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Ever since I have arrived in Germany, I have been picking up words I hear often and then going back home to check their meanings. There is one word that still baffles me.

It is a form of greeting.

For example, when I enter my office, someone would say servos. I am not sure if that is exactly what they say, but it sound like chavos, sevos or something like that.

I hope someone of you has an idea what I am referring to. I asked two of my friends here and one told me it is a way to greet restricted to Bavaria an also used in Romania. He told me it was spelled servos but I can't find this word in a German dictionary.

What exactly is it? I live in Nuremberg, if that is important.

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+1 for the reason you show that you consulted friends and dictionaries before just asking this question. – Em1 May 9 '13 at 17:36
up vote 15 down vote accepted

It's from Latin,


meaning slave, servant.

So when someone greets you,


it meant originally "[I am your] servant" but it is nowadays only a friendly greeting, like "Hi!" in English.

Think of old-fashioned sign-offs in English letter-writing:

Your obdt. & humble servant

You will hear "Servus!" much more often in southern Germany and somewhat more frequently in the lower and lower-middle class strata of society.

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hmm. I really like the word but after reading your answer I am not sure if I should make a habit of using this word or not :( – detraveller May 9 '13 at 16:05
Up to you. I should add that in general it is used between friends or people who know each other well, but in some situations -- construction workers at a building site, for example -- perfect strangers may address each other that way. – Eugene Seidel May 9 '13 at 16:22
... and needless to say (?), it is always "Servus! Weisst du, wo der Strom ist?", never "Servus! Wissen Sie, wo der Strom ist?". Always duzen, never siezen. This could lead to an awkward situation if you're not sure that the guy wearing the hardhat is someone in the building trades like you or someone of elevated rank. The safe way to steer around this awkwardness is to duz but in the second person plural: "Servus! Wisst ihr, wo der Strom ist?" – Eugene Seidel May 9 '13 at 19:22
@EugeneSeidel why did you make this a comment. it is a perfect explanation as to the usage – Vogel612 May 10 '13 at 7:26
It's late, but I have to take exception to the class theories (frequently [used by] lower and lower-middle class[es]) laid out above. Speaking of Austria, this is utterly, demonstrably false: Servus is used by all people in all walks of life, the word bears absolutely no class connotations. (Even though, sometimes, the pronunciation might to a certain degree.) – Ingmar Jun 18 '14 at 16:27

It means service/servant and is used in southern Germany (Bavaria) which is predominantly Catholic. It is intended as meaning "service to God" similar to another greeting, "Grüß Gott" which means "Greetings to God."

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Can you back up that claim? While the meaning is correct, it does not, to the best of my knowledge, make reference to God. – Ingmar Jun 18 '14 at 16:29

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