Word of the Week: Es geht um die Wurst

May 17, 2013

Every Friday, Germany.info and The Week in Germany highlight a different "Word of the Week" in the German language that may serve to surprise, delight or just plain perplex native English speakers.

Es geht um die Wurst

Bratwurst © picture-alliance / Revierfoto Enlarge image Bratwurst (© picture-alliance / Revierfoto ) When the teams of VfL Wolfsburg and Olympique Lyonnais meet in the UEFA Women's Champions League Final on Thursday May 23, 2013, or Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in the corresponding UEFA Men's Champions League Final on Saturday May 25, 2013, many German fans will think: “Es geht um die Wurst!”  Literally translated this phrase says “it is about the sausage”, but what they mean is: “it's neck or nothing”, “it's now or never” or “it is crunch time”.  Just like in the US, Germans employ this expression not only for athletic competitions, but rather for any kind of upcoming vital decision or crucial event.

But why do the Germans use the word “Wurst” (sausage) in this context?

Needless to say, sausages are popular in Germany and part of its traditional culinary identity, although new German cuisine has gained a lot of ground. Still, bratwurst statistically is a part of 93% of all German BBQs.

But do the teams of Philipp Lahm and Sebastian Kehl fight for a sausage (or maybe eleven)?

Nowadays they wouldn’t.  But in the past, people did just that, from ancient Greece to the last century.  For most, meat was not part of the daily diet, but rather a sumptuous meal for special days.  The coveted prizes for winning folksy competitions in some local fair often had been pigs, or among poorer people just sausages.  They even invented special games like “Wurstschnappen” (snatch a sausage) or “Wurstangeln” (fish for the sausage).

Thomas Müller Enlarge image Thomas Müller of FC Bayern celebrates after the semi-final win (© picture alliance / DPPI Media)

The first occurrence of our phrase can be traced back to 1881 in Leipzig, but it had probably been in use before.

So whether you are having a (German) BBQ next weekend, or just watch the Champions League Finals, you will definitely be on the right track when you say: “Es geht um die Wurst!”

© Germany.info

Word of the Week

Word of the Week

do Deutsch

Do Deutsch

The German language opens up a wealth of opportunities. Learn why you should "just add German" here on our do Deutsch pages.