Austrian German: Maximum tomfoolery… oida!

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Any language can be a challenge, in both a positive and negative way. Have you ever tried to learn German? If so, you can throw half of it out the window if you’re planning a trip to Austria. The differences between German and Austrian German can be described best as what Scottish English is to British English. Austrian German has its own distinct flavour.

You might have noticed the odd word “oida” in the title and tried looking it up in a dictionary, with little to no result. If you wanted to include it in a German to English dictionary, the closest rendering would be translating it as “Dude!” or “Gosh!”. There is much more to those four letters, however. Commonly used in Vienna, the word has a connotation of both joy and excitement on the one hand, and aggravation and anger on the other… occasionally all mixed together, which embodies the infamous Austrian pessimism. It can be argued that it is a term that is so versatile and applicable in so many situations that no literal translation can capture its full meaning. You are sure to hear it on the streets, in a bar, or wherever there is a commotion.

The two varieties of German are generally mutually intelligible, though the accents are extremely distinguishable. Differences between German and Austrian German occur at the level of spelling, grammar, and word usage. These are linked not only to everyday situations or jurisdiction, but also the education system or cuisine. Other than that, a German can understand an Austrian… unless you venture to Styria, but I digress.

Below are some expressions in Austrian German that might come in handy if you want to understand a little more or impress the locals:

  • Ungustl describes someone who isn’t particularly kind.
  • Beisl is an Austrian term that means pub.
  • Haberer (or Hawara) is commonly used in Austria and refers to a friend or buddy.
  • Kiberer (or Kiwara) is an expression denoting the police but with a rather negative connotation.
  • In Austria, bread rolls are referred to as Semmel. There are further distinctions with other types of bread and baked goods (but most importantly, they are delicious).
  • Baba is an Austrian equivalent of the often used German Tschüss, or bye.
  • Watsche means a slap in the face or a smack, an Austrian equivalent of the German Ohrfeige.
  • Grindig is a word commonly heard in Vienna to describe something disgusting.
  • In Germany, apricots are Aprikosen, however in Austria they are referred to as Marillen.
  • Similarly, tomatoes are not Tomaten, but Paradeiser.
  • Most is the juice of applies or pears intended for fermentation but before it becomes wine. A Mostschädel is a deliciously Austrian insult, literally meaning most-skull and referring to someone who is very drunk.

There is a reason they say to watch (and know) your language. The purpose of speaking a language is not only to communicate, but also to have fun while doing it. Austrians have their own distinct take on German. If you are not entirely convinced, hop on a plane and listen for yourself… and make sure you try a Schnitzel and some Kaiserschmarrn.

by our intern Michael Schwanzer