German words expats should know: Guten Rutsch

German words expats should know: Guten Rutsch

It’s 11am on December 31 and the shop assistant just told you to have a “Guten Rutsch”. What on Earth did they mean? We're here to explain.

Guten Rutsch meaning in English

Quite literally, “Guten Rutsch” means “good slide”. The phrase is a shortened version of “Einen guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr!” or “Have a good slip / slide into the new year”. 

In Germany, the phrase is said to strangers and friends alike on New Year’s Eve. Some people might drop in a “Guten Rutsch” a few days before Silvester, but just like the German superstition about never saying “Happy Birthday” until the actual day comes around, most people wait diligently until December 31 to whip out their first “Guten Rutsch”.

What is the origin of Guten Rutsch

In modern German, the word "Rutsch" is most commonly used to mean “move”, “slide” or “shove”. For example, if you want someone to “budge up” and make some room for you on the bench you might say, “Rutsch mal, bitte”.

However, in the famous German dictionary penned by the Brothers Grimm, which the pair assembled in the 1800s to collate German words used as far back as the 15th century, “Rutsch” isn’t just connected to slipping or sliding along, but also travelling in the more general sense. 

Another possible origin is linked to Hebrew. Some have suggested that “Guten Rutsch” is rather a malapropism of Rosh Hashanah, the name for the Jewish New Year.

What's the difference between Guten Rutsch and Frohes Neues

In English, on the days leading up to New Year, you might say to friends, acquaintances and people working in the shops, “Happy New Year when it comes” or “Happy New Year”. Apart from your tone of voice and level of intoxication, this is the same as the “Happy New Year!” that you exclaim as the bells ring in the new year.

In German however, as the clock strikes midnight on December 31 and the real celebrations begin, “Guten Rutsch” goes out the window and “Frohes Neues Jahr” (Happy New Year), or simply “Frohes Neues” comes in. After we have all (hopefully) completed our seamless Rutsch into the new year, it’s time to congratulate everyone that it has gone off without a hitch. Frohes Neues!

Thumb image credit: m.mphoto /

Olivia Logan


Olivia Logan

Editor for Germany at IamExpat Media. Olivia first came to Germany in 2013 to work as an Au Pair. Since studying English Literature and German in Scotland, Freiburg and Berlin...

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