Word of the Week: Servus [ˈseɐ̯vus]

Greetings! Often contracted in conversation as Servas!, Sers! or Seas! Also used to say goodbye. Servus is an essential Viennese expression, it’s been immortalized in numerous Viennese songs, most notably by crooner Peter Alexander (1926-2011) in his hit ballad, “Sag beim Abschiedleise Servus” (Say softly Servus at the farewell).

What does Servus really mean? When to use it? Often it is the first and last thing said during a conversation, having a similar significance as Salut! in French or Ciao! in Italian. Orig. Latin, literally meaning “slave” or “servant,” making it com-parable to the English phrase “At your service!” but considerably more submissive, more like “I am your slave,” befitting the Untertan (loyal subject) demeanor that’s part of Vienna’s cultural heritage after so many generations under an emperor.

It’s quintessential to,and indicative of, the nature of Viennese charm – impossibly cour-teous, slightly oily, and somewhat disingenuous, as it’s universally understood that no Wiener has ever meant Servus literally.

It’s simply the grease in the gears of society, making everything run smoothly even if you don’t completely mean it – an attitude that also enables the underhanded compliment, a staple of Viennese Schmäh.

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.

The Word of the Week can also be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Spread the word!

Leave a Comment