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Nichts , nix , and nüscht

The alternate title to this week's lesson could be taken from Shakespeare's play Much Ado About Nothing, in that we'll be kept busy discussing the ways that Germans pronounce the word nichts, which means—well there you have it—"nothing":

 

„Frederick, was ist eine Wiese?“ „Nichts leichter als das“, antwortete Frederick.

"Frederick, what is a meadow ?" "Nothing's easier than that," Frederick answered.

Captions 4-5, Piggeldy und Frederick - Wiese

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Aber du hast hier einfach nichts zu suchen, versteh das doch endlich.

But you have nothing to look for [expression, there is nothing for you] here, you have to finally understand that.

Caption 4, Lilly unter den Linden - Kapitel 7: Vergangenheit und Zukunft - Part 1

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The word nichts is sometimes mispronounced by non-native German speakers as "nix," whereas the proper pronunciation requires that difficult soft back-of-the-mouth "ch" sound that lies somewhere between "k" and "sh." Click here (courtesy of Duden) to hear nichts pronounced correctly. 

 

But while some non-Germans may not get the proper register for the word, you'll find many native Germans regularly pronouncing nichts as nix! That's because nix is common as a slang pronunciation of nichts. Unlike the soft -ch sound in nichts, this is pronounced as it is written with the X, and rhymes with the English words "ticks" and "bricks":

 

Man sagt: „Nix hält für immer“, doch ey, warum denn nicht?

People say, "Nothing lasts forever," but hey, why not actually?

Caption 6, Mark Forster - Wir sind groß

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Aber heute ist's total sicher, kann nix passieren.

But today it's totally safe here, nothing can happen.

Caption 70, Unterwegs mit Cettina - Schlittschuhlaufen - Part 1

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This leaves us, of course, with nüscht, which also means "nothing," but does so with a distinctly Berliner accent. The Duden dictionary classifies nüscht as Berlin and Northeast German slang. 

 

A good example of nüscht—or in this case, the variant nüschts—is found in a German-overdubbed version of  the 1993 comedy film Loaded Weapon. Two cops, played by Samuel L. Jackson and Emilio Estevez, enter a hotel room occupied by a criminal, played by Jon Lovitz, who has just emptied a machine gun at them through the hotel door: 

 

Jon Lovitz: Hey.... ich weiß nüschts. Ich habe nüschts gesehen und ich sage auch nüschts

Samuel L. Jackson: Nichts. Das Wort heißt „nichts“ und nicht „nüschts“. Da ist kein Ü und kein -sch, es heißt „nichts“. 

Jon Lovitz: Na gut, OK. „Nichts, nichts, nichts“! OK? Jetzt zufrieden? 

Samuel L. Jackson: Schon besser. 

 

The German script was adapted from the American, which had Jon Lovitz saying "nothin'" and getting a grammar lecture from Samuel L. Jackson about the word "nothing" having a G on the end.

 

Further Learning
Read the Wikipedia article on Berlin dialect, it could prove useful the next time you visit Berlin to help get your head around some of the different pronunciations found here.  You can also read up more on the topic here. As an ending note, the German title of the Shakespeare play is Viel Lärm um nichts. How would you translate that directly?

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