German word of the day: Mahlzeit

Use this greeting around meal times - especially in the workplace - or to charm your German speaking friends.

A blackboard with the word Mahlzeit on it
Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

Why do I need to know Mahlzeit?

Although a bit old-school, this word is still commonly used as a general greeting in Germany as well as Austria, particularly around lunch time. 

What does it mean?

Die Mahlzeit (which sounds like this) is made up of the words Mahl – meal – and Zeit – time, so it refers to the time that you eat (meal time), although it’s not strictly limited to that.

It is often used as a general greeting around lunchtime (say, 11am until 2pm). You might use it with your colleagues, for instance, when you are heading out or returning from a lunch break. Although it’s colloquial, it may also be heard in casual restaurants or inns in more traditional parts of Germany and Austria. 

If you’re having a bite to eat in a public place, like a train station or forest, friendly strangers might also shout this greeting at you as they’re walking past (at least that’s happened a few times in our experience).

But it doesn’t actually matter whether someone is eating or not – the greeting can be used when no food is involved. However, like we mentioned above, it is usually used around the typical meal time period.

Note that in Germany it’s best to use this word with people you know (acquaintances, colleagues or friends) or in relaxed settings. Don’t use it in a very professional business meeting, for example (unless your boss does).

It’s very common in western and southern Germany, but you’ll hear it all over the country. 

Our sister site The Local Austria reports that in Austria, people also typically say “Mahlzeit” when settling down to a meal at home, including the evening meal and at the weekend, so it’s not just for the workplace.

READ ALSO: What ‘Mahlzeit’ means – and how to use it in Austria

German language experts say it’s actually a tricky word to sum up.

“A simple ‘Guten Appetit!’ does not fully capture the meaning,” said BedeutungOnline while trying to explain the phrase. “By using the expression, you wish each other a nice, relaxed lunchtime, a relaxing break from daily chores and a tasty meal.”

The phrase dates back to the 19th century. Originally, it was custom to wish someone a Gesegnete Mahlzeit! (blessed meal). The abbreviated form – Mahlzeit – was found in the Wörterbuch of the Brothers Grimm which was published in 1854.

Use it like this: 

Simply say this to greet someone: Mahlzeit! 

If someone says it to you, you can say: Mahlzeit back.

If you are eating, it is meant to translate to “enjoy your meal” so you can also reply by saying thank you: Danke! or vielen Dank!

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German word of the day: Umgangssprache

This is a good word to be aware of when you're looking out for phrases to add to your everyday vocabulary in Germany.

German word of the day: Umgangssprache

Why do I need to know Umgangssprache?

We may be getting a little meta here, but we think it’s worth knowing this word so you can listen out for the words around it (or know when not to use this type of language).

What does it mean?

Umgangssprache, which sounds like this, means ‘colloquial language’ or ‘slang’. These are the kinds of words and phrases you might not find in a textbook, but they are heard in everyday life.

By using slang vocabulary, you’ll be able to bring your sentences to life and sound like a true local.

The term is said to have been introduced into the German language by the writer and linguist Joachim Heinrich Campe at the beginning of the 19th century.

Umgangssprache is shaped by the world around it, whether its regional factors or social circumstances of the time. 

Here are a few examples of colloquial phrases and words:

Geil means horny in German, but it is also used colloquially to describe anything you think is cool. In English, you might use the word ‘sick’ or ‘awesome’ in the same context.

Krass is another colloquial word that can mean lots of things. It is usually used to intensify the meaning of something very bad or something very good depending on the tone and context. So something disgusting is krass, and something amazing can also be krass

Das ist mir Wurst translates to ‘that’s sausage to me’, and means you don’t give a toss. 

Das ist doch Käse translates to ‘that’s cheese’ and expresses that you mean something is absolute nonsense. 

And a ruder one is: Das ist am Arsch der Welt. It means ‘that’s the arse of the world’ and refers to a place that is far away or very difficult to reach. In English you might say ‘back of beyond’. 

You would hear these kinds of phrases in relaxed conversations in cafes and bars, but they aren’t so common in formal situations. 

Use it like this:

Ist das Umgangssprache oder kann ich das bei meinem Chef benutzen?

Is that colloquial language or can I use it with my boss?

Mir gefällt die umgangssprachliche Floskel: auf dein Nacken!

I really like the colloquial phrase ‘this is on you!’