All about the sausage? Or just sausage?

That’s right, sausage. It’s not a typo (as if we wouldn’t have spotted such a thing!). And yes, it’s yet another blog article about food and language. As someone with a passion for both subjects, it’s a combination I find particularly interesting, and one that is often the source of some fascinating facts and delightful linguistic idiosyncrasies.

Sausages: two ends.

When discussing international cuisine with people from different countries, things often revolve around the usual stereotypes: American barbecue, Italian pizza, English fish and chips, German sauerkraut, pretzels and Wurst. Many a stereotype has at least some basis in truth, and, having lived in Germany for almost eight years now, I can certainly attest to the popularity of Wurst here. Wurst products account for around half of the annual meat consumption in Germany, and there are over 1,500 different types of Wurst[1] (article in German) to choose from, so it is perhaps unsurprising that the word Wurst (or, in its adjectival form: wurst) has firmly embedded itself in the German psyche, a fact reflected by its widespread use in German idioms.

Wurst is an extremely versatile word, capable even of functioning as its own antonym. The phrase Jetzt geht es um die Wurst (“It’s crunch time”), for example, accords the humble sausage the status of something extremely important, the moment during which one’s fate will be decided. Conversely, if someone utters the words Das ist mir Wurst (“I don’t mind” or “I really couldn’t care less”) or declares something to be wurst or even wurstegal (“It doesn’t matter”, “Whatever”), the topic of discussion or the outcome of a decision that is about to be taken could not interest them any less or be of any less importance. So, if something is all about the sausage, it is a decisive moment, but if it is all sausage to you or simply sausage, it really doesn’t matter at all.

There are plenty of other examples of the word Wurst in German idioms, but getting into those in any kind of detail would take this blog article well beyond its intended length. And, as the German saying goes: “Everything has an end, only the sausage has two”[2].

Robert Fawcett


[1] Wurst in German-speaking countries is a much broader term than its direct translation into English, “sausage”, also referring to things like ham, salami and pâté.
[2] The title of a 1986 song by German singer Stephan Remmler, which is now commonly used to mean “Everything must come to an end”.