The anglification of Switzerland

July 1, 2014, 23 Comments


Switzerland has four national languages but a fifth is becoming more and more obvious: English. It’s not just that many Swiss speak wonderful English (which they do), it’s also that English words are creeping into everyday sentences. The Swiss seem to be anglicising their own languages.

I’ve written about Swinglish – the Swiss version of English – before, with examples of English words that have different meanings here or completely new ‘English’ words. Some are rather sensible, such as Wellness, others self-explanatory, eg Partner-Look, but others will simply confuse a native English speaker.

One that’s everywhere at the moment is Public Viewing. That is somewhere to go and watch a big sporting event on a huge screen with lots of other people, usually outdoors. ‘Public Viewing’ is a lot shorter than that, even if for English speakers it means the public display of a dead body, which is rather apt for the English football team.

But in addition to all those Swinglish words (many of which are used in other countries too), there is the slow creep of English words replacing perfectly good German ones. Why say Goalie instead of Torhüter or Customer Service and not Kundendienst? Just because it’s trendy? I’m told the same is happening in French and Italian too, so is it simply a case of the anglification of Switzerland?

I decided to take a newspaper at random last week and highlight all the English, and Swinglish, words used in it, both in articles and adverts. Even I was surprised how many there were! Over 70 examples in one edition of 20 Minuten, the freebie commuter paper. While it’s not the NZZ in terms of journalistic quality, it might actually be closer to the language that people speak every day, especially younger readers.

Public Viewing

What I found interesting is that some normal German abbreviations and phrases are disappearing in favour of English. So there was ‘World Cup’ on the front page instead of Weltmeisterschaft or its normal abbreviation WM. Football generally had lots of anglicisms with Foul, Superstar, Tackling, Dribblings (with the -s) and Doping all in there alongside Goalie but capitalised for German readers. Plus the Last-Minute-Sieg (or win) that delighted the Fans watching Live at the Public Viewing.

Cars now have Sex-Appeal, films can be a US-Remake, concerts feature a Late-Night-Show and websites a Fitness-Channel (notice the need to hyphenate). Adverts talk of ‘Power for People’, Print at Home, Family Pack, Bestseller, Burnout or Bikefestival (all one word). Some words get mangled to make them more German, such as Partys (the plural of party) or Songwriterin (the female version of a singer songwriter, eg Adele).

Of course there are the examples that make an English reader wince. Why call a music festival Blue Balls? Whatever Lucerne was thinking when that name was created, it certainly didn’t have male comfort in mind. For the untrained ear, it must be odd to hear a sentence that is German, German, German, Blue Balls, German, German, German.

And then there’s my least favourite example of all: shitstorm. You’ll hardly ever hear it in English as most English-speakers haven’t heard of it. But it pops up everywhere when talking of a media frenzy and was crowned anglicism of the year in Germany and Switzerland a while ago. Even Frau Merkel has used it in public. A storm in a teacup is so much more pleasant on the ear.

If you want to know all the examples I found, here they are from the front page onwards: World Cup, Fans, Win One Million, Last-Minute-Sieg, Public Viewing, Jackpot, People, Shitstorm, Burnout, Spikes, Draft Lime Cut (a beer), Out Now, The New Album, Banking, Reality Star, Pride Festival, Family Pack, Unstoppable Award, Sex-Appeal, Handling, Politician, Songwriter, Songwriterin, Blue Balls Festival, Late-Night-Shows, Line-up, Print at Home, Sextoys, Phishing-Mails, Apps, Nightlife, Oldiesparty, Crazy Wednesday, Partytunes, Partys,, Bikefestival, Fitness-Channel,, Nightlife-Platform, People-Magazin, Customer Contact Center, Power for People, New Business Management, Superstar, Bestseller, Suspense, Science-Fiction, Retro-Look, US-Remake, E-Bike, Foul, Goalie, Tackling, happy, Training, Dribblings, Live, Doping, Tiebreak, Grill & Win.





23 Comments on "The anglification of Switzerland"

  1. woollythinker Tuesday July 1st, 2014 at 03:08 PM · Reply

    Shitstorm may not be very familiar to the English English, but other English speakers certainly know it – I think it’s well used in the US (and indeed South Africa, possibly Australia too?).

    • Diccon Bewes Tuesday July 1st, 2014 at 03:15 PM · Reply

      That’s interesting because I couldn’t find a single example online of it being used in the States, or anywhere else outside the German speaking world. Social media crisis or media frenzy, yes, but the actual word shitstorm, no. But lots of references to the Germans “coining the word” to denote a firestorm on social media.
      If you have any examples of it being used in this context by native English speakers (not living in a German-speaking country), I’d really appreciate seeing them. Maybe it’s a word that just never makes it into print in English?

  2. Jen Tuesday July 1st, 2014 at 04:36 PM · Reply

    “Shitstorm” is spoken American slang, although I have rarely seen it written in any form.

    I am from the American midwest and it is used quite often among locals. It’s used when describing a situation when there are a lot of problems: “That’s a real shitstorm.” OR “She blew in like a shitstorm.”

    Maybe other readers have heard it differently in the US?? Anyone? It’s my hill billy family roots coming through. What a strange slang word to be recognized in Switzerland.

    • Diccon Bewes Wednesday July 2nd, 2014 at 08:56 AM · Reply

      Thanks. Maybe the difference is that here you do see it in print often but it is nearly always in the context of describing a social media explosion after an action or comment that fires people up. And as you can see from the pic, it even gets into headlines!

  3. Bruno Tuesday July 1st, 2014 at 08:59 PM · Reply

    The Swiss have been using a lot of English terms in football that are not common for Germans, for a long time. The goalie (Torwart/Torhüter) is a good example but penalty (Strafstoss), corner (Ecke), offside (Abseits) are all “traditional”, too. Given that England is the home country of football, this makes a lot of sense.
    The best English word in the context that I believe few actually realize is English, is “schutte” or “tschutte” for playing football. The root of that seems to be “to shoot” – I grew up in Switzerland, born 1974 and until a couple of weeks ago hadn’t realized…

  4. Pascal Wednesday July 2nd, 2014 at 01:32 PM · Reply

    German and English have a lot of things in common, and one is the ability of the language to accomodate foreign words.
    Look at your own text: alreadiy the title is 1/4 french 😉
    French seems anyway to be a major source for german and english words – or did you know that the words “flirt” and “tunnel” actually are french words written like an english would write them if he heard the words but didn’t know their original spelling? In french, they go very well together, btw…

    • Diccon Bewes Thursday July 3rd, 2014 at 08:28 AM · Reply

      True that many English words have French origins, which isn’t surprising given the historical influences, though some are angliscised first, eg beef not boeuf. And yet French is adopting English words everywhere, weekend, shopping, parking, etc instead of translating them

  5. KT Wednesday July 2nd, 2014 at 10:30 PM · Reply

    Every year it seems there are 20 new ways English words are incorporated in sentences when speaking another language. I had a chuckle the other day when someone asked me if her appointment had been gecancelled.

  6. Patrick Thursday July 3rd, 2014 at 01:58 AM · Reply

    I’m of the same age group as Bruno and would like to confirm: Indeed, the Swiss traditionally use English terms in football, German ones were never that established. So that’s not really a fitting example for the “anglification of Switzerland”. Also, for some of the terms from “20 Minuten” you mention, I couldn’t even think of an established German equivalent. “Doping”, for example, can be found in the Duden dictionary, explained as “Anwendung verbotener Substanzen (oder Methoden) zur [vorübergehenden] Steigerung der sportlichen Leistung”, but there’s no German synonym given. As you have worked as a bookseller, do you know of any common German word for “bestseller”? And I know that in East Germany, science fiction novels were called “wissenschaftlich-phantastischer Roman”, but that never really catched on in the West 😉

  7. Chris Thursday July 3rd, 2014 at 03:16 AM · Reply

    “Shitstorm” is widely used in the U.S. and Jen was correct. It is used to describe almost anything where there are a lot of problems involved. It is slang only. You would not find it in the news or in print because it is still considered too vulgar for proper public usage.

    • Diccon Bewes Thursday July 3rd, 2014 at 08:25 AM · Reply

      Thanks Chris. And that seems to be the big difference, here it’s not vulgar really as the headlines and Angela Merkel show. And it’s almost always used for a social media context rather than any problems in general

  8. Mata Hari Thursday July 3rd, 2014 at 07:50 AM · Reply

    Anyway = einewäg
    Even before the “great internet”
    Swiss language had been influenced .
    We also say “Trottoir” not “Gehsteig”.
    And it has to do with “the all over German language” which at a time was not popular at all and people would rather adapt to English than German.
    Same in Austria.
    Ever thought about that?

    • Diccon Bewes Thursday July 3rd, 2014 at 08:24 AM · Reply

      It’s only natural that the German in Switzerland has French words in it, such as poulet or trottoir, as French is a national language that lots of people use every day. It’s not at all logical to include so many English words, except to make the language seem more trendy.

      • Bernhard Thursday July 3rd, 2014 at 11:06 AM · Reply

        I think the main reason why there is a lot of French influence in Swiss-German is that French used to be cool and important once. The haute bourgeoisie in Bern and Basel would send their sons to the military academy in Paris, speak Swiss-German with a faux French accent and use lot more esoteric French inspired words than are common today. Today, International Bad English is the lingua franca du jour and the most commonly used second language worldwide. So it’s only natural that most languages are incorporating a lot more English words – it’s just deja-vu all over again…

    • Alex Saturday August 29th, 2015 at 12:25 PM · Reply

      Trottoir is French, not English. English has too many different words for that: footpath, pavement and sidewalk. That’s get the Swiss confused.
      Southern States got French before they got English, and so did the Scots.

  9. Michael C Friday July 4th, 2014 at 04:58 AM · Reply

    As a native English speaker from the northeastern U.S., I can say that “shitstorm” is used a lot. As one other commenter said, you don’t see it often in print (at least not in formal publications, although you do in blogs and forum comments).

    My guess is that a lot of these anglicisms are gaining favor due to the internet, most likely picked up by the 30-and-under crowd first. The internet has made the entire world the size of one’s computer screen. “But why English?”, you might ask. Because English is statistically the most popular language on the internet. So, it makes sense if you put all the pieces together.

  10. Lorenz Wednesday July 30th, 2014 at 03:12 PM · Reply

    The english Football-Terms are in use, ever since british Tourists brought the Game here well over a hundred Years ago. Only the Germans felt the need to translate the Game into their Language.

    I don`t mind the english Words, that have been used here for Donkeys-Years. But i absolutley hate this Trend of the last few Years to replace perfecly good german Words for silly sounding english ones. It really annoys me and i`m embarrassed, when “native english Speakers” notice.

    I have a Theory that all swiss Marketingpeople went to a Marketingschool in America and that`s why you rarely find an Advertising-Slogan in one of our native Languages.

    So, i`m off to watch some Top-Gear or Burnistoun or whatever makes the Time, till Doctor Who comes back, go by faster.

    Lorenz E.

  11. JRL Thursday August 14th, 2014 at 07:26 AM · Reply

    Having visited Switzerland last month for the first time in five years, I was puzzled to see the word “Shitstorm” in an otherwise fairly conservative-looking Swiss-German language newspaper I read while I was there. Here in my home country, Australia, the word “shitstorm” is not much used, and would, I believe, be regarded as by most as vulgar. However, that word is also strongly associated with our former, and now unlamented, Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, who was well known to use it, and to be fond of vulgarity in general (that’s one reason why he’s not our Prime Minister any more). So Angela Merkel is certainly not the only head of government to have uttered it in public.

  12. Tom Waugh (@tomnwaugh) Wednesday September 24th, 2014 at 11:33 AM · Reply

    Great article Diccon. After reading it, I decided to gather together some of the many examples I’ve come across during my time here in Switzerland and put them on my blog.

    You’ll find the first of three parts here:

    • Alex Saturday August 29th, 2015 at 12:21 PM · Reply

      Thanks! This makes for more great conversation with my Swiss students.

  13. Jennifer Friday December 5th, 2014 at 08:54 AM · Reply

    I guess it also depends on which part of the United States you are from. Born and raised in Idaho, I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve ever heard Shitstorm. I guess it’s not as popular out here in the Northwest.

  14. Alex Saturday August 29th, 2015 at 12:20 PM · Reply

    RE: Blue Balls Festival — great festival. They probably meant “blues ball” and it stuck.

    What gets me though is when 20 Minutes tabloid uses the sub-section “What’s Up” instead of “What’s On”.
    (Swiss humour of course).

  15. CH Friday June 30th, 2023 at 08:39 AM · Reply

    shitstorm = Scheissesturm

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