Many Swiss German expressions are similar to others in both English and German speaking countries like Austria. Nevertheless, there are some proverbs and sayings that an expatriate will struggle to make sense of.
Take for example:
„A sitzande Saager isch eaba so viel wert wia en liggunde Schiisser.“
Literally: „A seated sawman is worth as much as a supine shitter.“
This means that you have to make an effort yourself, get up and do something if certain work is to be done properly.
This phrase is often said to a person who is lazy and complains because things do not go according to their ideas.
„Chasch nöd s zeanahe unds Weggli ha.“
Literally: „You cannot have both the ten cents and the rolls.“
This saying comes up when you want to make it clear to someone that they have to choose either one thing or the other. Slight variations in the way of expression can occur in different areas: „Me ka nid dr Batze und s Weggli ha.“ (Basel), as „Khasch nit z’Füferli und z Weggli ha.“ (Graubünden) or „Chasch ned de Batze ond s Weggli ha.“ (Central Switzerland).
„Froge darfsch, wennd d’Antwort nid schüchs.“
Literally: „You may ask if you don’t mind the answer.“
This means that as a questioner you also have to cope with answers that you had not expected or hoped for and that may lead to your own dissatisfaction. So do not be surprised if an answer to a question is not what you want it to be.
„S’het, solang s’het.“
Literally: „It is available as long as it is available.“
After a certain product has been sold out, nothing will be reordered. To a certain extent, this also communicates a form of indifference: If person A absolutely wants something specific, and person B is either only moderately enthusiastic or even annoyed about it, B often counters with this statement.
„Em Tüüfel es Ohr abgloge.“
Literally: “He lied the devil’s ear off.”
This is how one talks about a person who lies all the time or has spread an enormous lie. This is particularly true of people who, through fraudulent background and malicious intent, try to take personal advantage through their lies.
„S’git nüt wo’s nit git.“
Literally: “There’s nothing that doesn’t exist”
This means “Nothing is impossible.”, everything works out somehow. If the limited mindsets of some people can be overcome, things can be achieved in previously unimaginable ways.
„Hop de Bäse!“
Literally: „On the broom!„
This means “hurry up” and is used when someone is stalling, urgent matters are pending or perhaps someone needs help. It was also used in a derogatory way for housewives who are lagging behind with their housework.
„Bis de geit no hüffu Wasser de Rottu emab.“
Literally: „There will still be a lot of water flowing into the Rhone until then.“
This saying means that a lot of time will pass before something specific happens. The Rhone is an 812 km long river that runs partly through Switzerland and partly through France. In the district of Goms which belongs to the Swiss canton of Valais, the Rhone is called Rotte. There are a number of variations to this saying across different areas:
In Basel: „Bis denn fliest no vill Wasser de Rhy derab.“
„There will still be a lot of water flowing down the Rhine until then.“
In Zurich:“Da gaht no vill Wasser d’Limmät abè.“
„There will still be a lot of water flowing down the Limmat.“ (The Limmat is another river in Switzerland.)
„Dä dümmschdi Buur hät die gröschdä Härdöpfel!“
Literally: „The most foolish farmer has the biggest potatoes“
This means that you don’t have to know about the whole world to do a thing well. Knowledge about the field you are working in is enough and promises more success than knowing a little bit about everything.
„Däm chalberet no dr Schiitstock.“
Literally: „Even his chopping block will calve“
This describes a particularly lucky person, a person overwhelmed by excessive happiness, apparently more than all the people around him. Often envious people talk badly about such a person.
„Das macht der Braate emu nid feiss.“
Literally: „This won’t fatten the roast.“
Obviously, this does not literally mean that a roast does not become fat, but describes a procedure that makes little or no difference. Actually, it means, “That doesn’t matter.” Whether a job is done in this way or in another way is not important, because both ways produce almost the same result.
Sayings are the ultimate linguistic challenge
If you were able to understand most of these sayings, you are on the right track. Understanding the sayings of a language is a fine art, as it is often not enough to understand just the phrase – often background knowledge is needed to understand its meaning.
In our first article “„The most popular sayings in Switzerland“ ” we looked at this in detail. If you would like to learn more about Switzerland, we strongly recommend our book „Swiss German in 30 days“, in which we explore many areas of Switzerland and learn Swiss German from these explorations.