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The best words in Germany’s regional dialects

Germany has as many as 250 regional dialects, unlocking a whole new challenge for language learners. But some of these words are a linguistic treat. Here are a few of our favourites.

A woman holds dictionary editions with different German dialects.
A woman holds dictionary editions with different German dialects. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Peter Kneffel

With standard, high German – or Hochdeutsch – taught in schools and used in universities, in workplaces, and in politics, fewer German speakers regularly converse in local or regional dialects. But there are some notable exceptions.

Swiss German, Austrian German, and Bavarian Bayrisch are in wider use and therefore might often be more easily understood by non-locals. Yet overall, only about a third of eastern Germans still speak in dialect regularly. That’s down from about 40 percent in 1991. 

The declining use of local dialects has even led to concerns in Bavarian schools about preserving local dialects for future generations.

We asked around for people’s favourite words in German dialects and added in a few of our own.

Whether it’s food, greetings, or even a way of walking—here are some of our top picks.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What to know about languages and dialects in Germany

Pott: It’s getting harder to find people in Berlin who speak the Berlinerisch dialect, but some coffee shops in the capital still offer a Pott of coffee. And no, that doesn’t refer to a full brewed pot—but a very large cup of coffee. While a Tasse is the high German word for a single cup, a Pott typically combines two Tassen—for when you really need a proper shot of caffeine in the morning.

Ä Schälchn Heeßn: There are plenty of great German dialect words for coffee. But Sächsisch (Saxon) boasts this particularly cute term for it.

Saxon dialect also has a term for a particularly weak cup of coffee that looks more like coloured water. That’s a Blümchenkaffee – literally “a flower coffee”.

Gliehwoi or Gliewoi: In something that seems terrifically on brand for Germany’s wine-producing Rheinland-Palatinate region, Pfälzisch (Palatine) has its own word for Glühwein, the hot mulled wine typically served at German Christmas markets.

A hot cup of mulled wine, or Glühwein in high German, can be referred to as a Gliehwoi or Gliewoi in Palatine dialect.

Grombier or Bodabiera: Straying into slightly healthier food items, the Swabian dialect has these nice terms meaning “ground pear” and “potatoes” respectively. 

Halve Hahn: This one can even confuse native German speakers who don’t come from Cologne. While non-locals may assume it means a “half chicken,” a Halve Hahn is actually Kölsch (Cologne dialect) for a plate containing a half slice of bread with gouda cheese. Making this perhaps even more confusing, Cologne dialect uses the word Röggelche to describe the half piece of bread and Kies for the gouda slice.

READ ALSO: How German dialects are battling back against ‘Hochdeutsch’

Weckle: Alemmanisch (Alemmanic), spoken in Baden-Württemberg, uses the suffix -le as a diminutive rather than the high German -chen. So as Brötchen is a “little piece of bread” in high German, Alemmanic refers to it as a Weckle. In the same spirit, the Franconian dialect (Fränkisch) uses the term Weggla for the same thing.

Kappes: Rounding off the food items is this Cologne dialect word for “cabbage,” although it is also sometimes used in emphatic tones to mean “nonsense!”

Fregger: Franconian has this simple word for a particularly cheeky person, often a child.

Mutschekiepchen: Saxon dialect has this particularly cute term for a ladybug, while Bavarian dialect uses Haferl.

Zefix: Similar to the high German verdammt (“damn”) – this Bavarian curse will help you say “damn it!” to your Bavarian friends.

Muggeseggele or Muckenseckel: A humourous Swabian or Alemmanic term that literally means “a housefly’s scrotum.” Fittingly, it’s used to emphasise when something is very small.

Gaungstackn: Coming from the region straddling the Czech border, this Erzgebirgisch (Ore Mountains dialect) insult means a naughty or unpleasant person. In English, its closest equivalent would be “sewage stick”.

Plietsch: On the more complementary side, this word in north Frisian Platt (low German), spoken in Germany’s far north and even in the eastern part of the Netherlands, means “clever.”

Moin: Used in Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony, and even southern Denmark as a friendly greeting.

One Bremen stadium welcomes its fans with “Moin.” Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Carmen Jaspersen

Um die Pudding: Not, in fact, a delicious treat, um die Pudding is used in and around Bremen to refer to a short walk—like the one you might take around the block of your home.

Austrian and Swiss German dialect essentials

As separate countries with their own rich histories, cultures, politics, and accents, Austrian and Swiss German have many of their own linguistic oddities and treats that represent a whole new level for German language learners to master. Here are a few of our specific favourites.

Baba: Much like some northern Germans have moin as a friendly way of saying hello, Austrians sometimes use baba as a friendly way of saying goodbye. Baba is typically only used with family and friends you know quite well.

Swiss German, by contrast, has many ways of saying a friendly hello, including but not limited to: Grüezi, Sali, Grussach, Tag Wohl, and Guete Daag.

Eine Jause: Austrian German for “a snack.” You can also use it as a verb jausen.

A small Austrian snack can be called a “Jause.” Photo: picture-alliance / gms | Österreich_Werbung

Eine Stange: Swiss Germans use this term to refer to a small beer. At a Swiss German bar, you can say: Eine Stange bitte!

Bims: Austrians in Vienna sometimes refer to their tram cars by this cute nickname.

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Freudenfreude: Why we should all embrace this made-up German word

The term 'Freudenfreude' was recently identified by mistake as a German word. Here's why that is not such a bad thing.

Freudenfreude: Why we should all embrace this made-up German word

The German word Schadenfreude – or joy at another person’s misfortune – is widely used in the English-speaking world, where it was adopted over 150 years ago. But its opposite, Freudenfreude, is a new, and somewhat accidental, invention.

On November 25th, a San Francisco-based psychologist penned an article for the New York Times on how we need more Freudenfreude – a supposedly commonly used German word meaning joy at the happiness of another person, even if we don’t share that same happiness ourselves. 

A few international media outlets then heralded the “German“ concept, until the word got out (quite literally) in Germany. Some scorned the author’s mistake, while others praised her for inadvertently enriching die deutsche Sprache

“Since language is something that’s very much alive, you can always be happy when a new word appears somewhere,“ wrote the Süddeutsche Zeitung. 

The Munich-based newspaper pointed out how other now-popular German words “took a while until they were finally widely used” – and then were often incorporated into other languages’ vernaculars when they lacked a similar word.

READ ALSO: ‘6 German words I now use in English’

Let’s face it: sometimes to sum up a concept in English (or Spanish or Slovenian or whatever our language) we need a word in German, even if it doesn’t exist yet. 

The now ubiquitous Wanderlust, a desire for travel, or Zeitgeist, spirit of the times, were also once made-up words that could only be neatly described by placing two German nouns together.

The same goes for Freudenfreude. Sure, we have “empathy”, but that also could mean feeling someone‘s pain during a sad moment, not just their joy during good times. Otherwise, we could say we’re happy for someone, but why use three words when it can be so neatly summed up in one?

We still don’t have a single, snappy word that describes when your good friend passes the important test you failed a week ago, and you still feel proud that she’s making progress. Or that feeling that even though life is not going right for you right now, someone else’s success shows that it still can.

A few days after the New York Times article was published, the newspaper ran a correction on the article that Freudenfreude is not a German word.

But by that point, it was already on the path to becoming one.

READ ALSO: 10 German words that English should adopt