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Would answering "Jawohl" to an order or request be associated with Nazi Germany?

What about "Jawohl, mein Kommandant"? Can it be used (jokingly) without people finding it tasteless?

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Are you referring to this zeit.de/karriere/beruf/2011-06/arbeitsrecht-urteil-hitlergruss (German only)? –  Debilski Jun 17 '11 at 16:53
    
@Debilski: No, but I heard of that incident in the other thread. Interesting article! –  Tim N Jun 17 '11 at 17:04
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Apart from answering Jawohl, you may also hear this word in other cases, like if your favourite football team scores a goal, you may also shout something like „Jawohl! Da is' er drin!“ –  FUZxxl Jun 17 '11 at 17:50
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@FUZxxl: But then you probably have to say "Jawoll!", haven't you? –  Hendrik Vogt Jun 17 '11 at 19:54
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Not to be confused with "Das sollte ich ja wohl machen." –  Max Ried Mar 23 '12 at 10:35

9 Answers 9

up vote 28 down vote accepted

"Jawohl" is a normal German word, used as a strong affirmative. It doesn't have a specifically Nazi background, but one of its main uses has always been in the military, including the Wehrmacht.

Wiktionary says:

drückt unbedingte Zustimmung aus (expresses unconditional agreement)

Google NGram shows it has been in use during all times since 1800.

I'd say that its use in daily conversation, however, has declined. It has a slightly outdated touch to it in many contexts. Still, this is a valid example:

Wir werden sie finden, und zwar heute noch, jawohl!

The Wiktionary link (below) and the Google Book links in the NGram have more examples of the word's use throughout the ages.

In the military, as far as I know, it is the standard affirmative answer to a superior's command in the German military to this day — it made the transition from the Wehrmacht to today's Bundeswehr. Its closest English-language equivalent in that sense is "Aye!" or "Yessir!". It often gets colloquialized into "Jawoll".

I think the idea of a Nazi connotation has a simple explanation: Most plays, novels, films, and stories that deal with the German military are set in the Third Reich. You will hear "Jawoll!" in every one of them at least once.

Also, the phrase "Jawoll, mein Führer!" is still widely used in a sarcastic way, both in the English-speaking world and in Germany (and probably everywhere else around the globe).

Related:

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I didn't do military service though - would somebody who did mind confirming that "Jawohl" is still in use in the Bundeswehr? What about Austria and Switzerland? –  Pekka 웃 Jun 17 '11 at 19:55
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See also this article (in German) about a supermarket manager who was fired when he said "Jawohl, mein Führer" to his boss. Although he won in court and had to be rehired, the court stated that this action could have been grounds for termination in other circumstances. –  Tim Pietzcker Nov 9 '11 at 15:06
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You cannot ignore the peak around the early 1940ies in your NGram. –  bitmask Mar 17 '12 at 11:19
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@bitmask I don't think you can draw that conclusion. The peak coincides with a major war that dominated daily life - including literature, periodicals, movies et cetera. Plus, the Nazis were obviously driving a very military-friendly culture that would put even more emphasis to that trend. I would say that's where the peak comes from, and it doesn't make the word a Nazi word –  Pekka 웃 Mar 17 '12 at 11:32
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@Pekka, yes, it is still used in military service. To be clear: we had to use it! A normal "ja" would have ended in a lot of push-ups. –  halirutan Aug 11 '12 at 4:01

"Jawohl" is the more formal version of "Ja" used very commonly in the Bundeswehr without any connotation. It is also used as shorter version for "zu Befehl" (as you order / at your command) when accepting an order, which is rarely used nowadays.

Some examples in military context can be found here. As Germany has had general conscription for quite a while, it can stil be found in civilian life.

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Fact update: Wehrpflicht is no more. –  Raphael Jun 12 at 5:59
    
I know, still you will find lots of people that "enjoyed" their service in the forces. –  mbx Aug 7 at 21:41
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@Raphael Germany is not the only German speaking country. Austria has recently voted to stick to conscription. –  fNek Aug 10 at 10:07

We used to speak German in the military back in the days. Now we speak our own Danish language, with some extra military/global words and expressions. To a superior we respond by saying: “Javel Hr. Sergent” which means “Jawohl mein Kommandant”.

Jawohl is still used, in many of the European armys.

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"Jawohl" in General

Answering "Jawohl" in an everyday conversation with Otto Normalverbraucher would probably seem awkward, but not because of associations with Nazi Germany but because of its formal / militaristic connotations.

Jawohl, mein Kommandant!

"Jawohl, mein/Herr/Frau Kommandant" could be used in a joking way though there is no guarantee everyone would get the joke. It really depends on the person(s) you are talking to.

Jawohl, mein Führer!

Answering "Jawohl, mein Führer" would, with higher probability, be taken as irony or sarcasm by pretty much everyone because it is so obviously exaggerated. It works best in response to something you do not really want to do, as well as to a request which was made in a particularly harsh or otherwise unacceptable way. Which means there is probably a not exactly friendly atmosphere even before your remark.

If this situation is between you and a person you generally get along with, this response might actually losen things up. Then again it might backfire on you, but that would have nothing to do with the obvious Nazi connotation, but with you being flippant.

Jawohl, Herr Kaleun!

With regards to what you seem to be contemplating, how to use "Jawohl" so people get that it's used in exaggeration, as a friendly joke, you might try answering "Jawohl Herr Kaleun" (Kaleun = Kapitänleutnant, equivalent to e.g. a US Navy Lieutenant). This would be an obvious reference to the movie "Das Boot" and with high probability be received in a friendly way by most German people between, I guess, 25 and 50.

Though you should watch the movie or at least a suitable excerpt first, to get the intonation of that quote right. It's said in a rather sharp and snappy way, nearly shouted but not quite.

How To Really Screw Up

Oh and if you really wanted to get people mad, make references to the SA / SS, like in "Jawohl, Herr Obersturmbannführer". But never use that as a joke. Really. Never. Ever.

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+1 für die Mühe :) –  0xC0000022L Apr 3 '12 at 19:44
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"Jawohl, Herr Obersturmbannführer" - This does also depend on the people you are with. If they are into black humor they might consider it funny and of even more an exaggeration than "Jawohl mein Führer". But i guess they must be at least the second generation after the Third Reich and in general I wouldn't use either around Germany as most people are still quite touchy on that topic. –  Sim May 7 '12 at 21:31
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@Sim you are right, it depends. It pretty much boils down to 'know your audience'. –  nem75 May 9 '12 at 15:47
    
I'd like to add "Jawohl, mein Hausmeister!", which is another reference to a famous German movie –  ssc Dec 19 '12 at 23:51

As an American who lived in Germany (because I come from an Air Force background, but actually attended a small, local German school) I can affirm that saying "jawohl" does not carry any Nazi associations whatsoever. The word is simply a strong affirmative statement, close to when you hear what a friend is saying and say "yeah!" quickly in agreement. It is frequently used by uniformed personnel, but it is certainly not limited to them whatsoever.

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I live in the south and I have never heard anyone say "Jawohl", except jokingly or to express uncommonly strong affirmation. It is more common in the north east, though (around Berlin).

I would never say "Jawohl, mein Kommandant" to people I don't know well, it feels like a quote from an American movie with fake Nazis.

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"Jawohl!" comes from a military context. It is the equivalent of "Yes, sir!".

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Jawohl is also used by the Polizei.

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I wouldn't say it carries the "N-word" with it but it definitely has a military connotation to it. It is sometimes used ironically or tongue in cheek, like e.g.:

Kid: "Ich will ein Eis!"
Dad: "Jawohl! Kommt sofort." ;-)

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Well, I would say that is a little bit too much... but it depends on the situation (and the daddy ;-) –  vonjd Jun 17 '11 at 14:47
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+1, was about to write something similar. I had "Jawohl, mein Dauphin" from Jeanne d'Arc in mind, which is also kind of military of course, but definitely not Nazi Germany :) I think that just Jawohl itself does not carry military connotation, it may just feel kind of archaic, and is not limited to joking use. However, for everything you could say, there will be someone to find it tasteless. By the way, NGrams shows usage peaks around 1920 and 1945. –  OregonGhost Jun 17 '11 at 15:17
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I think it has a connotation similar to "wilco" (U.S. military jargon for "I understand and will comply.") Not necessarily agreement ("yes"), but more an acknowledgement combined with recognition that the speaker's agreement is neither necessary nor relevant. –  Toby Jun 17 '11 at 17:16
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I would perhaps compare it to something like "Sir, yes sir!" –  vonjd Jun 19 '11 at 6:30
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There is no "N-word" in German. Saying it like it is is a German trait. No need for abbreviations or pointless political correctness. –  ssc Dec 19 '12 at 23:47

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