Grüß Gott

I know of two people who were recently castigated by Austrian Mormons for saying “Grüß Gott.”* These people are also Mormon but not Austrian and were unaware of the specific kosher rules of this particular regional Mormonism. Apparently, Grüß Gott is verboten for Austrian Mormons. The following is my attempt to show why this Verbot doesn’t quite add up.

Grüß Gott is the most common salutation in Austria and southern Germany. You hear it all the time, everywhere. It is the functional equivalent of “Guten Tag” and means something like “God bless you” (literally “God greets”). It’s basically Austrian for “good day” and is used the way we would say “hello.”

Apparently, most Austrian Mormons find the vain repetition of “God” in Grüß Gott to be blasphemous, but I beg to differ.

1. The injunction to not take the Lord’s name in vain is being overly applied here, I think. After all, God’s name is often repeated (vainly) in all manner of non-sacred situations. CHRISTmas is said with no thought of Christ; theophoric personal names are commonplace (JOnathan, KRISTine); we speak of the country called IsraEL; etc. Grüß Gott is not the same as saying “Good God!” or “Oh my God!” and as such I think it stubborn and unnecessary to insist that it’s “blasphemous.”

2. If that leaves you unconvinced (and I will confess that as a non-native speaker, I don’t fully know how Grüß Gott sounds), then a brief look at other languages shows that this “rule” is inconsistently applied. English “goodbye” means, in fact, “God be with you.” Spanish-speaking Mormons routinely say, “adios” (to God); “si Dios quiere” (God willing); “ojala” (if Allah wishes); “vaya con Dios” (go with God); “que Dios te bendiga” (God bless). In French, “adieu” means adieu (to God), an expression even used in the Book of Mormon (Jacob 7:27)! Would Arab Mormons stop saying “Inshallah”?

Here’s what I find regrettable about the Verbot:

1. It seems in danger of being a rather unnecessary case of phylactery enlargement, making “extra” rules when they maybe aren’t needed.

2. Given the fact that English, French, and Spanish have similar expressions, and that they are happily used by Mormons, it seems that Austrian Mormons are unnecessarily burdening their oxen here.

3. If you personally think it’s blasphemous that’s fine, but don’t chastise others over it. I cringe when I think of converts being shamed over their use of an expression as innocent (to them) as “hello” is in English.

4. In Austria, Grüß Gott is culturally defining in the same way as the Blue Danube waltz. “Guten Tag” sounds prim and formal. When used in informal situations it distances its user from his or her own culture. I find it regrettable when international Mormons disdain the conventions of their homelands (when these conventions are harmless). And we wonder why people think we’re clannish and weird? (I have a suspicion that it’s the Catholic origin of the expression that causes the discomfort, because as we all know, the Catholic Church is the Great and Abominable Church of Lucifer the Devil and Author of the Dreadful Papist Apostasy.)

I want to add, however, that out of respect for local sensibilities, I wouldn’t say Grüß Gott at church.

______

*If the dots and weird “B” thing are worrying you, it’s pronounced “Gruess Gott” but mostly sounds like “‘Sgott.”

Comments

  1. Latter-day guy says:

    Oh, come on; umlauts are fun. Also, is it true that the “wierd ‘B’ thing” is being phased out in favor of “ss”? If so, what a shame!

    More to the point, in Spanish, though, it is VERY common to hear a member exclaim “O dios mio.” Nobody would bat an eye if they were steeped in the culture. However, for me, that has an altogether different effect than the Spanish examples you listed above, and it is used about as frequently… by lifelong, died-in-the-wool, faithful members.

    I am not sure how it has survived so many generations, but I think that there need to be some regional conferences that put the matter bluntly; I see the former examples as non-offenseive, and the latter as taking the name of the Lord in vain. Neither, of course, are meant to be blasphemy, but still “O dios mio” falls in that category (IMO).

    As far as your Austrian example, I would include it in the former grouping. It does not seem flippant, or a mere reduction to exclamation. However, might this just be a way the members have of defining their gospel (read: church) culture? As such is it valuable enough to risk prudery?

  2. Peter LLC says:

    (literally “Greet God”)

    Actually, more like “God greets” since it’s short for „(Es) grüß(e) dich/euch Gott.“

    And if one can believe wikipedia, the “greet” part once implied “to bless.”

  3. Floyd the Wonderdog says:

    Goodbye is short for *God be with ye*. I guess we better stop saying that.

    @
    :^(
    @

    Princess Leia is sad that she can no longer say Gruess Gott.

  4. Peter LLC says:

    Also, is it true that the “wierd ‘B’ thing” is being phased out in favor of “ss”?

    Not really. There have been changes to the rules of orthography that determine when use of the “Eszett” or “scharfes S” (instead of “s” or “ss”) is correct, but it’s not being phased out. According to the 1996 reform, its use is appropriate after long vowels and diphthongs if no further consonants occur. So we lost daß (short vowel) but kept Straße.

  5. Thanks, Peter. I made the change.

  6. Peter LLC says:

    Oops:

    if no further consonants occur in the root.

  7. Bridget says:

    This kind of issue is probably better left to individuals to sort out. If someone (native German speaker or not) personally feels like saying “Grüß Gott” is taking the Lord’s name in vain, who are you to tell them they’re wrong? Let them not say it, and more power to them.

    Similarly, those who don’t feel it’s in vain should be allowed to carry on without reproach.

    Arabic is chock full of expressions like these. Some of the Arabic teachers at the BYU don’t use them in their own speech, but in general, students are told to do what they’re comfortable with. For me, this means using them all the time, like a native. But if I ever felt it crossed the line into “vain-ness,” I would stop.

  8. Bridget,
    See my point 3 above.

  9. Bridget says:

    Thanks. I read it twice but somehow missed that…

    :)

  10. Mark IV says:

    Up on the rainy, lone and dreary, very protestant plains of Schleswig-Holstein, everybody, Mormon or not, advised against using this greeting.

    First you start saying “Gruess Gott!” like those people in the land southward, and the next thing you know you start doing crazy things like enjoying life or quitting your job.
    It was rumored that the too frequent use of this greeting had even caused some people to swim the Tiber.

    Great post, Ronan. Gruess Gott!

  11. NJensen says:

    Of course you could always impersonate a person Auf die Schweiz and say Grüzi! (Or maybe that’s more of a goodbye) It’s been years.

  12. “Up on the rainy, lone and dreary, very protestant plains of Schleswig-Holstein, everybody, Mormon or not, advised against using this greeting.”

    Even in the south there are pockets of Grüß Gott “resistance”. When I was in the Army in the 1980s I was stationed in Heilbronn in the state of Baden-Wurttemburg. I quickly learned Grüß Gott as a common greeting in Heilbronn and the rest of Schwabenland but in the Baden portion of the state the natives looked at me like I was speaking Russian. My then girlfriend set me straight.

  13. Tony and Mark,
    That resistance is because Grüß Gott sounds yokelish outside of its Sprachraum, I think. Kind of like people saying “Top O’ The Morning” in England (although the only “Irish” who say that nowadays are wearing leprechaun suits in New York).

  14. If you personally think it’s blasphemous that’s fine, but don’t chastise others over it. I cringe when I think of converts being shamed over __________________.

    Fill in the blank and it sounds good to me.

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    Ronan, I completely agree with you (surprise, surprise).

    On the pronunciation of the expression, see this post by Jonathan Green at T&S.

  16. Kevin Barney says:

    Also, I use the expression “godspeed,” from God spede, “may God prosper you.”

  17. Matt W. says:

    Kevin, I use the term Godspeed as well, and the term “God bless” as a parting statement.

    BUT

    Just to play devils advocate, I hung out with a bunch of people in college who greeted one another with a friendly “sup, B***h!” and that was perfectly acceptable for that group. I don’t think I’m going to say that to anyone outside that group. (I didn’t even type it out here… What a wimp I am…)

    I think the modern applied principle is not taking the lord’s name in vain, but it is just not saying things that are offensive to others. (there’s something to that affect inthe book of James, right?) Hence I can’t(try not to, anyway) use the term “prick” when I am with my wife’s family, and I avoid using the word “fart” around another friend who goes all heeby-geebies when he hears it…

  18. Matt,
    That’s an important point, but anyone who finds Grüß Gott offensive is being deliberately obtuse.

  19. Square Peg says:

    I served my mission in Austria, and of course missionaries were strictly forbidden to say Grüß Gott under any circumstances. When people would greet us with Grüß Gott (which was pretty much all the time), we always gave an enthusiastic Guten Tag back.

    Frequently, well-meaning Austrians would try to gently correct us naive young Americans by explaining that Grüß Gott was the standard Austrian greeting, and we’d be left in the awkward position of trying to explain that we weren’t allowed to say Grüß Gott for religious reasons, which always got us very strange looks and caused whoever we were speaking with to flee the conversation ASAP. As if missionary work in Austria wasn’t hard enough already.

  20. Square Peg says:

    Oops, sorry about the formatting in my previous comment. That’s what I get for trying to make umlauts and such.

  21. Peg,
    Dates and places, please.

    How about the “use Sie to people over 14″ rule?

  22. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    I think we need MORE phrases like “Grüß Gott” in our language today. It doesn’t seem like taking his name in vain to me and I think it’d be great to bring back that awareness of Him. I don’t mean that everyone should use them, since obviously not everyone really does believe in Him and I think to make an athiest say “God be with you!” would be pretty much forcing them to take his name in vain, but it’d be nice if the linguistic option were there.

  23. Peter LLC says:

    “use Sie to people over 14″ rule?

    ‘Specially if them’re womenfolk. It’s like keeping the Good Book between you language-wise.

  24. It’s like how some people define “cursing” and “swearing” in our culture today. I grew up in rural Utah with a father who used words in their proper context that made my mother cringe and blush in shame. She almost threw a party when he finally agreed to say “manure”.

    Frankly, I have no problem hearing and using a lot of words and phrases that most Mormons find offensive – but I hardly ever use them. I made that conscious choice – to structure my own oral practices to keep from offending those around me, even when I think those other perspectives are simplistic, ignorant or narrow-minded. As long as I don’t cross my own minimum standards, I try to speak at the general level and broad vocabulary of those with whom I am conversing.

  25. Square Peg says:

    Ronan,

    Wien, Villach, Linz, Wiener Neustadt
    1986-1988

    And yes, I do remember the “Sie Sprache only to people over 14, especially if said people happen to be single, attractive women between the ages of 16 and 25″ rule, although most of the, um, not completely divorced from reality missionaries would simply take their cues from the person they were speaking with.

  26. Why not just say “Servus?” It sounds cooler anyway. Or “Moin!” But I still get strange looks in Rhein-Main for saying that anytime after noon … like I’m a crazy Muschelschupser.

    That said, I agree that there are way better things to get offended about if you feel so inclined.

  27. Ich lebe für sie says:

    Use Sie to people over 14 rule

    Over 14? Lucky you guys.

    In my mission (95-97) we were told to use Sie even when talking to small children. I always felt bad for the native speakers, as we Americans/Canucks could at least pass it off as inexperience with the language.

  28. Floyd the Wonderdog says:

    I took German in college, then went to the Bavarian/ Austrian border on business. I’d learned on by mission to learn from the natives, so I picked up Gruess Gott. Later when I visited Dresden, I received looks from the locals like I was a hick. A nice German co-worker pointed out that it was used only regionally. It tells the hearer that you’re Bavarian or Austrian. Much as *y’all* or better yet *all y*all* tells everyone that you’re from the South.

  29. #27,
    Were you in Austria?

  30. Walt Eddy says:

    This discussion reminds me of the old Bruce Scott joke among missionaries, where the greenie new to Germany is told he looks just like this national hero, Bruce Scott, and that’s why everybody says Bruce Scott to him.

  31. Ahh! When I went on my mission to Austria, I looked forward to actually using Gruess Gott as a greeting, having a double meaning as an actual missionary. In the first hour I was made to see the light.

    Only Mormons and Socialists say Guten Tag. This might explain the resistance of many people to making a religious greeting. So who says Mormons are not associated with the left?

    I think that it is a sign of the religious culture that is still alive in Austria. I think Autria must be the most Catholic country in the world, if it has not changed in the last 40 years. When I was in Eisenstadt, a town of 8000, they had a cathedral and a bishop.

  32. > Would Arab Mormons stop saying “Inshallah”?

    No, they don’t. Though I note some prefer “b’izn Allah” (by God’s permission) just to be less Muslim sounding. They also say Alhamdulillah (“praise God”), Ma Sha’ Allah (“see what God has done”) and other such phrases as everyone else does. Since most Arab members to date come from Christian backgrounds, certain particularly Islamic sounding phrases get used less or replaced by something else, but the use of God’s name in common pleasantries is there like any other native Arab speaker.

    But to be fair, it is a different cultural context than most European languages.

  33. John Williams says:

    Bob W. (31), Actually, the Vatican City is the most Catholic country in the world.

  34. Stephanie says:

    Well, in French you say “salut”, which literally translates as salvation, and I’ve never thought anything of it.

  35. John Williams says:

    However, in French, “adieu” is not often used in conversation.

  36. Mark B. says:

    It makes me glad I learned German from heathens and served my mission in Japan. It seems we should dump “Grüß Gott” about the same time as we English speakers dump Goodbye.

    Besides how on earth can we sing that wonderful song without it:

    Da, wo die grüne Isar fließt,
    Wo man mit “Grüß Gott” dich grüßt,
    Liegt meine schöne Münch’ner Stadt,
    Die ihresgleichen nicht hat.
    Wasser ist billig, rein und gut,
    Nur verdünnt es unser Blut,
    Schöner sind Tropfen gold’nen Wein’s,
    Aber am schönsten ist eins:

    Alle zusammen!

    In München steht ein Hofbräuhaus:
    Eins, zwei, g’suffa …
    Da läuft so manches Fäßchen aus:
    Eins, zwei, g’suffa …
    Da hat so mancher brave Mann:
    Eins, zwei, g’suffa …
    Gezeigt was er so vertragen kann
    Schon früh am Morgen fing er an
    Und spät am Abend kam er heraus
    So schön ist’s im Hofbräuhaus.

  37. In München steht ein Hofbräuhaus:
    Eins, zwei, g’suffa …
    Da läuft so manches Fäßchen aus:
    Eins, zwei, g’suffa …
    Da hat so mancher brave Mann:
    Eins, zwei, g’suffa …
    Gezeigt was er so vertragen kann
    Schon früh am Morgen fing er an
    Und spät am Abend kam er heraus
    So schön ist’s im Hofbräuhaus.

    Oh man, Mark, you just brought back a flood of memories (and a retroactive hangover headache!) with that song! You see, I wasn’t a member of the church when I was stationed in Germany so I spent many an Oktoberfest in München singing that song in the beer tent…

  38. When I was in Vienna a couple of weeks ago as a stop on our Houston Symphony Chorus concert tour I was going around saying Guten Tag to everyone and didn’t realize that it was considered an unusual greeting. As an aside — we had a most exciting time singing the Brahms Requiem in St. Stephensdom. It was a thrilling experience for us. My favorite non-performing part of our whole tour, however, was the “Lange Nacht der Kirchen,” the night before we performed in Vienna, when the churches (I think my flyer said 120 churches were participating!!) were all open till 1 AM with special music and events. Though we had been on the go since early that morning, we stayed in the Old Town till after midnight going from church to church listening to music. There were huge crowds — I don’t think many people were there for religious reasons — but listening to music in those beautiful churches made for a very memorable experience. Vienna is a wonderful city!

  39. In Bayern and Schwarzenwald, I always got around the problem by saying “Grüßi” or “Schöne Grüße.” It’s not terribly friendly to attack someone for using those words. Worst case scenario should be a quiet aside and a “we usually don’t say that because we feel it takes the Lord’s name in vain” at least by way of explaining the funny looks.

    And for what it’s worth, I didn’t mind the Siesprache rule. At first it was easier, and afterwards it was good to maintain a bit of formality to remind people that you were there on business, and not for pleasure. At the same time, I enjoyed using Dusprache to the pigeons for practice.

  40. I liked the way my landlord from Bayern used to greet me in the morning when I lived in Hanau:
    “Moya”

  41. Sam Kitterman says:

    I served my mission in what was known as the Germany South (mostly Bavaria with Schwabenland thrown in (Stuttgart area). do not recall any rules about “Gruss Gott” or Siesprache as it pertains to children (mission pres was Wilhelm-Kelling, a real German who taught/teaches at BYU.

    Recently returned to Munich with my wife, first time after 30 years, and remember to this day as she was sleeping off the jet lag, I was walking around the little shops and bakeries, and all were greeting me with “Gruss Gott” Never thought anyone could find that to be taking the Lord’s name in vain.

    On the other hand I remember an old Steppenwolf song regarding what God should do with the “pusher man”, always thought that was appropriate too.

    Donnerwetter!

    Mit liebe,

    Sam Kitterman
    Deserts of Southern Nevada

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,658 other followers