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If you want to tell somebody to go away you could shout:

"Hau ab!"

However this is considered as not very polite, much like "Get lost!", or "F*** off!". I am wondering where German "Hau ab" comes from to explain why it is considered as rude in usage. What does it mean literally?

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The literal meaning, obtained when you analyse the verb and translate the two constituents literally while taking context into account, is simply beat off. – Hans Adler Oct 27 at 6:40

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

"Hau ab!" is the imperative of abhauen, which has the colloquial meaning (among others) of to escape quickly.

The Duden derives it from hauen, which means to beat and is said to refer to beating a horse with the spurs on your boots. Grimm's dictionary still mentions the meaning to hurry, to run for hauen and gives the same reasoning:

13) hauen endlich für eilen, streben, laufen. diese bedeutung hat wol ihren ausgang von dem einhauen der sporen in des rosses weichen

Together with the prefix ab- (off, away) you get to run away, to get off quickly.

But note that this old meaning of hauen is no longer present, and Grimm's doesn't say abhauen to mean to escape. If they didn't miss it, the verb must have derived this meaning after this part of the dictionary was written, but before hauen lost its meaning of to hurry.

This gives room to a second theory: according to the book Westjiddisches Wörterbuch, the verb abhauen might derive from abbauen, which is Rotwelsch for to escape, to flee and has Yiddish origins. It is further said to have a Hebrew root that means to come.

A Rotwelsch, i.e. thieve's argot, origin might also have contributed to the derogative touch of abhauen, which in turn can also explain (to some degree at least) why "Hau ab" sounds rather rude, as you mention in your question.

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Hau ab, this comes from the verb abhauen, that's a word for "to run away".

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According to this link, hauen used to mean "hurry" or "run" at some point in addition to "beat", probably originating from "beating a horse to make it run faster". "Ab" is a Latin prefix meaning "away from."

So "abhauen" just means "run away".

I don't think it's rude because of its etymology, but because there are very few polite ways to tell someone to go away in general, because a) you're telling someone what to do, and b) you're telling them "I don't want you here." That's going to come across as impolite pretty much regardless of what words you use.

I don't think "Hau ab!" is any more impolite than "Go away!" "F**k off!" is stronger than that, and a better German equivalent would be "Verpiss dich!"

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Nice explanation. "Hau ab" definitely is stronger than "Geh weg". "Verpiss Dich" is used regionally (but less so recently). – Takkat Oct 4 '11 at 8:03
I agree that it's stronger than "Geh weg", but I'd say "Go away" is still a pretty good translation. English doesn't seem to have as many nuanced ways to tell someone to leave. It goes directly from "Go away" to various vulgarities. – Cass Oct 4 '11 at 8:15
But why "ab" and not "weg"? – Takkat Oct 4 '11 at 8:22
+1 for pointing out that "Hau ab" has not to be impolite. For example "Hau ab" is also somthing you could say to a fugitive if the "bad guys" come to get him. – 0x6d64 Oct 4 '11 at 10:55
@Takkat "Hau weg" means something completely different:… – starblue Oct 4 '11 at 12:06

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