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?
With around 20 responses, here are some of their highlights.
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”.
Margaret Weber and Sharon Baur also selected the word as their fave.
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”.
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”.
For anyone with Swiss German children, this word – in either verb or noun form – probably gets a fairly heavy rotation.
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.
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.
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.