Mahlzeit: To this day, there are people in Germany who greet around noon by shouting “meal” at each other

Literally: “meal” / meaning: hello (around noontime) 

The simple act of greeting someone the correct way can be quite tricky in Germany. In the north, you have the infamous moin which sounds like Morgen (“morning”) but is used at any time of the day. In Bavaria, people say Grüß Gott (“God may greet you”), even if they are not particularly religious. In the Frankfurt region where I live, we say gude, which is objectively the most beautifully sounding salute of them all. But that’s not all. It is coincidentally the exact same word that people from Papua New Guinea use to say hello in their national language, “Tok Pisin.” Sorry. I just had to bring up this fun fact here. 

Then, there is Mahlzeit. It’s an expression that I can hardly believe has survived into the present day because it sounds so utterly bizarre. Nevertheless, you still hear it from time to time, especially in larger companies, when two colleagues meet around lunchtime, even if they are not about to have a meal. It is an abbreviation of gesegnete Mahlzeit (“blessed be your meal”) and has been around since the 19th century, as can be read in the Grimm Brothers’ dictionary, for example. 

According to Jewish author Leopold Tyrmand, Mahlzeit was often used during WW2 by those Germans who wanted to avoid the “official” salute (which I will not repeat here). This alone shout make us shout Mahlzeit at each other from time to time, so that this honorable linguistic specialty will not die out.

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