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Ten English words Swiss Germans get delightfully wrong

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Ten English words Swiss Germans get delightfully wrong
This is us, trying to work out where the hell the box is. Photo by Obie Fernandez on Unsplash

From 'shitstorms' to 'wellness' weekends, here are seven ways Swiss German speakers make English their own.



Anyone new to the Swiss media landscape might be surprised to find the word 'shitstorm' appearing on front pages and in headlines all over the place.

While the term is common in colloquial English, it is not exactly fit for polite society. But in the Swiss media – and German-language media more generally – shitstorm is a perfectly acceptable term for any huge controversy, whether in tabloid papers like Blick or in the broadsheet NZZ.

A Blick headline reading: 'Shitstorm' over Christian YouTubers

The word was even dubbed the "best English gift to the German language" in 2012 as the Anglicism of the Year by a group of language experts.



Sometimes the English words made up by foreigners are actually better than anything native speakers could come up with it themselves.

The classic German-language neologism 'Partnerlook' refers to the habit some couples have of wearing the same clothes. We defy you to think up a better expression for this.


Commonly used to refer to a social worker, the composite word 'Streetworker' means something completely different in English. 

Although the term is not commonly used, it might remind people of the words 'street walker' or 'sex worker', both of which refer to prostitutes. 

While prostitution is largely legal in Switzerland, there is obviously a big difference between social and sex workers, so be sure to get it right when describing your job in English. 

READ MORE: Swiss brothels outline list of coronavirus-safe sex positions in a bid to end lockdown


The favourite attire of wannabe hip-hoppers and incognito celebrities everywhere, somewhere along the line the caps worn by baseball players in the US became known as Basecaps or even Cappies in German-speaking Europe. 

The word basecap is used about as frequently in German hip-hop as Handy (more on that later), but if you're in an English-speaking country and you try to order a Basecap, you might be met with a puzzled expression. 

A baseball cap, not a basecap. Photo by Mediamodifier on Unsplash


Is there anything more Swiss than a ‘wellness’ (pronounced ‘vellness’) weekend? The expression refers to the experience of combining extreme relaxation and indulgence with spuriously healthy activities such as massages and saunas.

Wellness is big business in Switzerland with many believing a day at the spa is something close to a birthright.



In Swiss German, this term refers to a vintage or classic car rather than an old person.

To spot an 'Oldtimer', all you have to do is hit the roads on any sunny day between about March and October. These gleaming machines are lovingly cared for by their owners (who are also usually actual old timers) and the finest examples even come with their own matching vintage number plates.


In English, this adjective means something along the lines of noisy or disruptive. In German, however, it refers to a troublemaker. A football hooligan, for example, is known as a “Fussball-Rowdy.”

And the plural? Rowdies of course.

File photo: AFP


Don’t be fooled. This word does not have anything to do with puffing on a cigarette.

It actually refers to what English speakers call a dinner jacket – a garment that has its deep origins in smoking jackets which were designed for puffing at pipes and cigars.


If you're helping a friend set up for a party and she tells you to go and get the box, you might be a little confused. 

That's because while box can mean anything in a cube or prism shape in English, 'box' in Swiss German refers to a speaker, loudspeaker or boombox. 


An old classic this: ‘Handy’ is one of the words Swiss German speakers use for mobile phone. The other variant is Natel, a former trademark name for mobile phones in Switzerland and Lichtenstein.

Editor's correction: This article originally incorrectly stated 'smoking' referred to smoking jackets, not dinner jackets.

Read also: Eight Swiss German words you can't translate into English


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