Word of the Week: Fetzen [ˈfɛt͡sn̩]

Noun. In use since at least the 14th century, this highly versatile word has multiple meanings. While most commonly used to denote a scrap or shred (e.g. a scrap of paper, or a shred of a conversation), Fetzen is also used as a term for rag.

The latter is especially relevant to the Viennese, where Fetzen is often used as a derogatory term for clothing – either sincerely or self-effacing (like the English “glad rags”) by hopeless fashion addicts hoping to downplay the lengths gone to, and more importantly, the exorbitant sums spent on their threads.

But that’s just the beginning: Fetzen can also mean intoxication (e.g. “Der hot an Fetz’n!”– “He’s drunk!”), and a Fetzenschädel would be a habitual drunkard. It can even mean a failing grade in school, when a student’s work, or more likely mind, is in shreds, and multiple Fetzen can mean repeating the year.

Either way, life in Vienna is full of Fetzen – in the wastepaper basket, at the end of a mop, on the catwalk, in a bar and on a report card. Lastly, when used as a verb, it means to fight, argue or party really hard– so know your Fetzen!

No matter how well you speak German, the Word Of The Week will help you impress any Viennese! While learning German is not an easy task in general, learning the language in Austria can come to be twice as complicated.

But Austrians may nod approvingly if you put together a coherent sentence, harmonizing the Akkusativpronomen correctly with the subject. But they’ll love you if you enrich your vocabulary with just one word of Wienerisch. 

Strongly linked to local cultural individualities, the slangs change and evolve in all cultures around the world, the words and phrases make sense only when one is familiar with their cultural context. The Word of the Week is here to help you understand those singularities and impress the locals with some real Viennese words and expressions.

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