Einen guten Rutsch!

bildschirmfoto-2016-12-27-um-16-05-31When your German friends wish you a “Guten Rutsch!”, “Einen Guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr!” or say “rutsch guet übere” (Swissgerman), they don’t want you to “slide” or “slip” (rutschen=to slide; (aus)rutschen= to slip). They simply wish you a smooth start into the New Year.

Can’t they just say “Gutes Neues Jahr”? Yes, they can and they do. But it’s common that we wish a “guten Rutsch” to eachother.

Where does this expression come from? Is it somehow related to the fact that this time of the year people did “slide” into the snow (or on the ice)?

Since 1900 people wish “guten Rutsch”. Some think that “Rutsch” comes from the Rotwelsch language, a substratum of German “containing numerous words from other languages, notably from various German dialects, including Yiddish, as well as from Romany languages, notably Sintitikes“. But it is not very clear if the expression “Rosch ha schono” is Jiddish or Rotwelsch (cfr. Adolf Friedrich Thiele). Anyways, this expression seems to originate from the Hebraic ראש השנה טוב – Rosch ha schana tov, which means “a happy head/beginning of the year”, as the Jiddish “rosch” means “Head” since the 18th century.

There is an other fact to consider: the Jewish Newyear doesn’t coincide with the Christian one and the Jiddish expression for the Jewish and Christian holidays differ.

Carl Wilhelm Friedrich points out that the Christian New Year is called schone chadosche (lit. new year), whereas the Jewish New Year is called rosch haschone (lit. beginning of the year). Johann Heinrich Callenberg testifies in his Jüdischteutschen Wörterbüchlein (Halle 1736), that the New Year’s calling for Christians is schone chadosche (lit. that God may provide you a good New Year), and Walter Röll wonders how this schone chadosche that Jews would wish their Christian friends became a “guter Rutsch” also among Christians.

The fact that neither the Grimm brothers didn’t mention the expression “Guten Rutsch” in their Deutsches Wörterbuch, nor Daniel Sanders in his Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache (Leipzig 1876) indicate that this expression entered into the German language around 1900, probably through postcards which started to circulate around 1890/1895. After 1900 the market of openly and commercially sended New Years greetings mushroomed (cfr. Simon Neuberg & Walter Röll 2002).


In the German dictionary or Deutsches Wörterbuch from the brothers Grimm, “rutschen” has the meaning of sliding: “gleitend bewegen” (gliding), “freiwilliges und unfreiwilliges Gleiten”, “kriechen” (creep, crowl) but it’s also attested in the expression “da rutscht’ ich fort” and “Sonntag rutscht man auf das land” cfr. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, as well as in the lemma “anrutschen” in “ich werd nächstens bei dir angerutscht kommen”, a more humorous way to express the “travelling” and “riding”.

Johann Andreas Schmeller gives another evidence for this figurative meaning in his Bayerisches Wörterbuch from 1836, where you’ll find under rutschen among others “Irgend wohin rutschen, im Scherz: fahren. An Feyertagen rutscht das lebsüchtige München gerne auf Bering oder ins Hesselloh”.

In Grimms Wörterbuch, the feminine form “die Rutsche” (the slide) occurs in the phrase “glückliche rutsch” with the meaning “travel”, “journey”. Heinz Küpper attests the form since 1800 and confirms its use in “auf Rutsch gehen” (go on a travel/journey) for the 19th century.

The masculine form “der Rutsch” is attested in the phrase “guten (glücklichen) Rutsch” for “safe travel” since 1820. – Since the 19th century, “der Rutsch” stands for a short travel distance, where the verb “rutschen” (lit. gliding) originally referred to the gliding of the sledge (in the Winter) and later to the rail ride. Küpper assumes that the wish for a “guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr” suggests a good transition into the New Year, a effortless slide into the New Year, like on a sledge. And Lutz Röhrich says that the underlying idea is the slow, almost imperceptible sliding that is also expressed in the common short version of “Komm gut rüber!”

And here is an explanation for children (and adults) about the meaning of “Rutsch” today (from “Die Sendung mit der Maus”; © WDR VideoPodcast 27.12.2009):

Unfug= mischief


Along these lines I wish you all “einen Guten Rutsch ins Neue Jahr 2014!

Bibliography mentioned in this post:

Friedrich, Karl Wilhelm, Unterricht in der Judensprache, Prenzlau, 1784.

Küpper, Heinz, Wörterbuch der deutschen Umgangssprache, 1. Auflage, 6. Nachdruck, Stuttgart, München, Düsseldorf, Leipzig 1997, Seite 684, Lemmata Rutsch I und Rutsch II

Neuberg, Simon & Walter Röll, Anmerkungen zum „Guten Rutsch“, in Jiddistik Mitteilungen, Nr. 28/November 2002, pp. 16–19.

Röhrich, Lutz, Lexikon der sprichwörtlichen Redensarten, Band 4, 4. Auflage Freiburg, Basel, Wien 1999, p. 1266, Lemma Rutsch.

Röll, Walter, Guten Rutsch?, in Jiddistik Mitteilungen, Nr. 27/April 2002, pp.14–16.

Schmeller, Johann Andreas, Bayerisches Wörterbuch, Theil 3, Stuttgart, Tübingen 1836, Spalte 191, Lemma rutschen.

Thiele, Adolf Friedrich, Die jüdischen Gauner in Deutschland, ihre Taktik, ihre Eigenthümlichkeiten und ihre Sprache, Berlin, 1840



Dutch and German: what do they have in common?


Learning a new language is always very exciting. Especially when the new language we’re learning is similar to one we already know. These similarities can be at different levels (phonetical, lexical, syntactical etc.).

The Dutch language belongs to the West-German branch of the Indoeuropean languages and is actually close to German (and Swissgerman).


[The simplified relation between the languages Dutch, English and German. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)]

For many foreigners the pronunciations of “Scheveningen” or “Gouda” are a challenge. It’s especially the way the and the intervocalic is pronounced that creates some articulatory problems. For Swissgermans the voiceless velar fricative [x] or [ɣ] for the or the uvular fricative [χ] are very well known. They sound similar to the German in “ach”, “Bach”, “Fach” etc.. Therefore this is not something Germans or Swissgermans would find difficult to pronounce. In the southern Dutch dialects these sounds are softer and and represent the palatal fricatives ([ʝ] and [ç]).

Something I personally found important to learn are the false cognates or false friends. People already fluent in German when learning Dutch, need to be aware of words that are phonetically similar and sometimes even have similar roots but are different in meanings:

The Dutch aandacht means “Aufmerksamkeit” (attention) in German, and the German “Andacht” means “devotion”.

The zetel is a seat and not a saddle (German “Sattel”), the winkel is a shop (“Laden”) and not an angle, like in German.

With vaart you don’t design the journey or trip (“Fahrt”), but only boat trip and varen refers to the movement of ships only.

Tot is not “tot” (dead) but only means “until” and is pronounced with a short /o/ (whereas the german “tot” has a long one /o:/.

A postbus is not a public means of transportation but a P.O. box (“Postfach”).

The kwartier is not a quarter or accomodation (germ.”Quartier”) but defines a quarter of an hour; and it’s often used in its diminutive form kwartiertje.

Glazuur has nothing to do with baking (germ.”Glasur”; icing) but is dental enamel (“Zahnschmelz”).

Blaffen does not mean to snap at someone, like the German “anblaffen” but the barking of the dog. In German this way to snap is comparable to the barking of a dog though and both words have the same etymon. When a Dutch says that he’s going to call you on the phone, i.e. bellen (ik ga je bellen), which is the abbreviated form for opbellen, or ring at your door, a German would think that this person would bark at him (germ. bellen). For an English speaking person it doesn’t seem too weird, as the English bell (noun) is producing a similar sound although the English verb to bell has a different meaning i.e. the semantic fields for the Dutch bell and the English one are slightly different.

The sale signs for houses and flats puzzle every German speaking person who visits the Netherlands for the first time: te huur (which means “to rent”) seems very similar “to whore” (“huren” in German), but once you learn that is pronounced like [yː] you’ll get over it. A similar misunderstanding could occur with the verkocht sign, when a property is sold, since it really sounds like the word for “overcooked” in German (“verkocht”).

Te huur in Huizen
Te huur in Huizen (Photo credit: CorporatieNL)

Verkocht onder voorbehoud
Verkocht onder voorbehoud (Photo credit: the_riel_thing)
What were the analogies or similarities you found between German and Dutch? Or another language you know and Dutch?





Saint Nicholas’ legend vs Santa Claus…


A medieval fresco depicting St Nicholas from t...

A medieval fresco depicting St Nicholas from the Boyana Church, near Sofia, Bulgaria. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sinterklaas or Nikolaus, San Nicola etc. in European countries is based on the legendary figure of St Nicholas.

Born in 271 AD to a rich Greek family in Asia Minor in in the city of Patara (Lycia et Pamphylia), he was very religious from an early age. His parents died by an epidemic while Nicholas was still very young and he was raised by his uncle (also named Nicholas), the bishop of Patara. ” He tonsured the young Nicholas as a reader and later ordained him a presbyter (priest).“(wikipedia) Nicholas decided to distribute his wealth to the poor and become a priest. Later he became the Arch Bishop of Myra, a place near the city of Anatolia in Turkey.

He had the reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him and became the model for Santa Claus (celebrated on 24th or 25th December), whose modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas in turn comes from a series of elisions and corruptions of the transliteration of “Saint Nikolaos”.

The fame of St Nicholas’ good deeds began to spread across the Mediterranean and he became known as a patron saint of children, sailors, merchants, archors, travellers and of the city of Amsterdam. Therefore this figure has a special meaning to the Dutch and to the children.

Legends about St Nicholas

There are many legends about St Nicholas. One tells how a terrible famine struck the island and a malicious butcher lured three little children to his house, killed them and placed their remains in a barrel to cure, planning to sell them off as ham. Saint Nicholas, visiting the region to care for the hungry, saw through this horrible crime and resurrected the three boys from the barrel by his prayers. In another version (from the 11th Century), the butcher’s victims were three clerks who wished to stay the night. The man murdered them and intended to turn them into meat pies. Saint Nicholas saw through this and brought the men back to life. – These kind of legends seem to have originated some of the well known helpers of St Nicholas in many European countries.

The legends with the most likely historical basis are those with St Nicholas being the helper or being the secret benefactor:

Nicholas heard about a man who had lost all his money. He had three daughters who were old enough to get married but had no dowry.

This family was so poor they had nothing left to eat. The daughters were going to be sold as slaves because they couldn’t live at home any longer. They were very sad. They wouldn’t be able to have families of their own. And they would have to be slaves—no longer able to decide where they would live or what they would do.

The night before the oldest daughter was to be sold, she washed her stockings and put them in front of the fire to dry. Then all of them went to sleep—the father and the three daughters.

In the morning the daughter saw a lump in her stocking. Reaching in, she found a small, heavy bag. It had gold inside! Enough to provide food for the family and money for her dowry. Oh, how happy they were!

The next morning, another bag with gold was found. Imagine! Two of the daughters would now be saved. Such joy!

And the next night, the father planned to stay awake to find out who was helping his daughters. He dozed off, but heard a small “clink” as another bag landed in the room. Quickly he jumped up and ran out the door. Who did he catch ducking around the corner? – Nicholas, the young man who lived with his uncle. “Nicholas, it is you! Thank you for helping us—I hardly know what to say!” Nicholas said, “Please, do not thank me—thank God that your prayers have been answered. Do not tell others about me.”

Nicholas continued helping people. He always tried to help secretly. He didn’t want any attention or thanks. Years passed and he was chosen to be a bishop. Bishops look after their people as shepherds look after their sheep. And that is what Nicholas did. When there wasn’t any food, he found wheat; so no one went hungry. He always helped people in trouble. All his life Nicholas showed people how to love God and care for each other.

Everyone loved Nicholas. After he died, they told stories of the good and kind things Nicholas had done. Sailors took these stories about Nicholas everywhere they went. Some of the stories were about his special care for children—helping and protecting them when danger threatened. And so more and more people learned about good, kind Nicholas. They wanted to be like him. He is an example of how we should live. And that is why he became a saint. (Carol Myers)


New to Germany?


Are you going to move to Germany? – Here you can find some practical tips and insights that will help you settle in easier. Aside from general information I add some advice for students who want to study in Germany.

Health Care

You will need to have a family doctor / Hausarzt, preferably close to where you live. This family doctor will tell you if you need a general practitioner / Allgemeinmediziner or a specialist / Facharzt. – Opening hours vary, but they are usually closed on weekends and on Wednesday afternoons. For emergencies it is better to go to the emergency at a hospital. Emergency number: 112.

Bildschirmfoto 2015-07-12 um 17.44.40

Health Insurance / Krankenversicherung

If you live in Germany, you need to have a health insurance. There are statutory health insurances and private ones. International students can get the statutory health insurance with special student rates. The treatments and some medications are then for free or much more convenient.

On the Road in Germany

In Germany they drive on the right. You’re only allowed to overtake on the left. On German highways there is no speed limit but the benchmark is 130 km/h (preferably 120 km/h). When travelling to Germany, make sure you are informed about the tolls to pay.

In case of an accident it’s advisable to call the police. If you buy a car, you need to register it at the vehicle administration office / Zulassungsstelle of the Department of Transportation / Straßenverkehrsamt: address and information can be found at the municipality. If you are living in Germany, foreign driving licences are valid for 6 months. After that, driving licences must be re-registered unless you already possess a EU-driving licence.

In many cities you will need a emission sticker / Umweltplakette for your car, depending on the emissions level of CO2 of your car. More information can be found here.

If you don’t own a car, you can sign up at one of the car sharing agencies / Mitfahrerzentralen, Mitfahrgelegenheit or blablacar. They usually look for fellow passengers for longer distances between cities. Within cities you can use the public transport / öffentlichen Nahverkehr.

You can also take the train (Deutsche Bahn) or bus (Fernbusnetz Deutschland) for longer distances.

– Important sites:

ADAC (Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil Club)

Traffic Signs/Road Signs from the ADAC

Verkehrszeichen (Traffic Signs)

Verkehrszeichen online

Road Signs in Germany

German road described in German & English

Deutsch: Gelbes ADAC-Fahrzeug mit schwarzem Sc...

Deutsch: Gelbes ADAC-Fahrzeug mit schwarzem Schriftzug in Franklin Gothic Condensed (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Visit to the Authorities / Behördengang

Everyone who wants to stay longer than 3 months in Germany, needs to report his or her domicile within a week by the registration office / Einwohnermeldeamt: documents needed are the hiring contract / Mietvertrag or a written confirmation from the landlord / Bescheinigung des Vermieters.A residence permit / Aufenthaltsgenehmigung is issued by the alience department / Ausländeramt. If you are in Germany for study, you need to provide a proof that your study stay is ascertained financially – either by a scholarship, a grant or privately. Students need to dispose at least of 500 € per month (it is advisable to dispose of 700 € per month as the living costs are quite high). The residence permit is approved if a student visa is submitted, a passport, a health insurance certificate, an attestation by the landlord, and three passport photos. – If you encounter any kind of problem you can contact the Akademisches Auslandsamt at your University .

Shopping / Einkaufen

Most of the shops are open from 10 until 18 (some later). Supermarkets, bakeries, butchers and farmacies open earlier. On Saturday, many shops close at noon – only in the city center they are open in the afternoon. Small shops close from 13 to 15 and on Sundays most shops are closed. At kiosks and petrol stations you can go for small groceries.

Bildschirmfoto 2015-07-12 um 21.07.26

Etiquette / Etikette

  • Germans are very punctual. If a meeting is scheduled for 9am, that’s the time you need to be there and ready to start. – If you’re invited by friends or collegues  you can come a bit later (but not more than 10-15 minutes !).
  • Germans use the formal “Sie” / You when doing business or when introducing someone new. The “Du” / you is only offered when you know eachother better and usually it is offered by the superior or the older person. – In some companies they may use the formal Sie while addressing the person with his or her forename : “Anna, haben Sie die letzte Mail schon gelesen?” / “Anna, have You read the latest mail?”
  • Young people usually greet their peers informally with “Du” (= duzen).
  • Greeting with a kiss (or two, or three) is only common among friends – some prefer a  hug. – If in doubt: shake hands.
  • If invited to a friend’s home, be prepared to be asked to take off your shoes. It is a sign of respect for the host not to wear shoes in the house. You may be offered slippers / Hausschuhe (Pantoffeln) .

  • If you are invited to a dinner or lunch, you can bring some flowers (always uneven number!) to the host and/or a bottle of wine, or chocolate.

Waste separation / Mülltrennung

It is very common to separate waste in Germany. Paper, uncleaned packaging, glas, residual waste / Restmüll: they all have different containers. Organic waste / organische Abfälle are goes into the brown container / braune Tonne, the uncleaned packaging / Verpackungsmaterial in the yellow one and paper in the blue one. Batteries, chemicals and hazardous waste must be brought to special collecting points / Sammelstellen.

For cans and glas you usually pay a pawn / Pfand which is refunded when you bring back the containers to the supermarket or shop where you bought them.

Important telephone numbers:
Fire Brigade & Police / Feuerwehr & Polizei 110
Emergency Doctor / Notarzt 112

More practical tips about moving to Germany can be found on the following sites: