Guten Rutsch!

That’s what you say in German if you wish somebody to get into the new year well. “Rutsch” means “slide” in German, so there are people who add “aber rutsch nicht aus!” (= “but don’t slip.”) to their well-wishes. The origin of that phrase actually is a Jewlicious one; it’s the corruption of a phrase adopted from Jews wishing each other a “Guten Rosh”.

Many words of Hebrew origin have entered German through Jews residing here. Even more of those words survived in dialects (of which Germany has got plenty). Sometimes the original medieval Hebrew word got lost or changed, occasionally the words and phrases were corrupted to onomatopoetically fit a similar German word, so they don’t always make sense at first glance. Often the vocabulary merged with vagrant vocabulary (sorry, it’s a Wiki link, but the only one I could find in English that didn’t refer to thieves’ cant in the English language), and those words that eventually stuck, apart from terms that refer to traditions and rites, denote that poverty and petty crimes were part of the everyday Jewish experience in medieval Ashkenaz.

The Goethe Institute provides a brief, comprehensive outline of the matter online [, which saves me from typing :) ]:

Maloche, Schlamassel, meschugge – with many of these words, we are conscious of their connection to Jewish culture and its languages Yiddish and Hebrew: for instance, “Mischpoche” (riffraff; clan), “Chuzpe” (chutzpah, brazenness), or when something doesn’t seem to us to be “koscher” (kosher). With others, we hardly notice this: for example, the “Malocher” (drudge) of the Ruhr Valley, or the “Macke” (kink, loose screw) that someone has, the “miese” (wretched, miserable) weather, the government’s “Schmusekurs” (schmoozing up) or the neighbour who is well “betucht” (well-off).

The linguist Hans Peter Althaus has compiled 1,100 words of Yiddish origin in his Lexikon deutscher Wörter jiddischer Herkunft (i.e., Encyclopaedia of German Words of Yiddish Provenance), including old acquaintances like the “Großkotz” (braggart) and the “Schmiere stehen” (to keep a look out), but also some which strike one as exotic in German like “Machascheife” (witch) or “Besomenbüchse” (“smelling salts”, “perfume flacon”) and which occur only in a few German dialects, technical jargon or argot. [Read the full article here].

Guten Rutsch everybody!

6 Comments

  1. Maria S.

    12/31/2008 at 10:43 am

    Good article!

    Would like to read it fully, but the link did not work…:((

  2. froylein

    12/31/2008 at 10:46 am

    My apologies… I’ve fixed the link; it should work now.

  3. Maria S.

    12/31/2008 at 10:53 am

    Thanks!

    Und einen guten Rutsch!

  4. froylein

    12/31/2008 at 11:12 am

    Danke, Ihnen auch!

  5. maven

    12/31/2008 at 4:42 pm

    I was impressed to see a pub called Tacheles in Freiburg, that Yiddish/Hebrew word is even used in the German press, along with gonef and some others.
    In fact, as tonight is New Year, I think its time to reach for some of that Schwarzwaelder Kirschwasser.
    Prosit Neujahr!

  6. Maria S.

    1/6/2009 at 3:24 pm

    The older generation, like my parents, used a lot of yiddish with us while we were growing up. Of course, we children thought of it as “our” language. I did not realize how much Yiddish, I, as a German, actually knew until…
    Read more here:
    pension-sprach...
    On the other hand, I hope you forgive me for my ignorance, after having read my post…:((

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