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SWISS GERMAN

From ‘cabbage’ to ‘soft pear’: Ten Swiss-German insults you need to know

The Swiss-German language is known for its creativity along with its penchant for the weird.

From 'cabbage' to 'soft pear': Ten Swiss-German insults you need to know
Heads and food feature prominently in Swiss insults. JOE KLAMAR / AFP

Here are ten Swiss German insults, put-downs and swear words that you can keep in the top drawer for a special occasion. 

Schnure/Schnorre – as in “Halt d’schnorre

Translating literally as ‘mouth’ or ‘trap’, Schnure/Schnorre is frequently used in common with ‘halt die…’ – i.e. shut your trap. 

Existing somewhere in between ‘shut up’ and ‘shut the hell up’, it’s best saved for comfortable situations where you know the intended recipient. 

Weichschnäbeler

Mainly popular in the canton of Jura and surrounding regions, it can mean limp beak (as in a duck’s beak) but in reality it means limp penis.

We should probably leave it there – just keep in mind that this is less a medical condition and more of something someone might yell at a football game, so be careful when talking to your doctor. 

READ MORE: Nine surprising Swiss-German words you need to know

Gottfridstutz

As a relatively religious country, at least traditionally, it stands to reason that insults involving religion have found a foothold – as blasphemy-loving English speakers no doubt know. 

The best possible translation is probably ‘goddamnit’. As with pretty much anything in Swiss German, there are loads of variations – including Gopfertoori, Gopfridstüdeli, Gopfertami, Gopferteli. 

Bünzli 

This insult – based on a real Swiss surname and probably inspired by a real Swiss Bünzli – applies to those boring people who follow all the rules and make sure everyone else does too.

A Bünzli is the sort of person who would never cross the street when the light is red, who never stays out too late and never gets too drunk.

A Bünzli is also the person most likely to complain to the building president when you dare to do your washing on Sunday, or to ring the police when he sees someone parked in front of a fire hydrant.

The best English translation is probably a ‘goody two-shoes’, although in this case the more likely attire is socks paired with Adiletten. Yep, you get the idea.

Socks and sandals – topping the Bünzli fashion trends for the tenth year running. Image: Depositphotos

Lulatsch

Translating perhaps most literally as ‘beanpole’, a Lulatsch is someone – usually a man – who is tall, clumsy, most likely sloppy and with little control of their limbs. 

There are few theories on the origin of this word, but safe to say that if someone refers to you as a Lulatsch, they don’t mean you’re tall, dark and handsome. 

Geistig unterernährt

Translating literally as mentally undernourished, this one probably doesn’t need too much more of an explanation. 

When it comes to taking care of your brain, the Swiss believe you are what you eat – and if someone says you’re mentally undernourished, they’re saying you’ve been pigging out on junk food. 

This guy has the right idea – sort of. FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Remember, friends don’t let friends forget brain day – so remember to take good care of your most vital organ. 

Which brings us to…

Birreweich

Literally translating as ‘soft pear’, a Birreweich is someone who doesn’t have it all together upstairs. Unlike in English where your brain might be your noggin or your noodle, in Swiss-German your brain is otherwise known as your ‘pear’. 

So if a friend calls you a soft pear, it unfortunately doesn’t mean the opposite of geistig unterernährt (mentally undernourished). It means your friend thinks your brain is mush – and it also means you should get some new friends. 

Kabis

Meaning cabbage in English (or Weißkohl in high German), Kabis is also slang for nonsense. If someone says “don’t give me that Kabis!” they’re unlikely to be referring to foodstuff. 

In the same vein, Pfyffetechu/Pfyffedechel (tobacco pipe lid) also means nonsense – so now you’ve got two variations. 

Nonsense, delicious nonsense. FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP

Tussi 

This Swiss-German insult – which is also common throughout much of Germany – is similar to the terms ‘bimbo’ or ‘blonde’ in English. This term is reserved for the kind of person who might care a little too much about their appearance and less about pretty much anything else. 

It’s also undoubtedly sexist, as it’s rarely if ever used for men. 

Apparently inspired from the legend of Tusnelda, Tussi entered the Swiss-German and German mainstream vernacular in the 1990s and has stubbornly remained. 

Honourable mentions: Joggi, Globi, Löli, Tschooli, Glon

While some of the above might get you into trouble, depending on the company you keep – there are plenty of light Swiss insults which are likely to build friendships rather than destroy them. 

Each of the above – Joggi, Globi, Löli, Tschooli and Glon – are all relatively nice ways of saying someone is silly, without really saying that they are that silly at all. 

Joggi, which literally means jester, while Glon is a translation for clown. Löli and Tschooli means that someone is nice but clumsy, while Globi is perhaps Switzerland’s most beloved cartoon character – a blue parrot in a black beret who has a knack for getting himself into silly situations. 

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Seven fascinating ways written and spoken German differ

Even with High German, the differences between writing and speaking are stark.

Seven fascinating ways written and spoken German differ
The Swiss and German flags fly near German parliament. Image: WOLFGANG KUMM / DPA / AFP

You’ve spent hours learning the difference between Genitiv and Dativ, poring over complicated article tables and mastering complicated word order rules… only to step off the plane in Germany and realise you can barely understand a thing. 

Fear not – this is a common experience for many language-learners. The German you’ll read in your textbooks is not the same as the German you’ll hear on the street, so here’s a list of seven important differences to help you hit the ground running. 

And don't get us started on Swiss German – that's a whole other kettle of hot cheese.

1. Word order

German is notorious for its difficult word order, with subordinating conjunctions such as da and weil sending the verb to the end of a clause and tying non-native speakers in knots.

Whilst the importance of correct word order will be drilled into you in language classes, you’ll often find native German speakers themselves shirking the rules.

READ ALSO: 12 signs you've mastered the German language

Sentences with multiple clauses can prove difficult even for native speakers, who will often opt to keep the verb where it is rather than sending it to the end.

Ich habe gestern den ganzen Tag im Bett verbracht, weil ich war so müde (correct formulation: weil ich so müde war). 

I spent the whole day in bed yesterday because I was so tired.

Germans will also often play with word order to emphasise certain aspects of the sentence, even if it is not technically grammatically correct. 

Ich putze das Haus gerade (correct formulation: ich putze gerade das Haus)

I am cleaning the house at the moment.

2. Past tense

When Germans tell stories or speak about what they got up to last weekend, you’re much more likely to hear the present perfect rather than the preterite. 

With the exception of some verbs, such as haben or sein, many native speakers would find it strange to speak with the preterite in everyday life.  

If you’re in doubt during a conversation, opting for ich bin gefahren (I went) rather than ich fuhr will always be a safe bet. 

READ ALSO: Eight of the most common (and funniest) mistakes German learners make

3. Mixed up cases

The case system in German can take years to master, and learning the correct uses of the dative and genitive can be a particular sore point for many non-native speakers.

However you’ll see many native German speakers making the same mistakes on a daily basis. 

The genitive case is being used less and less in spoken language, with many simply replacing it with the dative equivalent. 

Take the preposition wegen, for example: technically this word should be followed by the genitive case, but you’ll often hear wegen dem Wetter (due to/as a result of the weather) instead of wegen des Wetters in everyday conversation.

A similar phenomenon occurs with the possessive genitive:

When talking about ‘Steven’s car’, for example, Stevens Auto (correct German formulation) becomes dem Steven sein Auto (replaced with dative). 

For many native German speakers, using the genitive when speaking now feels unnatural and stilted – in fact, this ‘mistake’ has become so widespread that many Germans now mix their cases up when writing.

4. Abbreviations

Much like in English, German speakers are also partial to shortening words where possible. So much so that it’s not uncommon to hear multiple abbreviations within the same sentence. 

Popular Abkürzungen (abbreviations) include the shortening of articles, for example eine to ‘ne, or the merging of words such as fürs for für das.

Ich brauche einen Computer fürs Studium.

I need a computer for my studies. 

Es war ‘ne tolle Erfahrung! 

It was a great experience!

READ ALSO: Ten German abbreviations that will have you texting like a true native

5. Swallowed sounds

Similarly, German speakers will often drop the letter at the end of a verb, losing the ‘e’ sound to make a sentence flow more smoothly. 

This doesn’t work for all verbs, but it is most commonly heard with verbs such as ich habe (I have) which becomes ich hab’ or ich glaube (I believe) which becomes ich glaub’.

Verbs in the plural form can also be shortened, with wir gehen (we go) becoming wir geh’n and sie sehen (they see) becoming sie seh’n.

6. Modal particles 

Spoken German is also littered with small words that are incredibly difficult to translate but very important to help understand the context of a sentence.

What is more, the intonation used when pronouncing these filler words is key to interpreting the tone of the speaker, meaning they don’t work as well when written on the page. 

READ ALSO: Das ist ja mal wictig: The complete guide to German particles

One of the most common of these is halt – it comes from the verb halten (to stop), but is often used to add ‘colour’ to sentences, to express a tone of resignation or to buy time when someone is unsure of what to say, just as with ‘like’ or ‘just’ in English.

Other untranslatable modal particles include doch, eben and mal – whilst they can originally be confusing, language learners soon get a feel for when they should be used. 

Du hast mir nicht geschrieben! 

You didn’t send me a message!

Doch! 

Yes I did! 

Das Ding ist halt, dass immer noch so viele Fehler beim Sprechen mache.

The thing is that I still make so many mistakes when I speak.

Sollen wir bald mal was zusammen machen?

Should we hang out together soon?

7. Slang 

Last but not least are the widely used slang words that pepper everyday speech, especially amongst young people. 

Many slang terms vary from region to region, but they’re much more common in spoken language than in written language as they suggest a degree of informality.  

Words such as krass and geil can be used to show you’re impressed by something, whilst the question Na? has become a common colloquial greeting.

Want to sound like a true native when you speak? For a deeper look at German slang, visit our guide here. For Swiss German, click here. 

 
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