14 words and phrases that will make you sound like a typische Züricher

14 words and phrases that will make you sound like a typische Züricher

It’s an old adage to note that even if you’ve already learnt High German, passed your language certification and excelled nattering your way through Berlin, Munich and other German cities, as soon as you arrive in Switzerland you often feel like you’ve never heard German before and need to start all over again. So, to help expats and internationals get over the Swiss German language barrier, here are 14 useful words or phrases that are local or typically said in Zurich.

Zurich German words and phrases you have to know

As one of Switzerland’s oldest cities, Zurich is a melting pot for the Swiss German language. Many of the words and phrases used in what would come to be known as Zurich German (Züritüütsch) are sourced from the dialects of people from other Swiss cantons and cities who moved to Zurich for jobs, creating a very vibrant and diverse dialect that is still spoken by most locals today.

So, to make sure you are prepared for life in the “Swiss metropolis”, here are 14 words and phrases that will make you sound like a typische Züricher (a typical person from Zurich).

1. Hoi Zäme! (hello everyone!)

First on the list is a phrase which was likely imported from the de-facto capital of Switzerland, Bern. While grüezi (hello) and grüezi Mitenand (hello everyone) are the regular Swiss ways to say hello, a more informal way to address a group of friends or family is to say hoi Zäme!

Translating literally as “hello together”, the phrase is especially popular among young people. However, be careful using this around the older generation as it can be seen as “too informal".

2. Naabig, guetenaabig (good evening)

Next, it’s time to take your High German phrase book and rub it with the language equivalent of sandpaper, as to say good evening or guten Abend in Züritüütsch, you have to shorten the phrase to just naabig or, if the night is particularly fine, guetenaabig. Extra points if you place particular emphasis on the "ue" sound.

3. Äxgüsi (excuse me)

If you find that someone has taken your spot by the lake or is blocking your path through the old town, a polite and very Zurich way to get them to move is to ditch entschuldigung for a very soft äxgüsi (which even sounds quite like someone saying “excuse me” in a Swiss accent).

4. Mèrssi (thank you)

Switzerland is, of course, a country with four national languages, and this is reflected by each region borrowing words from other languages. Case in point, a typical goodbye when leaving a shop or an office in Zurich is “merci (thank you in French), ciao (goodbye in Italian), adie (goodbye in Swiss German).”

Now all you need to do is add a Swiss German accent to merci and you have another very typical Zurich way to say thanks.

5. Ade / Adie (goodbye)

Speaking of adie - pronounced ah-day - the typical Zurich phrase is often the last thing you’ll hear from an acquaintance as you part, as it is a casual but not too familiar way to say goodbye. Another way to say goodbye more formally in Swiss German is to cut the auf wiedersehen  of High German down to just uf wiederseh.

6. Weggli (small white bread)

When the day is half done and workers venture out for lunch, many in Zurich go to local shops and purchase themselves one or two Weggelis. The word is a Zurich term - which has now spread nationwide - for a small white bread roll, perfect for a homemade sandwich and when paired with bratwurst from Sternen Grill.

The most common Weggli you’ll find is the Butterweggli (or butter roll) which is a soft white bread roll with a central dimple and crisp golden crust. Those who want a bit more crunch can go for a Semmeli, while those who want an early visit to the dentist should try their hand at biting into a rock-hard Bürli or “small farmer’s bread”.

Bear in mind that in Swiss German, adding a li at the end of a word usually means it is the smaller version of something. Examples include Chuchichäschtli (small kitchen cupboard), Bundesratsreisli (small holiday for the Federal Council) and Heftli (small book or booklet)

7. Znacht, Zaabig (dinner)

Once the working day is done and you head off home, you’ll have some time to whip out a recipe book and prepare the evening meal. One of the most Zurich ways to describe this meal is Znacht or Zaabig - meaning night and evening meal respectively.

In fact, the use of to describe a meal can also be used at other parts of the day. For example, the Swiss version of elevenses - which in the alpine nation is at 9am - is called Znüni, while the snack at 4pm is called Zvieri.

8. Bölle (onions)

Literally translated as just “balls”, the word Bölle is a very old Zurich word for onions. The word also relates to dishes that include onions  - so Böllewèèä is an onion tart. However, for most people who grew up in Zurich, the majority will know Bölle thanks to the infamous Zurich German children's song Azelle, Bölle schäle or "Counting, peeling onions"

The first line goes Azelle, Bölle schäle d Chatz gaht uf Walliselle, chunnt si wieder hei, hätt si chrummi Bei, meaning "counting, peeling onions, the cat goes to Wallisellen, she’s coming back home, has she crooked legs" - your guess is as good as mine.

9. Goof (child)

If you are woken up at 2am by young people talking and playing loud music outside your window, before you go full Bünzli and ring the police, you might want a Zurich word to describe the meddling kids making all the noise. In Zurich, the word Goof is used to describe an annoying child. 

10. Galööri (moron or fool)

Do you want to swear, and don’t want to fall back on the typical English arsenal that even locals in Switzerland use? Then Galööri is the Zurich word for you!

Galööri is a very old local word that typically means someone who is being foolish or a moron. However, do bear in mind that before using this in public, it is still a swear word that is not appropriate for polite conversation, especially with those who are older.

11. Geil (cool)

As time moves forward, words that once meant one thing can slowly change into meaning another. In Zurich, nothing highlights this concept more than the word geil.

Today, everyone in Switzerland would use the word geil to describe something cool, nice or exciting. However, previously it meant something totally different: it usually referred to when someone was sexually aroused, although the word has since lost that meaning.

12. Lässig (cool or relaxed)

If you find yourself searching for the right word that describes something that was really cool or relaxing, look no further than lässig. The word is meant to describe people, events and things that are laid back, smooth or chilled out.

13. Siech / Siäch (guy)

Switching gears to something a bit stronger, if you want to praise or condemn a man in the roughest possible terms, then calling them a Siech or Siäch is the way to go. Interestingly, the word Siech was once the word used to describe people suffering from leprosy, but now the meaning has changed to describe gentlemen.

What’s more, the meaning of Siech is entirely down to what adjective you attach to it. For example, the word can range from "what a great guy"- en geile Siech - to a stupid guy - or dumme Siech. However, do bear in mind that this word should be reserved for conversations between friends.

14. De Fisch mache (do the fish)

Rounding out the list is the phrase de Fisch mache or “do the fish”. A more recent addition to the Zurich lexicon, the phrase means to quietly ditch an event, conversation or place you don't like - the equivalent of swimming quietly away from whatever bad or annoying situation you found yourself in.

Go out and practice your Züritüütsch!

Well, there we are, a brief introduction to all things Züritüütsch. Have a word or phrase you think people in Zurich should know? Let us know in the comments below!

Thumb image credit: Winds / 

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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