Pfälzisch: A guide to the distinct dialect of Rhineland-Palatinate

The state of Rhineland-Palatinate is known for its beautiful landscapes, wine, and a dialect even Germans themselves struggle to understand. We break down the lingo you'll need to understand the natives.

Pfälzisch: A guide to the distinct dialect of Rhineland-Palatinate
A stone in Rhineland-Palatinate with a citation in the local dialect reading, roughly translated: "Where the axis of the world gets oiled up, and we watch out that nothing happens to it". Photo: DPA

In Rhineland-Palatinate there is a secret. The entire population is, essentially, bilingual. 

Recently, concerns have been raised about the “dying out” of local dialects in Germany. Visitors to the Rhineland could be forgiven for thinking the dialect is nothing more than a slight twang to the Hochceutsch (standardised form of German we hear and read in the media) spoken by locals. 

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

Out of ear-shot, however, and at the end of the winding country roads, “Pfälzisch” is still very much alive and well. It’s such a rich and colourful dialect that it can even seem like its own language. 

Norre weil du dich domols
ääfach bei mer eighenkt hoscht,
wie mer hääm sin,
do bin ich, norre weche dir,
gschdolwert iwwer mei äächene Fieß:
Un mein Knechel umgeknixt, un wie! Ganz grie-gääl-bloo!

(Just because back then,
When you just put your arm in mine,
As we were walking home,
Just because of you, I
Tripped up over my own feet:
And twisted my ankle, and how! All green-yellow-blue!) 

In truth, it’s more of an amalgamation of languages. Because of the historically fluid borders between the Rhineland and what is still colloquially known as “Lothringen” (Lorraine), there is a strong French influence. Words like “Malöör” (bad luck) from the French “Malheur”, replace the more traditional German vocab like “Unglück”. 

Other words remind of the shared germanic root of English and German, pronouncing many of German T-sounds as D-sounds, like “Daa” (day) instead of “Tag”. 

With that in mind, The Local has collated some of the most essential Pfälzer vocabulary, to give you a taste and really stun the locals as an expat living in the Rhineland, or a visitor to the beautiful, but often underappreciated, province.  

The basics: 

Aarisch: sehr – very 

Ajo: das stimmt / ich stimme dir völlig zu – that’s true/ I completely agree 

Allahop: also gut/in Ordnung – alright then/ok then 

Allemo: Ja, natürlich

Babbele: reden – speaking

Bagaasch: Verwandtschaft – relatives, from French “baggage”

Drepsele: sanfter Regen/ light rain

Due: tun / machen – to do

Ebbes: etwas – something

Elwetrittcher: a local mythical creature, described as a chicken-like figure with antlers

Fraa: Frau – woman

Gäälrieb: Karotte – carrot

Gell?: nicht wahr? / stimmts? – right?

Geworschdel: Durcheinander –  a muddle

Gosch: Mund – mouth

Guggemo do: Guck mal – look at that

Grumbeere: Kartoffel – potato

Hä?: Entschuldigung, ich habe sie nicht verstanden, können sie das bitte nochmal sagen? – excuse me, could you repeat that, I didn’t hear you the first time

This video shows conversations in Hochdeutsch (standard German) vs. Pfälzisch.

Hamma: haben wir – we have

Hasche?: hast du? – do you have? 

Isch ebbes?: ist etwas? – is something up?

Isch kennt misch uffreesche – “Ich könnte mich aufregen” – ein Ausruf der Wut / “I could get so annoyed” an exclamation of anger/frustration 

Jesses!: Ausruf des Erstaunens/exclamation of disbelief/surprise

Mänsche?: meinst du? – Do you think?

Sellemols: damals – back then

Oh her doch uff!: Ach, hör doch auf damit! – Oh, stop that! 

Uffbasse!: Pass auf! – watch out! 

Colourful expressions: 

Rutsch mer doch de Buckel nunner! – “Slide down my back!” – as much as: Go to hell / I don’t care

Die sinn en Kopp un en Arsch – “They’re one head and one arse” – they’re just like one another / just as bad as each other

Fer en Klicker un en Knopp – “For a marble and a button” – bought affordably, a real bargain

Wer lang kräxt, lebt lang – “Those that complain the most, live the longest”

Was ma hat des hat ma – “What one has, one has”

Es hellt sich uff zum wolgebruch – “It’s brightening up for a cloudburst”

Er/sie hat de hinnere in zwe haenn genomm – “He/she took his/her backside in two hands” – he/she made a swift exit / ran away quickly

Der is am deiwel aus de Pan gehubst – “He/she must have jumped out of the devil’s pan” – they’re a bad apple

Do kennt ma helle Träne forze un senkrecht in die Luft scheisse – an expression of anger

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10 ways to express surprise in German

From woodland fairies to whistling pigs, the German language has a colourful variety of phrases to express surprise.

10 ways to express surprise in German

1. Alter Schwede!

You may recognise this phrase from the cheese aisle at the supermarket, but it’s also a popular expression in Germany for communicating surprise. 

The phrase, which means “old Swede” comes from the 17th century when King Frederick William enlisted the help of experienced Swedish soldiers to fight in the Thirty Years’ War.

Because of their outstanding performance in battle, the Swedish soldiers became popular and respected among the Prussians, and they were respectfully addressed as “Old Swede”. Over the last three hundred years, the phrase developed into one to convey awed astonishment. 

READ ALSO: German word of the day – Alter Schwede

2. Holla, die Waldfee!

This curious expression literally means “Holla, the wood fairy”. It can be used both as an exclamation of astonishment and to insinuate that something is ridiculous.

Engraving of a fairy in the picnic park in Enfield in the UK.

Engraving of a fairy in the picnic park in Enfield in the UK. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Mareike Graepel

There are various explanations as to how the forest fairy made it into the German lexicon. Some say that it comes from the Grimm’s fairy tale “Frau Holle,” while others say it comes from an old song called “Shoo, shoo, the forest fairy!”

READ ALSO: 10 words and phrases that will make you sound like a true German

3. Das ist ja ein dicker Hund!

Literally meaning “that is indeed a fat dog!” this expression of surprise presumably originates from a time in the past when German dogs were generally on the thinner side.

4. Ich glaube, ich spinne!

The origin of this expression is questionable, because the word “Spinne” means “spider” and also “I spin”. Either way, it’s used all over Germany to mean “I think I’m going crazy” as an expression of surprise.

5. Ich glaube, mein Schwein pfeift!

The idea of a pig whistling is pretty ridiculous, and that’s where the phrase  – meaning “I think my pig whistles” – comes from. Germans use this expression when they can’t believe or grasp something, or to express that they are extremely surprised.

The pig Rosalie stands on a farm in a pasture.

The pig Rosalie stands on a farm in a pasture. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

6. Meine Güte!

This straightforward phrase simply means “my goodness” and is a commonly used expression of astonishment.

7. Oha!

More of a sound than a word, this short exclamation will let the world know that you are shocked by something.

READ ALSO: Denglisch: The English words that will make you sound German

8. heilige Blechle!

Often when surprised or outraged, we might let slip an exclamation that refers to something sacred. This phrase fits into that bracket, as it means “holy tin box”. 

The peculiar expression comes from the Swabian dialect and refers to the cash box from which the poor were paid by the Church in the Middle Ages.

The green house number nine which won an award for energy-efficient renovation and construction in Saxony-Anhalt.

The green house number nine which won an award for energy-efficient renovation and construction in Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert

9. ach du grüne Neune!

This slightly antiquated expression literally means “oh you green nine!”, or “oh, my goodness!” and is one you’re more likely to hear among the older generation of Germans.

The origin of the phrase is disputed. One explanation claims that it comes from the famous 19th century Berlin dance hall “Conventgarten” which, although it was located in Blumenstraße No. 9, had its main entrance in “Grüner Weg”. Therefore, the locals renamed it as “Grüne Neune” (Green Nine).

Another explanation is that the phrase comes from fairs where playing cards were used to read the future. In German card games, the “nine of spades” is called “green nine” – and pulling this card in a fortune telling is a bad omen.

10. Krass!

The word Krass in German is an adjective that means blatant or extreme, but when said on its own, it’s an expression of surprise. Popular among young Germans, it’s usually used in a positive way, to mean something like “awesome” or “badass”.