Alles Wurst? German ‘sausage’ idioms

Bierwurst, BlutwurstBockwurstBratwurstCurrywurst, Feuerwurst, Fleischwurst, Knackwurst, LeberwurstMettwurst, Paprikawurst, Rindswurst, Rostbratwurst, Schinkenwurst, Weißwurst, Wienerwurst … Germans are all about diversity when it comes to their beloved ‘Wurst’.

Sounds amusing, but it really is a rather serious topic. First, let me tell you a thing or two about the Germans’ famous national treasure. The word is pronounced /vʊrst/ (voorst) and not /vəːst/ (vurst) in German. It is also worth clarifying that the German Wurst (plural Würste) doesn’t only translate as sausage; it is also used for products that fall under the charcuterie category (meaning cold meats, including ham, salami, etc.) in English, in which case Wurst is used as a collective noun. Finally, and very importantly, a word of well-meant advice: when a German speaker talks about a Wiener, do not laugh. They’re either referring to the type of sausage commonly known as the Frankfurter, or to a Viennese person. And that’s that!

The above list does suggest that there is a certain obsession with sausage products in Germany. It is, in my opinion, mostly a stereotype, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t an inkling of truth to it: if something is as popular as Wurst, surely this has an impact on the language too. Time to brush up on your Wurst vocab!

Important Wurst vs not so important Wurst

Germans are spoilt for choice when they want to express the fact that they don’t care about something. They can either, very conventionally, say Das ist mir egal (‘It’s all the same to me’), but equally they could go down the idiomatic route and say Das ist mir wurst (‘It’s sausage to me’). Note that there are individual and regional differences; wurstand wurscht can be used interchangeably. The expression implies (sadly) that sausages aren’t very important because if they were, you would mind, wouldn’t you?

Paradoxically, though, there is a phrase that suggests the complete opposite: Es geht um die Wurst (‘It’s all about the sausage’), which means that the sausage is very important indeed. To illustrate the difference, consider this example: if football team A and football team B play each other in the World Cup Final and the score is 0–0 in the 85th minute, it is all about the Wurst, but the result isn’t Wurst at all. I never said it was straightforward!

Extra sausages, pâté, and brawn—bon appétit!

It may sound strange, but it’s a legitimate question in a wurst context: have you ever ‘played the offended liver pâté’ (die beleidigte Leberwurst spielen)? I can picture you all vehemently shaking your heads in disgust, but the truth is that we probably all have. In German, when you play the beleidigte Leberwurst, you’re sulking. Apparently the expression goes back to medieval times when it was commonly assumed that feelings and emotions were located in certain parts of the body, and the liver was where anger and fury had made themselves comfortable. The expression jemandem ist eine Lausüber die Leber gelaufen (‘a louse has walked over someone’s liver‘) goes back to the same spurious scientific assumption, and is a phrase you use to describe someone who is very grumpy.

Your unpleasant Leberwurst behaviour can have various causes. It might well be that you are playing the beleidigte Leberwurst because you didn’t get an Extrawurst (‘extra sausage’), which means that you expected special treatment (because an extra sausage is a treat, isn’t it?) but didn’t get it. Or it might just be that the Leberwurst had to make an appearance because you tried on a really lovely dress, but unfortunately you look like a Presswurst (‘brawn’) in it. It sounds more off-putting than it actually is; the dress is just a bit too tight and it looks like you’ve been pressed (pressen) into it.

Wurst philosophy and baby sausages

Let’s move on from the rather off-putting physical Wurst images to the exciting philosophical aspects; after all Germany has spawned distinguished thinkers such as EngelsHegelHeideggerKant, and Nietzsche. It’s therefore only natural that the German language would accommodate some highly intellectual Wurst wisdom: Alles hat ein Ende nur die Wurst hat zwei (‘everything has one end only the sausage has two’). I am sure essays have been written about this very important concept, but suffice it to say that it basically means that everything has to come to an end.

Whereas the above phrase applies to sausages of all sizes, size is the all-deciding factor in this expression: Du armes Würstchen (‘You poor little sausage!’). It is used, often mockingly, to show your sympathy for a person in a hopeless or uncomfortable situation. For example, if someone has repeatedly failed an exam, you might say they are ein armes Würstchen. Depending on how you say it, you either feel genuinely sorry for them or you’re being ironic because you think it’s their own fault for not having studied enough.

See, even lexically-speaking Wurst is a worthy subject. And I haven’t even verwurstet(make into a sausage) all the expressions; frankly it would turn into a real Wurstelei. Now make sure you memorize them all and remember never to let anyone push you around—or, as it would be said in German, sich die Wurst vom Brot nehmen lassen (‘take the Wurst off your bread’).

The opinions and other information contained in OxfordWords blog posts and comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Oxford University Press.


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