“Guten Rutsch!”: what does this German wish really mean?


Fijne jaarwisseling!

Fijne jaarwisseling! (Photo credit: Haags Uitburo)

When your German friends wish you a “Guten Rutsch!”, “Einen Guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr!” or say “rutsch guet übere” (Swissgerman), they don’t want you to “slide” or “slip” (rutschen=to slide; (aus)rutschen= to slip). They simply wish you a smooth start into the New Year.

Can’t they just say “Gutes Neues Jahr”? Yes, they can and they do. But it’s common that we wish a “guten Rutsch” to eachother.

Where does this expression come from? Is it somehow related to the fact that this time of the year people did “slide” into the snow (or on the ice)?

Since 1900 people wish “guten Rutsch”. Some think that “Rutsch” comes from the Rotwelsch language, a substratum of German “containing numerous words from other languages, notably from various German dialects, including Yiddish, as well as from Romany languages, notably Sintitikes“. But it is not very clear if the expression “Rosch ha schono” is Jiddish or Rotwelsch (cfr. Adolf Friedrich Thiele). Anyways, this expression seems to originate from the Hebraic ראש השנה טוב – Rosch ha schana tov, which means “a happy head/beginning of the year”, as the Jiddish “rosch” means “Head” since the 18th century.

There is an other fact to consider: the Jewish Newyear doesn’t coincide with the Christian one and the Jiddish expression for the Jewish and Christian holidays differ.

Carl Wilhelm Friedrich points out that the Christian New Year is called schone chadosche (lit. new year), whereas the Jewish New Year is called rosch haschone (lit. beginning of the year). Johann Heinrich Callenberg testifies in his Jüdischteutschen Wörterbüchlein (Halle 1736), that the New Year’s calling for Christians is schone chadosche (lit. that God may provide you a good New Year), and Walter Röll wonders how this schone chadosche that Jews would wish their Christian friends became a “guter Rutsch” also among Christians.

The fact that neither the Grimm brothers didn’t mention the expression “Guten Rutsch” in their Deutsches Wörterbuch, nor Daniel Sanders in his Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache (Leipzig 1876) indicate that this expression entered into the German language around 1900, probably through postcards which started to circulate around 1890/1895. After 1900 the market of openly and commercially sended New Years greetings mushroomed (cfr. Simon Neuberg & Walter Röll 2002).

Rutsch

In the German dictionary or Deutsches Wörterbuch from the brothers Grimm, “rutschen” has the meaning of sliding: “gleitend bewegen” (gliding), “freiwilliges und unfreiwilliges Gleiten”, “kriechen” (creep, crowl) but it’s also attested in the expression “da rutscht’ ich fort” and “Sonntag rutscht man auf das land” cfr. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, as well as in the lemma “anrutschen” in “ich werd nächstens bei dir angerutscht kommen”, a more humorous way to express the “travelling” and “riding”.

Johann Andreas Schmeller gives another evidence for this figurative meaning in his Bayerisches Wörterbuch from 1836, where you’ll find under rutschen among others “Irgend wohin rutschen, im Scherz: fahren. An Feyertagen rutscht das lebsüchtige München gerne auf Bering oder ins Hesselloh”.

In Grimms Wörterbuch, the feminine form “die Rutsche” (the slide) occurs in the phrase “glückliche rutsch” with the meaning “travel”, “journey”. Heinz Küpper attests the form since 1800 and confirms its use in “auf Rutsch gehen” (go on a travel/journey) for the 19th century.

The masculine form “der Rutsch” is attested in the phrase “guten (glücklichen) Rutsch” for “safe travel” since 1820. – Since the 19th century, “der Rutsch” stands for a short travel distance, where the verb “rutschen” (lit. gliding) originally referred to the gliding of the sledge (in the Winter) and later to the rail ride. Küpper assumes that the wish for a “guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr” suggests a good transition into the New Year, a effortless slide into the New Year, like on a sledge. And Lutz Röhrich says that the underlying idea is the slow, almost imperceptible sliding that is also expressed in the common short version of “Komm gut rüber!”

And here is an explanation for children (and adults) about the meaning of “Rutsch” today (from “Die Sendung mit der Maus”; © WDR VideoPodcast 27.12.2009):


Unfug= mischief

Along these lines I wish you all “einen Guten Rutsch ins Neue Jahr 2014!

 

Bibliography mentioned in this post:

Friedrich, Karl Wilhelm, Unterricht in der Judensprache, Prenzlau, 1784.

Küpper, Heinz, Wörterbuch der deutschen Umgangssprache, 1. Auflage, 6. Nachdruck, Stuttgart, München, Düsseldorf, Leipzig 1997, Seite 684, Lemmata Rutsch I und Rutsch II

Neuberg, Simon & Walter Röll, Anmerkungen zum „Guten Rutsch“, in Jiddistik Mitteilungen, Nr. 28/November 2002, pp. 16–19.

Röhrich, Lutz, Lexikon der sprichwörtlichen Redensarten, Band 4, 4. Auflage Freiburg, Basel, Wien 1999, p. 1266, Lemma Rutsch.

Röll, Walter, Guten Rutsch?, in Jiddistik Mitteilungen, Nr. 27/April 2002, pp.14–16.

Schmeller, Johann Andreas, Bayerisches Wörterbuch, Theil 3, Stuttgart, Tübingen 1836, Spalte 191, Lemma rutschen.

Thiele, Adolf Friedrich, Die jüdischen Gauner in Deutschland, ihre Taktik, ihre Eigenthümlichkeiten und ihre Sprache, Berlin, 1840



Categories: Culture/Traditions, German, Ute's language lounge

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6 replies

  1. Einen guten Rutsch to you, too! Thanks for the explanation- I always imagined “guten Rutsch” as having a good slide into the New Year- to smoothly start the new year like on a slide- as opposed to having obstacles on the way. I should have looked more into the word “Rutsch” during my studies :D

    • Yes, Olga, fact is that nobody thinks about the semantic changes of the words that have a clear modern meaning and are not aware that the original use can be very different. That’s why I always had a historical approach to linguistics and my scientific work. Déformation professionelle ;-)

  2. Alles Gute für ein gesundes und erfolgreiches 2014, suburp! :-)

  3. I loved the video! Interestingly, I’ve never heard “guten Rutsch” before. Either the Australian German community doesn’t like using ice-related-sounding turns of phrase in the middle of summer, or I simply don’t hear it because there’s no school for two months over Weihnachts/Silvester/Sommer…

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