Word of the Week: Servus [ˈseɐ̯vus]

Greeting. Often contracted in conversation as Servas!, Sers! or Seas! Also used to say goodbye.

Greetings! Often contracted in conversation as Servas!, Sers! or Seas! Also used to say goodbye. 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).

Often 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.

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