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GERMAN LANGUAGE

The everyday German groceries that have a double meaning

The food that you put in your shopping basket at the German supermarket isn’t just the ingredients for a tasty dinner, it can also add some flavour to your spoken German.

The everyday German groceries that have a double meaning
In Germany, eggs are also found between a man's legs. Photo: dpa | Friso Gentsch

Like in many languages, spoken German is peppered with colloquialisms that don’t seem to make much sense at first glance. For some reasons, Germans are particularly fond of spicing up their Umgangssprache by giving groceries new meanings.

Eier (eggs)

Eier are not just ovals that you crack into your frying pan in the morning, they are also the two ovals that hang between a man’s legs.

If you want to compliment a man on his bravery you can say that er hat dicke Eier (he’s got fat eggs).

Or, if you a football hits you in the wrong place you can say “Aua, das hat mich direkt in die Eier getroffen!” (that hit my eggs).

By the way, your Nudel (pasta) completes the trinity of the male genitalia.

Birne (pear)

More anatomy here: your head is sometimes referred to in everyday speech as either your Birne or your Rübe (turnip). This is somewhat equivalent to the word ‘noggin’ in English dialect.

Kartoffel (potato)

The German word for a potato is also used as an insult for people who are ethnically German. It could also be used ironically by Germans to describe typically German behaviour. Er ist eine richtige Kartoffel! is an insult you might reserve for someone who wears socks and sandals outdoors.

Kartoffel as a description for Germans has become controversial in recent years, with some conservative politicians warning that it is being used in school playgrounds to bully German children.

Wurst (sausage)

The Ahlenwurst (seen here) is a speciality from Hessen. Photo: dpa | Uwe Zucchi

Germans famously care about their sausages. Most regions have their own local delicacy and will proudly insist that it is the best in the country. But the word Wurst can also be used to mean that you don’t care.

So, if you want to tell someone you don’t give a toss, you can say: Das ist mir völlig Wurst! (That’s complete sausage to me).

Apparently, the phrase comes from the fact that butchers once used leftover meat in their sausages.

Bier (beer)

An expression using the German word for beer is similar. To say Das ist nicht mein Bier is to say that’s not my business (and is usually used just after you’ve poked you nose into someone else’s affairs).

The origins of this phrase seem obscure. One theory has it that the word Bier has come to replace Birne (pear), which is used to mean Sache (thing) in some dialects.

Salat (salad)

The word for lettuce or salad can be used in a couple of ways in everyday speech. If someone is talking gibberish then a Wortsalat is coming out of their mouth.

Additionally, if you have the salad (den Salat haben) then you are counting the cost for a misadventure.

Sahne (cream)

You might not be surprised to hear that the word for cream signifies exclusivity in German. Much like the expression crème de la crème, Germans call something erste Sahne to mean it is top notch.

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

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GERMAN LANGUAGE

EXPLAINED: What to know about languages and dialects in Germany

Standard German is called Hochdeutsch and is heard all over the country. But there are many regional dialects and other languages spoken in Germany.

EXPLAINED: What to know about languages and dialects in Germany

The wide-ranging dialects of Germany

There are believed to be as many as 250 dialects of German, with many tracing back to the languages of Germanic tribes.

In the north and around Berlin, many dialects have been displaced by the standard German language, however in the south, dialects are still prominent. This divide is thought to be due to the fact that the upper German south was a strongly rural region for a long time, becoming industrialised a lot later than its northern counterpart.

READ ALSO: From Moin to Tach – How to say hello around Germany

Rheinhessisch (from Rheinhessen) and Pfälzisch (from Rhineland-Palatinate) belong to a group of Rhine-Franconian dialects which are spoken across the western regions of Saarland, Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-Württemberg and Hesse, and even in the northeastern part of France. 

Bairisch – from Bavaria – is one of the most widely spoken dialects and is more easily understood by German speakers, partly due to its prominence. 

A balloon with the Bavarian saying: "I mog di" (I like you) written on it at Oktoberfest in 2019.

A balloon with the Bavarian saying: “I mog di” (I like you) written on it at Oktoberfest in 2019. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

Other dialects include Schwäbisch, Kölsch, Hamburgisch and Allgäuerisch.

READ ALSO: The complete guide to dialects in Germany

But how many people actually use their dialects on a daily basis?

According to a survey by the Institute for the German Language (IDS) in Mannheim, every second German claims to be able to speak a dialect. 

However, decline in dialects has been noted by the Allensbach Institute for Public Opinion Research. In 1991 the institute found that 41 percent of Germans in the former East almost always spoke in dialect. By 2008 this number had dropped to 33 percent. In the west, this figure fell from 28 to 24 percent. 

It is also a lot more common for older generations to speak in dialect, which is contributing to its decline.

While many dialects are gradually disappearing, a so-called Regiolekt (regional dialect), which is a combination of dialect and standard language, seems to be sticking around. This is a regional, colloquial language that still maintains the grammar of High German. For example, the word “ich”, which people in Hesse and some other regions pronounce as “isch”, has been integrated into standard German.

What about other languages?

Overall, around 67 percent of the population speaks at least one foreign language, with 27 percent mastering two.

The most common second language is English, with many Germans learning English in school, especially with the emergence of bilingual kindergartens and schools. A number of businesses and start-ups in Germany use English as a working language, and even universities offer many classes or degrees in English, which further encourages teaching of the language. 

READ ALSO: ‘Lack of diversity is a problem’: What it’s like working at a Berlin tech startup

English is taught in schools in Germany.

English is taught in schools in Germany. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Marijan Murat

Learning French or Latin is also still a popular option in German high schools. If you’re living near the Western or Eastern borders, it isn’t uncommon for Dutch or Russian language classes to be offered (the latter being especially the case in former GDR or East German states). 

Due to the number of first and second-generation immigrants from Turkey, Turkish is also widely spoken in households across Germany.

Minority languages in Germany

Minority languages have long played an important part in German culture, with Germany being one of the first countries to sign the Charter for Regional or Minority Languages from the Council of Europe in 1992, aiming to preserve minority cultures in modern Europe, encouraging tolerance and diversity.

The minority languages most present in Germany include Romani (0.8 percent of the population), Danish (0.06 percent of the population) and the Frisian languages, including North Frisian and West Frisian from Schleswig-Holstein and the North Frisian islands, and Saterland Frisian spoken in Lower Saxony.

The West Slavic languages of Upper and Lower Sorbian spoken in Saxony and Brandenburg, while mostly spoken by older generations, have been given the right to protection under the Brandenburg constitution.

Low German or Plattdeutsch is closely related to Frisian, and is also spoken mainly in Northern Germany. 

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s minority languages 

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