) is not used everywhere in Austria, but mostly in Vienna. 

It stems from the old German word haven, which meant harbor, but also vessel. In modern German, haven changed into der Hafen, which still means harbor, but no longer vessel. 

It is not entirely clear how haven became Häf’n. Legend has it, that the inside of a pot might might feel like the inside of a prison, and the word Häf’n therefore became a figure of speech. 

In Germany, people will probably just give you a very confused look if you use Häf’n. They rather speak of das Gefängnis. The term is derived from gefangen (captive) and is used in the sense of prison since the 15th century.

By Lisa Schneider 

Were you surprised about some of these words? Leave us a comment below!

Member comments

  1. Let us not forget that most important difference. Schlagobers/Schlagsahne.

    When our daughter was born in Vienna at the Rudolfinerhaus in 1973 she was so white, plump, and sweet the nurses nicked named her Schlagobers. She is still known as Schlag in the family just as sweet but less plump.

  2. I really enjoy these Austrian vocabulary/language articles! Thank you. Next week we’ll be traveling to Austria for 10 weeks and I would love to buy an Austrian/English or Austrian/German dictionary while I’m there. Can someone make a suggestion?

  3. I just saw the Osterreichisches Worterbuch in another Local.at article. (Sorry, I don’t know how to do umlauts on my computer).
    Other dictionary suggestions?

  4. I asked kindly for the Mistkübel many times when I moved to Germany from Austria and most Germans told me their English was too weak and didn’t know that word. It wasn’t English and so I was confused. Now I know why.

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LEARNING GERMAN

The best podcasts for learning and perfecting your German

Once you've learned the basics of German, listening to podcasts is one of the best ways of increasing vocabulary and speeding up comprehension. Here are some of the best podcasts out there for German learners.

The best podcasts for learning and perfecting your German

STARTING OUT

Coffee Break German

Coffee Break German aims to take you through the basics of German in a casual lesson-like format. It is extremely easy to listen to. Each 20-minute episode acts as a mini-lesson, where German native Thomas teaches Mark Pendleton, the founder and CEO of Coffee Break Languages, the basics.

All phrases are broken down into individual words. After new phrases are introduced the listeners are encouraged to repeat them back to practise pronunciation.

The advantage of listening to this podcast is that the learner, Mark, begins at the same level as you. He is also a former high school French and Spanish teacher. He often asks for clarification of certain phrases, and it can feel as if he is asking the very questions you want answered.

You can also stream the podcast directly from the provider’s website, where they sell a supplementary package from the Coffee Break German Academy, which offers additional audio content, video flashcards and comprehensive lesson notes

German Pod 101

German Pod 101 aims to teach you all about the German language, from the basics in conversations and comprehension to the intricacies of German culture. German Pod 101 offers various levels for your German learning and starts with Absolute Beginner.

The hosts are made up of one German native and one American expat living in Germany, in order to provide you with true authentic language, but also explanations about the comparisons and contrasts with English. This podcast will, hopefully, get you speaking German from day one.

Their website offers more information and the option to create an account to access more learning materials.

Learn German by Podcast

This is a great podcast if you don’t have any previous knowledge of German. The hosts guide you through a series of scenarios in each episode and introduce you to new vocabulary based on the role-plays. Within just a few episodes, you will learn how to talk about your family, order something in a restaurant and discuss evening plans. Each phrase is uttered clearly and repeated several times, along with translations.

READ ALSO:

Learn German by Podcast provides the podcasts for free but any accompanying lesson guides must be purchased from their website. These guides include episode transcripts and some grammar tips. 

DEVELOPING YOUR GERMAN

Easy German

This podcast takes the form of a casual conversation between hosts Manuel and Cari, who chat in a fairly free-form manner about aspects of their daily lives. Sometimes they invite guests onto the podcast, and they often talk about issues particularly interesting to expats, such as: “How do Germans see themselves?”. Targeted at young adults, the podcasters bring out a new episode very three or four days.

News in Slow German

This is a fantastic podcast to improve your German listening skills. What’s more, it helps you stay informed about the news in several different levels of fluency.

The speakers are extremely clear and aim to make the podcast enjoyable to listen to. For the first part of each episode the hosts talk about a current big news story, then the second part usually features a socially relevant topic. 

A new episode comes out once a week and subscriptions are available which unlock new learning tools.

SBS German

This podcast is somewhat interesting as it is run by an Australian broadcaster for the German-speaking community down under. Perhaps because ethnic Germans in Australia have become somewhat rusty in their mother tongue, the language is relatively simple but still has a completely natural feel.

There is a lot of news here, with regular pieces on German current affairs but also quite a bit of content looking at what ties Germany and Australia together. This lies somewhere between intermediate and advanced.

A woman puts on headphones in Gadebusch, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Photo: dpa | Jens Büttner

PERFECTING YOUR GERMAN

Auf Deutsche gesagt

This is another great podcast for people who have a high level of German. The host, Robin Meinert, talks in a completely natural way but still manages to keep it clear and comprehensible.

This podcast also explores a whole range of topics that are interesting to internationals in Germany, such as a recent episode on whether the band Rammstein are xenophobic. In other words, the podcast doesn’t just help you learn the language, it also gives you really good insights into what Germans think about a wide range of topics.

Sozusagen

Bayern 2 present their podcast Sozusagen! for all those who are interested in the German language. This isn’t specifically directed at language learners and is likely to be just as interesting to Germans and foreigners because it talks about changes in the language like the debate over gender-sensitive nouns. Each episode explores a different linguistic question, from a discussion on German dialects to an analysis of political linguistics in Germany.

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