7 Austrian Expressions that Sound Hilarious in English

Translating expressions word for word into another language seldom makes sense, as anyone who ever tried it can attest. Chances are you will be met with befuddled looks or cackling laughter, like a human version of google translate.

Yet it’s exactly these phrases that give a language their color and character; and they say a lot about the culture they were coined in. Also, it’s incredibly fun – especially for native speakers – to hear these idioms in a foreign language.

We’ve compiled seven of the most commonly used phrases in Austria (most of them also widespread in other German-speaking countries) with their verbatim English translation and some background on their usage. So, gemma’s an (let’s get started)!

Now we have the salad


When something goes totally wrong, Austrians retreat to food idioms. So when they mess up, they comment sardonically with Jetzt haben wir den Salat. And if they are really not in the mood to help someone clean up their own mess, they may well add Jetzt kannst du die Suppe aber selbst auslöffeln (Go on and finish the soup yourself now).

Life is no sugar licking


Another culinary reference: Life may be fun, tough, tasty or challenging, but in any case, das Leben ist kein Zuckerschlecken. Of course, for animal lovers there’s also the equally accepted das Leben ist kein Ponyhof (Life’s no pony farm).

You are on the wood way


Englishmen and Americans, forged by the industrial revolution and the ever-expanding railway, may sometimes be on the wrong track. The more rural Austrians prefer to be auf dem Holzweg, trotting down the wood way when they’re heading in the wrong direction (figuratively, not literally). Luckily, spending time in the Vienna Woods or a wooden Alpine chalet is not the worst way to spend your time.

It is really sausage to me


Now, Austrians love their Wurst (sausage), but even more than that, they love to invoke it to show how incredibly little they care about something (they do care about their Wurst, though, make no mistake). Ist mir (soooo) wurscht has virtually replaced the more correct Ist mir egal in colloquial Viennese. Yet when it’s written down, make sure you stick with the slang spelling (“sch” instead of “s”) – unless you want your readers to think you’re actually selling sausage.

This is not the yellow of the eggei egg

In America, things may turn out to be “not so brilliant.” In Britain, they may well be “alright” (i.e. throw it in the trash immediately). In Austria, however, an unconvincing performance, poorly conceived idea or half-baked proposal is nicht das Gelbe vom Ei. Why exactly Austrians prefer the yolk to egg white is not entirely clear, but perhaps it has to do with their fondness for Mehlspeisen (sugary baked goods), which require loads of it. 

I think I spider


Common throughout the German-speaking world, even the strongest arachnophobes express their consternation with a forceful Ich glaub ich spinne (I think I’m going nuts). Now spinnen can of course mean “spider” or “spinning yarn.” But either way, things are not looking good if parents raise their voice and invoke yarns or spiders to scold their children for creating Tohuwabohu (chaos).

You’re walking on my cookie/biscuit

biscuits kekse

To round off our culinary expressions, Kekse (cookies, or biscuits for you Brits) are of course a favorite dessert. Yet when Austrians say Du gehst mir auf den Keks, it’s rather less flattering: It means that you are really bugging them. The expression may also be used for any number of things that you feel like complaining about (for Viennese, that’s a lot). Hopefully, though, you are still left with some Kekse in the end.

Benjamin Wolf
Benjamin studied Journalism, History and International Affairs. After stints with Cafébabel in Paris and Arte in Strasbourg, he is now working as managing editor and COO for Metropole in Vienna. Fields of expertise are politics, economics, culture, and history. Photo: Visual Hub

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