Rotwelsch (German: [ˈʁoːtvɛlʃ], beggar’s foreign (language)) or Gaunersprache (German: [ˈɡaʊnɐʃpʁaːxə], crook’slanguage, also Kochemer Loshn (from Yiddishחוכמער לשון“, “tongue of the wise”) is a secret language, a cant or thieves’ argot, spoken by groups (primarily marginalized groups) in southern Germany and Switzerland. The language is based on a mix of Yiddish, Hebrew, and German.[1]

Cant or thieves’ argot, spoken by covert groups primarily in southern Germany and Switzerland
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During the 19th and 20th century, Rotwelsch was the object of linguistic repression, with systematic investigation by the German police.[2]

. . . Rotwelsch . . .

Rotwelsch was formerly common among travelling craftspeople and vagrants. The language is built on a strong substratum of German, but contains numerous words from other languages, notably from various German dialects, including Yiddish,[3] as well as from Romany languages, notably Sintitikes. Rotwelsch has also played a great role in the development of the Yeniche language. In form and development it closely parallels the commercial speech (“shopkeeper language”) of German-speaking regions.

  • Schokelmei = Kaffee (coffee)
  • schenigeln = arbeiten (to work)
  • Krauter = Chef eines Handwerkbetriebes (master artisan)
  • Kreuzspanne = Weste (waistcoat)
  • Wolkenschieber = Frisör, Barbier (barber)
  • Stenz = Wanderstock des Handwerksburschen (walking stick)
  • fechten = betteln (to beg)
  • Platte machen = Unterkunft suchen (to seek lodging)
  • Puhler = Polizist (policeman)


Peter Feraru: Muskel-Adolf & Co.: Die ›Ringvereine‹ und das organisierte Verbrechen in Berlin [Muscle-Adolf & Co.: The ›Ring-Clubs‹ and Organised Crime in Berlin]. Argon, Berlin 1995.
  • abfaßen = to arrest (literally ‘to write out’)
  • acheln = to eat (from Hebrew)
  • ackern = to go acquire; to go off the line (literally ‘to till or cultivate’)
  • den Affen kaufen = to get drunk (literally ‘to buy the ape’)
  • alle gehn = to be arrested; to vanish into thin air
  • assern = to testify against someone, to ‘betray’ them
  • aufmucken = to revolt against orders
  • auftalgen = to hang (literally ‘to grease up’)
  • der Getalgente = the hanged man
  • balldowern = to spy out; to make inquiries about (perhaps from Hebrew Ba’al Davar = one who brings an accusation)
  • ballmischpet = examining magistrate (from Hebrew Ba’al Mishpat = Master of Law)
  • der Bau = the prison or penitentiary (literally ‘the lodge’)
  • Bauer = a stupid simple-minded person (literally ‘peasant’ or ‘farmer’)
  • begraben sein = to be hunted for a long time (literally ‘to be buried’)
  • bei jom = by day (Hebrew yom = day)
  • bei leile = by night (Hebrew laila = night)
  • der Bello = the prison toilet
  • beramschen = to swindle
  • berappen = to pay up or fork over money (literally ‘to plaster a wall’); also possibly from Malayan through Dutch: berapa means ‘how much?’ (what does it cost), now integrated in Dutch as berappen: to pay.
  • betuke = discreet or imperceptible (perhaps from Hebrew betokh = within)
  • die Bim = a small bell (from bimmel)
  • bleffen (or anbleffen) = to threaten. Possibly from Dutch: blaffen: to bark (like a dog).
  • der Bock, from Romani bokh = hunger, coll. Bock haben = to be up for something.
  • Bombe = coffee glass (literally ‘bombshell’)
  • brennen (literally ‘to burn’) = Extortion, but also to collect the “thieves’ portion” with companions. The analogy between distilling spirits (Branntweinbrennen) and taking a good gulp of the portion (Anteil) is obvious.[4]

. . . Rotwelsch . . .

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. . . Rotwelsch . . .

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