Think about all the English slang you use with friends on a daily basis.
How many of these slang words do you think show up in basic English textbooks?
Well, the German heard on the streets ain’t the stuffy language contained in your textbooks either.
After you’ve been studying for a while, you’ll want to speak German in a cool, casual manner — like a native.
When you feel that urge, it’s definitely time to ditch the books for a while and refocus your energy on authentic, modern-day German slang expressions.
The expressions listed here include words borrowed from other languages, silly derivative words, condensed phrases and even guttural sounds that simply don’t get textbook editor approval.
This slang is one step beyond the more tame slang expressions deemed appropriate for beginning language learners. What makes it so darn special? It’s the kind of slang that can be confusing when you’re just starting out since it often lacks the proper grammar, structure and pronunciation.
In combination with a solid basis in German, this slang can transform you from a nervous, tense foreigner into a fast-talking citizen of the world.
Common German Slang Your Textbook Isn’t Teaching You
No matter what stage of German language learning you’re at, it’ll be worth your time to look at these common German slang words. You’re bound to encounter them while traveling Germany, speaking with language exchange partners or navigating German etiquette and customs.
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 Turks, and there was even a relatively small group of Italian Gastarbeiter (guest workers) brought into the country in the 1950’s. Germans have loved going to Italy since the days of Goethe, so it’s only natural that such a cool, useful word got picked up by savvy Germans.
A common greeting in the south, this one literally means “I am your servant” in Latin. You can use it to say either “hello” or “goodbye.” Just don’t be surprised when you hear someone utter a phrase akin to “Servus! Scheiße, noch ‘ne Bayer.” (Greetings! Oh no, another Bavarian…)
Greet God! If you go to Catholic southern Germany, you’ll hear this expression all the time during formal occasions from supermarket cashiers, bus drivers and so on.
Be careful about saying it yourself — you really shouldn’t say it in casual conversation unless the context is exactly right.
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 and were a little confused why I would think that it did.
One common way of greeting people is to say “Naaaa?” Which means “Well???” It’s not a question you have to answer.
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. I’m not the right person to explain what an octave is, but the word Tschüß can give your vocal range a bit of exercise every day.
It means “goodbye,” whether it’s on the phone or in person, and it is said extremely often. Variants that I’ve heard include Tschü, tschü-tschü and tschüßi (the i is a common, cutesy diminutive used for all sorts of things).
There are competing explanations for the origins of this greeting which can be used throughout the day.
It is commonly believed that in Hanseatic northern Germany (Bremen, Lübeck and Hamburg), the word Morgen is shortened to form the greeting moin, which means “morning.”
In the region of Friesenland, which is located in the German Federal State of Schleswig-Holstein on the Danish border, people will even go far as to say it twice — “moin moin!”
Another source claims that the double version comes from a Dutch word meaning “beautiful,” which makes more sense because the dialect Plattdeutsch, spoken in Niedersachsen, has many Dutch influences. You can read more about that here.
I’ve also heard it claimed by a tour guide on the resort island of Sylt that the double version is derived from the Frisian language and means “good winds,” but that really sounds like an urban legend to me.
One cool 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.”
A clever response to this is to say “Mach’s besser.” (make it better)
Bis nächstes Mal
This one means “until next time!” and is another common way to say goodbye without having to resort to the textbook staple: “Auf Wiedersehen!”
This short and sweet phrase rings with indecision.
Magst du Florian?
Na ja… ‘Mögen’ wäre vielleicht ein bisschen viel… Ich habe nicht wirklich etwas gegen ihn, aber…
(Do you like Florian? Well…”like” is a bit much… I don’t really have anything against him, but…)
Nö / Nee
Rather than actually saying “nein,” (no) in conversation you’ll hear nö said much more often. 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 sounds a little childish, but if you’re being skeptical a German might emphasize that they’re not exaggerating by stretching out the word “ja” and putting an “h” in the middle of it. 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 wirklich sicher, dass du die Hauslichter ausgeschaltet hast?
Jaaaa-haaaa! Bin doch nicht duuu-huuum!
(Are you really sure that you turned off the lights in the house? Yeeeee–hessss!!! I’m not stuuuu–piddddd!)
Geil is a difficult word for German learners to use because it means “horny,” “good-looking” and “cool” at the same time. 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 Super Geil. This was so popular that he was asked to make a sequel by the German supermarket chain EDEKA, which I think is actually even funnier than the original.
Germans have a lot of hand expressions to indicate that they think someone is stupid or crazy. 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.”
Auf Jeden Fall
You hear this one a lot – it means “in every case” or “in no case,” and it’s just a common way of saying “for sure!” You can also say “auf keinen Fall” to mean definitely not.
theoretisch schon — im Prinzip — im Endeffekt
These three phrases respectively translate to: theoretically, yes — in principal — the end result being.
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.
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.
Nur ein Schwein trinkt allein
One of the things that Germany is known for is its apparent lack of restraint — 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.” This expression, “only a pig drinks alone,” is an example of why Germany does not have a problematic relationship with alcohol.
Krass! means the same thing as the English word “crass,” but it in German its meaning has been broadened and the word can be used to describe almost anything, usually — but not necessarily — in a positive way. “Krasse Musik!” “Krasses Essen!”
Der Rubel muss rollen
Probably an expression that comes from the east of Germany since it’s referring to the Soviet currency. The expression “the rubel has to roll” means that money needs to be in fluctuation, whether it’s you getting paid from your job or another income source.
Machst du eigentlich Nachtschichten fürs ganze Wochenende?
Der Rubel muss rollen!
(Are you really going to work night shifts for the whole weekend? The rubel has to roll!)
auf den Sankt Nimmerleinstag
Even 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.
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. One example of when to employ this phrase would be while discussing the opening of Berlin’s new BER airport, which has now been delayed by several years since it was initially planned to open.
Sometimes, when you want to go home on the last subway train, your friends will tell you “noo!!! Don’t go!!! Stay here!!!” and then you’ll wind up saying “ugh, fine” and spending the entire night being tired and unhappy because you’ll have to stay out another four hours before the first train in the morning. One way to push past this situation is to make a “Polish exit,” meaning to leave without saying goodbye. Which brings me to my next word:
Assi is a contraction of the word Asozial, meaning “asocial.” This is a word used to describe someone who is rude or annoying and doesn’t take into account the effects of their actions on other people.
Servus, ihr krassen Assis! Remember, this is only a small (and fairly personal) sample of interesting German expressions. I’m sure that you’ll be able to add plenty more to this list as you continue on your way to learning perfect German.
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