28 German Slang Words and Phrases Your Textbook Isn’t Teaching You
Think about all the English slang you use with friends on a daily basis.
Well, the German heard on the streets ain’t the stuffy language contained in your textbooks, either!
Here are 28 German slang words and expressions that simply don’t get textbook editor approval to spice up your German skills.
- 1. auf dicke Hose machen
- 2. gebongt sein
- 3. Was geht ab?
- 4. nicht alle Tassen im Schrank haben
- 5. Na?
- 6. Bock haben
- 7. die Nase voll haben
- 8. chillen
- 9. einen dicken Hals haben
- 10. aus der Reihe tanzen
- 11. Tschüß!
- 12. Mach’s gut!
- 13. Ciao!
- 14. Servus!
- 15. Grüß Gott!
- 16. Na ja…
- 17. nö / nee
- 18. Jaaa-haaa! Neeeiii-heiiin!
- 19. geil
- 20. krass
- 21. Alter
- 22. Hä?
- 23. auf Jeden Fall
- 24. im Prinzip
- 25. das Leben ist kein Ponyhof
- 26. nur ein Schwein trinkt allein
- 27. der Rubel muss rollen
- 28. auf den Sankt Nimmerleinstag
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1. auf dicke Hose machen
Literally, this phrase means, “To act as if you have fat pants.” It is used to describe someone who is bragging or generally pretending to be better than they really are. This is especially when it comes to possessing money or wealth, the idea being your pants getting wider due to an abundance of money in your pockets.
It’s worth noting that “auf dicke Hose machen” is frequently used in combination with the accusative in the phrase “einen auf dicke Hose machen” (see examples below). However, it is just as well to use it without.
Mach mal nicht so einen auf dicke Hose.
(Don’t be such a brag!)
Mit Papas Auto einen auf dicke Hose zu machen ist einfach lächerlich!
(Flashing the cash with Daddy’s car is embarrassing!)
2. gebongt sein
In German, a Bon (pronounced “bong”) is the receipt you get after making a purchase.
Therefore, in common parlance, the verb bongen refers to ringing something up on a register (literally putting something onto a Bon), thereby settling the transaction.
If something is gebongt, it means it is booked, decided, or agreed upon. In almost all cases this phrase is used in the form of “ist gebongt” to signify that a matter is settled or that you have come to an agreement.
Treffen wir uns morgen um drei?
(Can we meet tomorrow at three?)
Ok, ist gebongt.
3. Was geht ab?
“Was geht ab?” is the German equivalent of “What’s up?” or “What’s happening?” It is used as a greeting and to inquire after the other person’s well-being in a very informal way.
If you are a teenager, you might also be able to pull off the even shorter “Was geht?” but anyone nearing thirty should stay away from it.
Keep in mind that this is a very casual expression. If you can’t pull off “What’s up?” in English, you should probably stay away from the German equivalent as well. The phrase can also be combined with other greetings (see “Na?”).
Was geht ab?
Nicht viel. Ich chille einfach zu Hause.
(Not much. I’m just chilling at home.)
4. nicht alle Tassen im Schrank haben
I can only imagine the confusion on your face if, while on a visit to Germany, a native strode up to you and asked if you still had all your cups in the cabinet.
Is that person just a socially awkward tableware enthusiast trying to make conversation? Unfortunately, no.
Instead, the person is expressing doubt about your mental faculties. It is the beautiful German way to ask if you’ve lost your marbles.
Zweihundert Euro für ein T-Shirt?
Hast du nicht mehr alle Tassen im Schrank?
(Two hundred Euros for a t-shirt? Have you lost your mind?)
Nach alledem, was du getan hast, soll ich dir helfen?
Du hast wohl nicht mehr alle Tassen im Schrank!
(After everything that you’ve done, I’m supposed to help you? You must not be right in the head!)
“Na?” might be the shortest way of asking about someone’s well-being in any language. It is a way to say both “Hello” and “How are you doing?” in one. There’s even a special intonation to it.
To express your intentions a little clearer, “Na?” can also be combined with other forms of greeting, like in “Na, alles gut?”, “Na, wie gehts?” or the previously mentioned “Na, was geht ab?”.
The best thing, however, is that “Na?” also serves as a reply to itself. “Na? – Naaa?” is a complete conversation in which both parties have said hello and asked how life is going.
Na, alles klar?
(Hey, everything good?)
Ja und bei dir?
6. Bock haben
Bock haben means to be “in the mood for” or “up for” something.
Literally, it means “to have a goat”, but its actually a common way of expressing your inclination or disinclination for doing something. It’s the same as Lust haben (to desire or fancy something), only in a more colloquial form.
In the negative, it means you’re not really feeling up to a certain activity. It is also entirely possible to have null Bock, when your enthusiasm is so low it adds up to zero.
Wir gehen heute Abend ins Kino. Hast Du auch Bock?
(We are going to the movies tonight. Wanna come?)
Da habe ich überhaupt keinen Bock drauf.
(I don’t fancy doing that at all.)
7. die Nase voll haben
This phrase literally means “to have your nose full.”
However, it is neither a way to describe a head cold, nor an expensive drug habit. In German, if you have your nose full, it means that you are fed up with or sick of something.
If you want to emphasize the severity of your discontent, you might even speak of having your nose filled to the brim. “Die Nase bis obenhin voll haben” states that you are entirely fed up with the situation.
Ich habe die Nase voll von der lauten Musik.
(I’m sick of the loud music.)
Ich habe sowas von die Nase voll!
(I’m so very fed up!)
The German verb chillen comes from the English “to chill.” It shares the meaning of its anglophone counterpart: to hang out, rest, and generally take it easy.
The word also has an adjective form, chillig, which is mostly used to describe a laid-back atmosphere or relaxing surroundings you would encounter while having a chill night.
Interestingly, in German you often chill in rounds. “Eine Runde chillen” is an important part of the weekend activities for many younger Germans.
Wir wollen an den See fahren und eine Runde chillen.
(We want to go to the lake and chill for a bit.)
Nach der Arbeit will ich erstmal chillen.
(After work I wanna chill first.)
9. einen dicken Hals haben
Have you ever been so angry or annoyed that you could feel your neck muscles tensing and the veins at its front pulsing? Because that’s exactly what this phrase is describing.
You can even forgo to mention your neck’s thickness and instead say “Ich bekomme so einen Hals” while showing its future dimensions with your open hand held in front of it.
It is also completely possible to leave out any further description and use “Einen Hals auf jemanden haben.”
Ich krieg’ hier gleich ‘nen dicken Hals!
(I’m gonna get real mad in a minute here!)
Ich bekomme so einen Hals, wenn ich so was höre!
(I get so livid when I hear something like that!)
10. aus der Reihe tanzen
This phrase is used to describe someone who stands out by getting out of line or acting different from everyone else. It literally means to dance outside the line.
“Aus der Reihe tanzen” can be used in both a negative and a positive way. It can describe a troublemaker, or someone who is simply doing their own thing. Just like in real life, there is a fine line between the two.
The origin of this saying is unclear. Though Germans like to be organized, they do not in fact make everyone dance in a line at the club – no matter what others might be claiming.
Sie muss immer aus der Reihen tanzen!
(She always has to step out of line!)
Er tanzt gerne etwas aus der Reihe.
(He likes to do things a little different than everyone else.)
This one means “goodbye,” whether it’s on the phone or in person, and it is said extremely often. You’d be surprised at just how often it replaces the proper goodbye, Auf Wiedersehen, in daily life.
A friend who was visiting me from the States pointed out that when we say Tschüß we raise the tone of our voices a full octave. There’s even a bit of a singsong melody when you say it.
Variants that I’ve heard include tschü, tschü-tschü and tschüßi (the i is a common, cutesy diminutive used for all sorts of things). Tschüß can truly give your vocal range a bit of exercise every day.
Dann wir sehen uns morgen. Tschüß!
(I’ll see you tomorrow then. Bye!)
12. Mach’s gut!
Another common way to say goodbye is to say “Mach’s gut.” In the east German accent I hear occasionally here in Berlin, that turns into “Mach’s jut.“
Either way, it translates literally to mean “make it good,” but it means something more akin to “have a good one” or “take care.” It’s another informal one and you would use it with a friend or someone you know well.
A clever response to this is to say “Mach’s besser” (Make it better).
(Have a good one!)
(And you an even better one!)
Germans respect their southern neighbors so much that many have adopted their greeting in German.
Italians are actually the largest group of non-Germans in Germany after the Turkish, and there was even a relatively small group of Italian Gastarbeiter (guest workers) brought into the country in the 1950s.
Germans have loved going to Italy since the days of Goethe, so it’s only natural that such a snappy farewell got picked up by savvy Germans.
Ich hatte heute richtig viel Spaß. Ciao!
(I really had a lot of fun today. Bye!)
Ich auch. Ciao! Bis nächstes Mal!
(Me, too. Bye! Until next time!)
A common greeting in the south, this one literally means “I am your servant” in Latin. Before you get weirded out by it, just know that it’s mostly used in certain parts of Germany, like Bavaria, and in Austria.
A more modern interpretation of the literal meaning would be something like “at your service.” You can use it to say either “hello” or “goodbye.”
Ach, bist du bayerisch?
(Oh, are you Bavarian?)
15. Grüß Gott!
Greet God! This is another one from southern Germany and Austria, especially the historically Catholic parts. The original meaning is probably closer to “God bless you.”
If you hear this one you can answer “Grüß Gott” right back. It’s quite a common greeting in those areas, but if you say it in any other part of Germany (aside from the south) you’ll get a very weird look.
Surprisingly, when I asked Bavarians about it, they told me that it doesn’t even really have a religious connotation anymore and were a little confused why I would think that it did.
Grüß Gott! Ich hätte gerne drei Vollkornbrötchen, bitte.
(Hello, I’d like three whole wheat buns, please.)
16. Na ja…
This short and sweet phrase rings with indecision. You can say it when you’re unsure about something or don’t necessarily want to give a direct answer.
It’s a possible answer when asked how something was and you want to say it was “so so.” It’s also used as an interjection, meaning something like “well” or “anyway” to indicate a change of topic.
It’s truly versatile! There’s also a special intonation when saying this one.
Also, stehst du auf ihn? (So, do you fancy him?)
Na ja, so weit würde ich nicht gehen.
(Well…I wouldn’t go that far.)
17. nö / nee
Rather than actually saying nein in conversation, you’ll hear nö said much more often. This one is more about the intonation than the actual meaning and is an informal way of saying “no.”
Hearing this word is like fingernails on a chalkboard to an Austrian though, where they say jo and na instead of ja and nö, respectively.
It’s kind of like saying “nah” so make sure that you use it with your friends instead of with strangers or people you don’t know well.
Noch ein Bier?
Nö, mir ist satt.
(Nah, I’m full.)
18. Jaaa-haaa! Neeeiii-heiiin!
It sounds a little childish, but if you’re being skeptical about something they said, a German might emphasize that they’re not exaggerating by stretching out the word ja and putting an h in the middle of it.
The result word ends up sounding like two syllables instead of one and you, of course, have to add the super annoyed tone to it for the full effect.
It’s something that kids will say to each other if they’re having an argument, and it always sounds a little childish. You can extend the vowel in any word for emphasis by adding an h, actually.
Bist du dir sicher, dass du den Ofen ausgemacht hast?
(Are you sure that you turned off the oven?)
Jaaaa-haaaa! Bin doch nicht duuu-huuum!
(Yeeeee–hessss!!! I’m not stuuuu–piddddd!)
Geil is a difficult word for German learners to use because it can mean “horny,” “good-looking” and “cool” at the same time. Usually in everyday conversation it ends up being used when something is cool.
You can also see it in pop culture. If you say “leider geil” (unfortunately geil), it refers to the song Leider Geil by Deichkind (NSFW) which is about things that are awesome but also have negative side affects.
Friedrich Liechtenstein, a famous German actor and singer, made the viral video Supergeil. This was so popular that he was asked to make a parody sequel by the German supermarket chain Edeka, which is even funnier.
Ich hab Rammstein Tickets gekauft!
(I bought Rammstein tickets!)
Oh geil! Kann ich auch mitkommen?
(Oh cool! Can I come, too?)
Krass literally means “crass,” “stark” or “blatant” in English.
In German, its meaning has been broadened and the word can be used to describe almost anything in a more intense way, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be something negative.
You could say something like “Krasse Musik!” or “Krasses Essen!” If you say it in response to what someone just said, it could be understood as “damn” to indicate surprise or shock.
Ich bin gerade meinem Ex mit seiner neuen Freundin begegnet!
(I just ran into my ex with his new girlfriend!)
Krass! Wie hast du reagiert?
(Damn! How did you react?)
Another slang word popular with young people is the word “Alter” which literally means “age”, but is used as “dude,” “mate” or “man.” Again, best to only use this one if you’re down with the kids.
One possible origin of this is another slang phrase “alter Schwede,” which literally means “old Swede.” You can use this entire phrase when you’re expressing surprise or disbelief.
Alter Schwede is said to date back to the Thirty Years War, when Swedish soldiers that were older and more experienced were hired to train Prussian armies. The phrase has apparently stuck.
Alter, hast du wirklich so viel bezahlt?
(Dude, did you really pay that much?)
Ja, ich fühle mich so dumm.
(Yeah, I feel so silly).
Germans have a lot of hand expressions to indicate that they think someone is stupid or crazy. Here’s yet another one to use when you’re showing disbelief.
One of them is waving their hand in front of your eyes, as if they’re checking if you’re still alive by seeing if your eyes are responding to light.
Another is one vigorous thrust with the index finger into the forehead. These expressions are often accompanied by the sound “Häää?” which means “WTF?!”
Ich glaube, ich rufe mal Oskar an.
(I think I’m going to give Oskar a call.)
Häää? Der Ex-Freund, dem du begegnet bist?
(Whaaat? The ex-boyfriend you ran into?)
23. auf Jeden Fall
You hear this one a lot and it means “in every case” or “in no case.” It’s just a common way of saying “For sure!” You can also say “auf keinen Fall” to mean definitely not.
Sehen wir uns morgen im Café?
(Will I see you tomorrow at the café?)
Ja, auf jeden Fall. Bis dann!
(Yes, for sure. See you then!)
24. im Prinzip
This phrase translates to “in principle.” There are two other similar phases you can use which are theoretisch schon and im Endeffekt which respectively translate to “theoretically, yes” and “in the end.”
One of the reasons why Germany has earned its reputation as the land of “poets and thinkers” (Dichter und Denker) is because of their willingness to use this kind of formal-sounding academic language in everyday speech.
This phrase also serves the purpose of being a bit like filler where you’re having a discussion.
Das Projekt ist im Prinzip machbar, nur sehr teuer.
(The project is feasible in theory, just very expensive.)
Dann lassen wir das lieber.
(Let’s just leave it then.)
25. das Leben ist kein Ponyhof
This is a very common expression in German that means “life isn’t a place for riding ponies.” It means that you shouldn’t expect things to go easily for you. Typical German.
So if you ever want to rain on someone’s parade, tell them that life’s not fair or want them to suck it up, this is the perfect expression for you to use.
Ich habe meinen Traumjob nicht bekommen.
(I didn’t get my dream job.)
Na ja, das Leben ist kein Ponyhof.
(Well, life’s not fair.)
26. nur ein Schwein trinkt allein
This expression, “only a pig drinks alone,” is an example of why Germany does not have a problematic relationship with alcohol.
One of the things that Germany is known for is what seems like an apparent lack of regulations for things other countries might be stricter with—no speed limits on the highways, no laws against drinking in public and very low drinking ages.
However, in spite of all that, the Germans don’t have many problems with alcohol and often marvel at the difficulties of what they call the “Anglo-Saxon relationship to alcohol.”
Ich hole mir ein Bier beim Späti.
(I’m gonna grab a beer at the convenience store.)
Ich komm mit! Nur ein Schwein trinkt allein!
(I’ll go too! Only a pig drinks alone!)
27. der Rubel muss rollen
This expression likely originates from the east of Germany since it’s referring to the Soviet currency.
The expression “the ruble has to roll” means that money needs to flow, whether it’s you getting paid from your job or another income source.
Hast du wirklich das ganze Wochenende Nachtschicht?
(Have you really got night shifts all weekend?)
Der Rubel muss rollen!
(The ruble has to roll!)
28. auf den Sankt Nimmerleinstag
Ever heard of Saint Nimmerlein’s day? Saint Nimmerlein is a fictional saint, and you can say that something will happen on his holiday if it seems like it’s never going to happen.
The English equivalent is something like “when pigs fly.”
Nimmer is an uncommon word meaning “never” and lein is a diminutive that makes the noun that it’s added to seem small or cute.
Wann fahren wir endlich nach Disneyland?
(When can we finally be able to travel to Disneyland?)
Auf den Sankt Nimmerleinstag!
(When pig’s fly!)
You’re bound to encounter these words and expressions while traveling around Germany, speaking with language exchange partners or navigating German etiquette and customs.
You’re also sure to run into many of these slang expressions on FluentU, a language learning program which uses authentic content, such as commercials and movie trailers, to help you improve your language skills.
With interactive captions that give you instant definitions, pronunciations and additional usage examples, plus fun quizzes and multimedia flashcards, FluentU is a complete learning package.
There are even apps on iOS and Android for you to take your learning on the go.
Remember, this is only a small sample of useful German slang and expressions. Now go out there and practice!
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)