Crash course in carnival slang

Everything is different at carnival time. Even the language we use. There are some words like Gugge, which will literally be music to the ears of pretty much everyone in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. But almost every area has some carnival slang of its own. We’ve put together the most important words and phrases so you know what people are talking about if you’re ever in Basel, Solothurn or Lucerne for carnival.

Carnival blog - Apostroph Group

Carnival celebrations and language in Lucerne

Lucerne goes all out for carnival. Brother Fritschi is an important part of proceedings along with his entourage – his wife Fritschene, the nanny, the fool, the buffoon and the farmer. On the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, Fritschi arrives by boat at 5 am and starts the six-day celebration with a loud bang called the Urknall. You might not need an umbrella in the sunny city of Lucerne, but you can expect it to rain confetti in a Fötzeliregen shower. Switch up your Glühwein order and go for a Holdrio (plum schnapps) or a Tagessuppe (gin and tonic) instead. If someone calls you Huerenaff, there’s no need to be offended because it’s not meant as an insult – not during carnival in Lucerne anyway. The Fritschi and Wey parades are not to be missed – and the Monstercorso is the big finish. Güdismäntig – with Güdis meaning stomach or belly – is another chance to celebrate in style before the start of Lent.


Carnival blog - Basel - Apostroph Group

Basel-based carnival traditions

Before we start exploring the language used at carnival in Basel, let’s have a quick history lesson. After the city joined the Reformation movement, the authorities tried to put a stop to the carnival celebrations. But the people of Basel were having none of it. And so the tradition lived on in the city even after the Reformation, and the Carnival of Basel has now been added to the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

If you want to stand a chance of understanding what’s going on during the drey scheenschte Dääg (three best days), you’ll need to have some basic vocab up your sleeve. Carnival kicks off in Basel with the Morgestraich at exactly 4 am on the Monday after Ash Wednesday. The city comes to life on the command “Vorwärts, marsch!” (forward march). A carnival parade is never called a parade in Basel. Instead, they have a Cortège, which involves groups called Cliques marching through the city. A Clique consists of a Vortrab (vanguard), Ladäärne (lanterns), Pfyffern (pipers), a Tambourmajor (drum major) and Tambouren (drummers). No carnival in Basel would be complete without d’Waggis, characters with giant noses, and di alti Dante, a caricature of an upper-class local woman. Schnitzelbänggler sing satirical verses accompanied by illustrations called Helgen, which are also distributed in flyers known as Zeedel. In case you were wondering, confetti is called Räppli in Basel. And Määlsuppe (flour soup) and Ziibelewaaie (onion tart) are traditional carnival dishes there.


Tropical times in Solothurn

Anyone who happens to be in the Baroque town of Solothurn on 13 January is in for a treat. Ever since it was claimed by a joker that Solothurn is on the exact opposite side of the globe from Hawaii, the town has been transformed into Honolulu for carnival. The mayor is even relieved of his duties during this time. The main week of carnival celebrations (which go on for five weeks) starts early in the morning on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday with a noisy torchlight procession called Chesslete. The burning of the Böögg (straw man) on the evening of Ash Wednesday marks the end of carnival and all the fun with Honolulu, the Monsterguggete concert and more.

More carnival lingo from north to south

In Bellinzona, carnival is called Rabadan (not to be confused with Ramadan), which means ‘noise’ in the Piedmontese dialect. Once the Rabadan King has been given the key to the city, the party starts in the capital of Ticino (the city of castles). One highlight is the traditional Grande Corteo Mascherato, a parade with floats, masks and plenty of music.

You need to be feeling brave to go to Lötschental between Candlemas Day and Gigiszischtag – the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. That’s because you’re bound to come across wild Tschäggättä carnival figures roaming about. Dressed in animal skin with a Trichla (cow bell) and scary Larve (mask), these creatures roam noisily through the alleyways.

Meanwhile, you can’t go to St. Gallen at carnival time without hearing about the Föbü-Verschuss. As part of this ritual, an election committee selects a Föbü or Föbine and confetti is shot out of a canon when the announcement is made. The St. Gallen carnival hall of fame features well-known names like Beat Breu, an ex-professional road bicycle racer, and Franz Jäger, a former member of the Swiss National Council.

The Botzerössli are assembled in Appenzell on the evening of the Wednesday before Ash Wednesday. These wooden hobby horses have a hole in their back so that their riders can climb inside. The locals, Innerrhödler, make lots of noise with their traditional Ommetrommere drumming. That would mean nothing in Bern, though, where drumming is known as Ychüblete. The tradition of drumming started in Olten in 1563. The Obernaar (head fool) starts the joyous beat at the Naareschtopf, signalling to all carnival Grinches that they might be best off staying at home for the next few days.


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