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SWISS GERMAN

‘Just so fun to say’: Are these the best Swiss German words to learn?

From Abfallsackgebühr to Znüni, Swiss German has a long list of charming and unique words. Readers of The Local Switzerland weighed in on some of their faves.

Restaurant Chuchichäschtli in Switzerland
Chuchichäschtli came out on top in a poll of Local readers favourite words. What is your fave? Von Kecko from Switzerland (Rheintal SG) - Andermatt - Schwiizerdütsch, CC BY 2.0

One thing that confounds new arrivals to German-speaking Switzerland is the long and extensive range of words which are unique in the Swiss German language. 

Even fluent, native German speakers can have trouble with words like Büezer, while high German words like Ausland take on a slightly different meaning in the Alpine nation

In August, the Local Switzerland reached out to our readers to get their views on their favourite Swiss German words. 

Almost all of them said that not only do they use the word, they use it when speaking English – such is the impact it’s had on their vocabulary. 

From Abfallsackgebühr to Znüni, Swiss German has a long list of charming and unique words. What’s your fave?

Posted by The Local Switzerland on Thursday, August 6, 2020

With around 20 responses, here are some of their highlights. 

READ: Nine surprising Swiss German words you need to know 

Chuchichäschtli

Although there was a diverse array of entrants, Chuchichäschtli was the most popular word among Local readers. 

The word, which means kitchen cupboard or little kitchen cupboard is almost impossible for foreigners – including High German speakers – to get their mouth around, but this didn’t hamper its popularity. 

On Facebook, Jackie Amey said the word was her “dad’s favourite”. “He was English and he learned how to say it”. 

READ MORE: Seven English words Swiss Germans get delightfully wrong 

Margaret Weber and Sharon Baur also selected the word as their fave. 

Gruetzi

In close second was Gruetzi, which is a simple Swiss German greeting. 

Denise, from Canada, said it was her favourite word because it was “So Swiss”. 

Fägnäscht

While Fägnäscht only appeared once in the list – nominated by reader Andrea – it places highly because of its double meaning. 

Fägnäscht as a noun means a mess or an untidy situation, while when used as a verb, fägnäschte means “to fidget or move around restlessly”. 

READ: Five Swiss German phrases to make you sound like a local 

For anyone with Swiss German children, this word – in either verb or noun form – probably gets a fairly heavy rotation. 

Löli

This word makes an appearance in our list not simply because of the explanation one of our readers chose in nominating it. 

Klaus told us he voted for Löli because “you can use it on many politicians without insulting them”. 

For anyone who doesn’t know, Löli is not a nice word to describe a politician – or indeed anyone. 

It means a “clumsy, stupid person”, which might be insulting but is unlikely to be the worst thing that a politician has heard. 

Schätzli/Chätzli

Rob told us that his favourite word was Schätzli, although his explanation left us a little confused. 

Schätzli means little treasure in Swiss German and is therefore an idea word to have close to the top of any list.

But when asked why, Rob said “it just sounds so affectionate – ‘little cat!’”, which makes us think he was referring to Chätzli. 

Either way, great choices. 

Honourable mentions

Tiffany Rodel was unable to pick her favourite Swiss German word, saying it was a tie between äuä and tip-top because both “are just so fun to say”. 

While tip-top might be self-explanatory, äuä is a Bernese word which loosely translates to “really” or “Come on, you must be kidding!”

Amber said her favourite word was “Zvieri” – afternoon snack – but was less forthcoming in explaining why, only telling us in High German “that it’s always good to eat something”. 

We can’t agree more, Amber. 

A lack of imagination 

Most respondents got back to us seriously. But as with any internet poll, there’s bound to be a few smart Alecs.

Max Bork told us via Facebook that his fave word was Bier, while Muhyadin Usman echoed this by saying Fierabig, the Swiss German version of Feierabend – which refers to the feeling and temporal space one is in when they finish work. 

(We’ll assume that with their powers combined they’d choose the very appropriate word Feierabendbier – which is exactly what it sounds like).  

Other words nominated by readers 

We weren’t able to feature all of the words nominated by our readers, but here are some of the better ones which didnt make the list. 

Cheib: Rascal, mean person

Güselchübel: Moving van, garbage can or good friend (yeah, this one confuses us too). 

Chrüsimüsi: Literally meaning ‘I need to be crucified’, this refers to a chaotic mess one can find oneself in. 

Trottel: Not unlike Löli (see above), this refers to a clumsy or dumb person. 

This article was originally published in August 2020. 

Member comments

  1. My mother (from the Emmenthal) used an expression which translates as “pulls the holes in your socks together” for something which tastes tart or sour, Does anyone know it?

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For members

UNDERSTANDING THE SWISS

Reader question: What is Switzerland’s ‘Bünzli’ and how do I spot one?

In Switzerland, you might hear the term 'Bünzli' to describe someone. What does it mean?

A person wearing socks with sandals
Socks with sandals are a part of the Bünzli uniform. Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

One of many cultural curiosities, a Bünzli is someone who is simultaneously very Swiss – but whom the Swiss make significant fun of. 

The term has no direct English translation, which can make it a little confusing at first to understand. 

At least in part because it is relatively difficult to translate into English, the word Bünzli itself is often used among English speakers who live in Switzerland. 

Here’s what you need to know about Bünzli, a truly Swiss phenomenon. 

What is a Bünzli? 

The term Bünzli is a Swiss German insult to describe a particular type of person who is set in their ways, has narrow mind and view of things and tries desperately hard to hang onto tradition. It is almost always used as a criticism or in a negative context. 

While the internet gives up the translation ‘philistine’ in English, there are other elements which make a Bünzli a Bünzli. 

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

Other English words like fussy, fastidious, stodgy and exact also describe a Bünzli. 

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 will have a perfectly manicured garden and will never want to split a bill evenly, instead demanding to pay exactly what he or she had – and nothing more. 

He 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.

Some say Bünzli are particularly Swiss, like a distilled, concentrated form of pure Swiss-ness, although the fact that Bünzli are usually the target of ridicule from Swiss people indicates that foreigners are not the only ones who find the behaviour weird or out of line. 

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.


Wearing Adiletten with socks doesn’t make you a Buenzli…but it helps. Photo: Christian H. Flickr

Still not sure what a Bünzli is? 

If you still don’t know what a Bünzli is, it might be helpful to see a few further examples. 

The following YouTube video goes through some specifics of the Bünzli is in Swiss German (although if you already speak Swiss German, you’ll likely know what a Bünzli is). 

Switzerland’s English forum often holds debates where expats look to discover the exact meaning of the term

Swiss news site Watson lists several reader examples of their Bünzli experiences, from having the police called for a noise complaint at 10:01pm, to telling tourists who asked for directions while holding a train door open to let go of the door so the train can leave. 

How do I spot one? 

For those who still don’t exactly know what a Bünzli is, don’t fret.

It’ll often happen the other way around, i.e. the Bünzli will discover you, when you haven’t done your recycling or when your doormat is the wrong way around in front of your apartment or when you cycle across the pedestrian crossing with no cars around. 

Keep the above in mind and trust us, you’ll know one when you see one. 

Have you had any Bünzli experiences? Please let us know in the comments below. 

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