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The Rotwelsch or the Rotwelsche (also called German crooks language ) is a collective term for special linguistic sociolects of social fringe groups on the basis of German , as they have been since the late Middle Ages especially with beggars , traveling people (vagantes), representatives of so-called dishonest professions and in criminal subcultures in Came into use and since the 17th century, with the settlement of groups of previously non-residents, also found regional linguistic precipitation.

The Rotwell Grammar , published in 1755, is one of her first written documents.


The origin of the word Rotwelsch, which is attested as early as 1250 in the form rotwalsch ("deceitful speech"), is not entirely certain. The word welsch , with the actual Middle High German meaning “Romance” (French and Italian), also has the transferred meanings “strange”, “incomprehensible language”, as in the combination “ gibberish ”. The component red , on the other hand, is explained with the Rotwelsch word rot for “beggar”, which in turn is associated with rotte (“gang”) or with Central Dutch red (“lazy, dirty”).

According to its origins, Rotwelsch is a pejorative foreign name, which, according to sources, has been partially adapted by the speakers themselves to denote their language since the 15th century. Other historical designations, some of which have a narrower meaning and which then focus on specific speaker groups, include:

  • Keimisch (1475): Jewish or merchant language, from rotw. Keim , "Jew", from yidd. chajim , “the living”, as an antithesis to yidd. goyim "non-Jews", or from the Jewish first name Chaim , which has the same root chajim "life" or the Spanish-Portuguese. First name Jaime is traced back
  • Mengisch (1560): from rotw. Meng "tinker", from old high dt. mangari "shopkeeper"
  • Pleißne secret language in the peddling trade, whip trade in the Burladinger Killertal
  • Wahlerey (1687): " Rogue language", origin uncertain
  • Yenish language (1714): from romani džin "to know", thus roughly "language of the knowing / initiated"
  • Jaunerisch (1720) and Jauner language (1727): from rotw. J (u) on (n) er "cardsharp", from early Neuhochdt. junen "play", or from yidd. jowon "Ionia, Greece"
  • Kochum ( er ) Lohschen (1822): from jidd. chochom “clever, wise, learned”, and yidd. loschon "language, tongue"
  • Kundenschall (1906): von rotw. Kunde (1828) "Craftsmen on the waltz , beggars, tramps", from German (the) customer in the early Neuhochdt. Meaning "acquaintance, confidant" (doubtful is additional influence of yidd. Kun "right, right") and rotw. Sound "singing"; corresponds to the terms "customer language" and " customer song" coined in the Rotwelsch research of the 19th century for the Rotwelsch language and songs of the 'customers'
  • Lotegoric : former trading language in the Leiningerland of yidd. Loschen ha koidesch "Yiddish", literally "holy language" (from loschon "language", and koidesch "holy")
  • Various compositions with the word Latin in the transferred meaning "language based on special knowledge, not understandable to all people, insider language" (e.g. beggar Latin , shopkeeper Latin , crook Latin ).

The most common foreign name in literature, especially in older literature, besides Rotwelsch, is crooks language (according to the hyper-correct transformation from Jauner to crooks ), but it is used in more recent literature because of its focus on delinquent speaker groups and their often one-sided emphasis on the secret language character is increasingly avoided.

Language type

Rotwelsch differs mainly lexically from the German colloquial language and its dialect variants , so it is not an independent language, but a special vocabulary ( jargon ) that has been developed in socially, regionally and temporally different variants. It is based on borrowings, often in connection with reinterpretations, from West Yiddish in the form of Hebraisms in Ashkenazi sound, from Romani mainly from the Sinti ( Sintitikes ) and from neighboring languages ​​of German, especially Dutch and French , also on changes or reinterpretations of commonly known languages German words through the transfer of meaning and shifting of meaning, the formation of new compounds , affigations and permutations (including Verlan , Kedelkloppersprook ).

The reasons for the emergence and use of the Rotwelsch result from the special needs of the speaker groups and their social exclusion and special position. Secrecy plays a central role, i. H. the concern to shield communication between the members from outsiders. In addition, in the case of groups of mixed social, regional and linguistic origins, there is also the purpose, which is also given for other technical languages , of ensuring understanding in matters that are important for joint professional practice or everyday life by adhering to an agreed code with relatively fixed meanings. As the speakers become members of the speaking community through the acquisition of the special language and identify themselves as members of a group of initiates, the Rotwelsch also has an important identity-forming and integrative function, which strengthens the cohesion of the group and the feeling of belonging, especially in socially excluded groups .

Social context

The high proportion of Yiddish and Hebrew loanwords is explained by the fact that Jews were excluded from most agricultural and civil professions and therefore made up a significant part of the mobile professions, especially the traveling traders and peddlers, until the 19th century. The influence of Romani resulted from contact with Romani speakers, i.e. with Roma , who were also forced to migrate permanently through legal, economic and social exclusion. Since the people who have dropped out of the majority population and are no longer sedentary are a multiethnic population, the Rotwelsch also has influences from other European languages, such as French and Italian. Overlaps and mutual influences still existed in particular with the following groups and their respective special languages:

  • Craftsmen who practiced their profession as travelers or, e.g. T. today, a period of training as a traveling artisans on the roll acquire.
  • Traders and showmen who practiced their profession as travelers themselves or who came into contact with them at trade fairs and fairs, important gathering points for beggars and other travelers.
  • Landsknechte and soldiers who, as deserters or retired, socially uprooted and invalid, offered the "classes dangereuses" a steady influx.
  • Schoolchildren and students who were among the vagabonds in the late Middle Ages and early modern times and who also brought Latin words into the red word.

Among the "dishonest", i.e. H. In the late medieval class society, outlawed professions, which were often exercised by travelers or travelers who had become sedentary, besides beggars , prostitutes and (only to a limited extent to be classified as dishonest) innkeepers, the torturers and executioners should be mentioned, but also the millers and charcoal burners , theirs Homes and workplaces outside the permanent settlements were important contact points for travelers and criminals.

Today you can still hear Rotwelsch among traveling craftsmen as well as vagrants, Berbers and beggars. Due to the settlement of non-residents after the Thirty Years' War and later due to the rural exodus and the transition of travelers to the urban proletariat , local communities such as Schillingsfürst and Schopfloch have developed in some cities such as Berlin and in Upper Rhine, Franconian and Swabian communities such as Schillingsfürst and Schopfloch . In some cases dialects restricted to certain residential areas emerged, the vocabulary of which still today has special proportions of Rotwelsch. Numerous words of the Rotwelsch were also included in the common vernacular. In its 5th edition from 2003, the universal dictionary of the German language published by Dudenverlag lists more than 70 words of Red Welsch or crook-language origin.

Examples from the vocabulary

  • ausbaldowern or baldowern : "scout", from yidd. baal "Herr", and yidd. dowor “thing, word”, thus “master of the thing” “baal davar”
  • Bock: "Hunger, greed", from romani bokh "hunger", from it also German colloquial. Want to "feel like"
  • Bull : "Detective officer, police officer", from the Netherlands. bol , "head, clever person"
  • fencing: "begging" ( fencer , fencing brother : "beggar"), originally especially by craft boys or beggars who pretend to be craft boys; According to a declaration from 1727, knockers are "certain traces of craftsmanship who hold their fencing school for money and fiddle with each other on all kinds of rifles"
  • Ganove: "thief", from Hebrew ganav "thief"
  • Kachny: "chicken", from romani kaxni , kahni "chicken"
  • kaspern: "talk"
  • Kohldampf: "hunger", from romani kálo , "black"; from it rotw. kohlerisch “black”, Kohler “hunger”, cf. rotw. black “poor, without money”; intensified in meaning through composition with rotw. Steam "hunger, fear", from German steam (also translated as "sweat of fear, distress")
  • Kober: "Landlord", from yidd. kowo , kübbo "bedroom, brothel, hut, tent"; also pick up "turn on, tear up suitors"
  • Krauter , Krauterer : "master craftsman", etymology uncertain, originally perhaps craftsmen who learned their craft in herbs , d. H. exercised in the “open field” or in the countryside without belonging to an urban guild
  • Cross span: "vest, straitjacket, suspenders" (stretches over the cross, i.e. the back)
  • Model , Maudel , Mudel , Muldel : "Woman, girl"
  • moan, moan : "complain, nag, moan". Origin Meaning from the yidd. massern was "betrayed, chattering". Development from the 18th century to today's importance has not been clarified. There is no connection with the person Hans Moser .
  • Must , Moß : "girl, woman, whore", from German cap , "vulva", or German musche , "whore"
  • flat: "familiar, sure, crooked", from yidd. polat "escape, escape", polit "refugee", from this also flat people "crooks", record "gang", make record "live on the street, spend the night in the open"
  • Polente: "Police", from yidd. paltin "castle, palace"
  • schinageln: "work", oldest meaning "perform forced labor for the authorities", from yidd. schin- (" push ") and yidd. agolo "cart"
  • Schmiere stand: "Keep watch", from yidd. shmirah "guardian"
  • Schmu: "Profit, dishonest profit, botch", etymology unclear
  • Schocher , Schokelmei : "Coffee", from yidd. schocher majim "black water"
  • schofel , schovel : "bad, lousy, low, bad, low" (rotw. schofel "inferior, mean, bad, worthless" <jidd. schophol , schophel "low, low, bad")
  • Sore: "(Stolen) goods, stolen goods, booty", from yidd. Sechoro "goods"
  • Stachelinus , Stachelingo : "hedgehog", from romani štaxêlengêro , štaxengele , štaxlengaro "hedgehog" (borrowed from German sting )
  • stacking , stacking : "begging", from the beggar's stick or stubble "collecting, reading ears of corn"
  • Stenz : "floor, beating", or "pimp penis", probably from dt. Lift
  • Stuss: "Nonsense, nonsense, stupid talk", from westjidd. shtus “stupid stuff”, also originally in Hebr . "Madness, folly"
  • Wolkenschieber: "begging craftsman", "customer who doesn't understand a trade"

Example of written use as code

Hidden messages from war and captivity, for example, can be conveyed in written messages. So wrote a Josef Ludwig Blum from Lützenhardt (Black Forest) from a Russian captivity:

"Your husband greets you very warmly, greetings to Schofel and Bock. So once again good luck to see you again soon in your beautiful homeland. Many greetings to mother u. Siblings and yours. "

The censors found no complaints and assumed that Messrs Bock and Schofel actually existed. But the two words Schofel (“bad”) and Bock (“hunger”) are enough to counteract the previous content of the card. The central statement, written in Jenisch, is embedded in the German text, namely that the prisoners are doing badly and are starving.

See also



  • Hansjörg Roth: Yenish dictionary. From the Yenish vocabulary in Switzerland. Huber, Frauenfeld 2001, ISBN 3-7193-1255-0 .
  • Siegmund A. Wolf: Dictionary of the Rotwelschen. German crooks language . Buske, Hamburg 1994, ISBN 3-87118-736-4 .


  • Roland Girtler : Rotwelsch. The old language of thieves, prostitutes and crooks . Böhlau, Vienna 1998, ISBN 3-205-98902-3 .
  • Louis Günther: The German crooks language and related secret and professional languages . Reprint-Verlag Leipzig, Holzminden 2001, ISBN 3-8262-0714-9 (reprint of the Leipzig edition 1919).
  • Peter Honnen : Secret languages ​​in the Rhineland. A documentation of the Rotwelsch dialects in Bell , Breyell , Kofferen , Neroth , Speicher and Stotzheim (Rhenish dialects; Vol. 10). 2nd edition. Rheinland-Verlag, Cologne 2000, ISBN 3-7927-1728-X (with a CD).
  • Robert Jütte: Linguistic sociological and lexicological investigations into a special language. The scythe dealers in the Hochsauerland and the remains of their secret language (Journal for Dialectology and Linguistics / Supplement; 25). Steiner Verlag, Wiesbaden 1978, ISBN 3-515-02660-6 .
  • Friedrich Kluge : Rotwelsches Quellenbuch (Rotwelsch. Sources and vocabulary of the crooks language and the related secret languages; Vol. 1; more not published). DeGruyter, Berlin 1987, ISBN 3-11-010783-X (repr. Of the Strasbourg edition, 1901).
  • Günter Puchner: Customer feedback. The grappling of cherry pickers in winter . Dtv, Munich 1976, ISBN 3-423-01192-0 (1st edition by Heimeran, Munich 1974, ISBN 3-7765-0192-8 )
  • Hansjörg Roth: Barthel and his cider. Rotwelsch for beginners. Huber, Frauenfeld 2007, ISBN 3-7193-1462-6 .
  • Georg Schuppener: Bibliography for special language research (special language research; Vol. 6). Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2002, ISBN 3-447-04510-8 .
  • Klaus Siewert (Ed.): Rotwelsch dialects. Symposium Münster 10. – 12. March 1995 (Special Language Research; Vol. 1). Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1996, ISBN 3-447-03788-1 .


  • Hartwig Franke: On the internal and external differentiation of special German languages . In: Zeitschrift für Dialektologie und Linguistik (ZDL), vol. 58 [1991], pp. 56-62, ISSN  0044-1449 .
  • Bernhard Gamsjäger : Musicians' language . In: Rudolf Flotzinger (Ed.): Oesterreichisches Musiklexikon, Vol. 3 . ÖAW, Vienna 2004, p. 1515, ISBN 3-7001-3045-7 (also online, last change 2009).
  • Bernhard Gamsjäger musical language (s) . In: Austrian brass music. Trade and association journal of the Austrian Brass Music Association , vol. 58 (2010), issue 3, page 13.
  • Rosemarie Lühr, Klaus Matzel: On the survival of the Rotwelschen . In: Zeitschrift für Dialektologie und Linguistik (ZDL), Vol. 57 (1990), Issue 1, pp. 42-53, ISSN  0044-1449 .
  • Yaron Matras : The Romani element in German secret languages. Jenisch and Rotwelsch . In the S. (Ed.): The Romani element in non-standard speech (Sondersprachenforschung; Vol. 3). Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1998, pp. 193-230, ISBN 3-447-04071-8 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Rotwelsch  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Rogue language  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. For a detailed discussion of the origin of the word and the term itself, see Hansjörg Roth (2001), pp. 70–88.
  2. Werner Metzger: Albvereinsblätter- Speech 125 years of the Albverein . Ed .: Schwäbischer Albverein Stuttgart. S. 3 .
  3. On Pleißne Burladingen see Werner Metzger: Speech 125 Years of the Swabian Alb Association . In: Leaves of the Swabian Alb Association 2013 , Stuttgart, May 4, 2013.
  4. a b cf. Duden online: crooks
  5. Jan Pfaff: Forgotten secret language Rotwelsch: Das Erbe . In: The daily newspaper: taz . September 6, 2019, ISSN  0931-9085 ( [accessed February 14, 2020]).
  6. Where does mosern come from?
  7. Christian Efing: The Lützenhardter Jenisch: studies on a special German language . Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2005, ISBN 3-447-05208-2 , pp. 74 .