I lived in Germany during half a year and when hanging out, I heard lots of times this word.

I know it's quite an inappropriate word prefix and that it should only be used in a friendly setting, but it seems to me it can be used in most of the adjectives. Is it actually true?

What is the origin of this word? Has it something to do with the word die Sau = the sow ?

  • Yes, it's the female pig ("das Schwein", "die Sau").
    – persson
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 13:11

6 Answers 6


Die Sau (sow, female pig) is the origin of the prefix sau-.
It's pretty coarse, similar to the prefixes schweine- (e.g.: schweinekalt), hunde- (e.g.: hundemüde) or arsch- (arschkalt). This prefixes are added to strengthen the following adjective.

It's can be used for pretty every adjective (saublöd, saugut, saukalt, ...). The appropriate version could be sehr, total or extrem.

But it can also be used as a prefix for a noun (with the same meaning) (e.g.: Sauarbeit, Sauglück, Sauhitze)

  • 3
    Saurichtig. Aber mir fehlt noch, warum gerade die Sau – und nicht vielleicht die Kuh, das Pferd, ...?
    – Em1
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 13:38
  • Bin nicht sicher, ob das überliefert ist. Ich konnte jedenfalls nichts dazu finden. Lasse mich aber auch gerne vom Gegenteil überzeugen. Was aber auffällig ist, dass es insgesamt viele Redewendungen mit Schwein und Sau gibt.
    – lootsch
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 13:55
  • Sauglück habe ich noch nie gehört. Sonst: Schöne antwort (+1). Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 14:50
  • @moose "Ich hab' Sauglück gehabt." I hear that one quite often.
    – Christian
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 22:09
  • Thanks for your answer (upvote)! I don't really know which one should I choose, actually :) From the strict etymologycal point of view, none is convincing.
    – jaranda
    Commented Apr 6, 2014 at 17:56

I'd like to add the reason, why "Sau" is used as a prefix to fortify adjectives and nouns.

IF you think about pigs as you knew them as a kid: When Pigs wallow in the mud, they don't really care about how dirty they're going to be afterwards. It seems like their dirtiness is not bound to a specific limit and the pigs enjoy the mud bath unrestrictedly.

Transferring that unrestrictedness to the prefix, "sau-" or "schweine-" before adjectives/nouns means almost an infinite amount of i.e.
in an exaggerated way.

However, it is NOT used for adjectives or nouns that very obviously cannot be associated with pigs, like "schweinesauber" (pigs normally aren't so clean that they'd be used as an extreme example for cleanness).

  • 1
    Aber in sauber steckt doch sau- drin. Just kidding, sorry.
    – Em1
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 14:49
  • 1
    @Em1 "Saubär" you mean? When only one animal just doesn't quite say it ;)
    – Christian
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 22:10
  • That's interesting (upvote), but it doesn't sound convincing to me, thanks!
    – jaranda
    Commented Apr 6, 2014 at 17:57

One keyword is sauwohl (1), (means: bloody good), which can be found already in the early 19th century. It describes the expression of highest pleasure a pig has wallowing in the dirt. This prefix was further used for other words like in saugut or saugeil.

Another root is saumäßig (2), (means: beastly), where sau- is a reinforcing prefix in gutter language, "like a pig". Most derivatives reuses this reinforcing negative prefix like in saukalt (bloody cold) or sauschwer (bloody hard).


Sau is being used as a pejorative here. It is there to show your displeasure or disgust with something. A sew is a pig which usually are disgusting. Dogs as well.

Saukalt --> It's very unpleasantly cold.

Saugut --> It is very unpleasantly good.

The unpleasantly comes from the lack of other words to describe it. You have to go down to the animalistic level inside yourself to express the dimension.

Too good to just say: Ich mag es, das its gut. But rather you wan to say. It is soo magically good the devil must have messed with this, it's fucking good.

Sausauber --> Just sounds weird using the same syllable twice this way.

Sauschön --> Borderline weird. But again so pretty you cannot fucking describe this in another way.

Hundekalt --> same thing

Hundeschön --> makes no sense because the syllables don't match it is to complex to be said and to be meant seriously

If you don't want to use Pig or Dog you can use

Das ist abartig-schön.

This means this is uncommonly or unorderly pretty.


abartig = abnormal, deviant, unnatural b (=widersinnig) perverse

So in German you can also say.

Das ist pervers kalt heute.

Das ist pervers schön.

Das ist pervers, dreckig, kalt, schön, hoch, tief etc.

  • Thanks for your answer (upvote)! But I expected a more convincing answer from the etymologycal point of view, e.g. some linguistic reference.
    – jaranda
    Commented Apr 6, 2014 at 18:02

According to the association for the german language

it was a prefix for bad things. But also in an old card-game there was a card (similar to the ace) where there was a pig pictured on, and this was like the highest card and therefore the best

  • Although other answers provide lots of examples on the word usage, this one is the only one which provides some insights from the etymologycal point of view. Thanks!
    – jaranda
    Commented Apr 6, 2014 at 18:05
  • You are very welcome, I can definitely recommend this association, there are lots of valuable information there!
    – german_guy
    Commented Apr 6, 2014 at 18:24

My personal view is that the prefix sau- as in saukalt etc has nothing to with the animal. It is simply the Latin word super in the sense of extremely. super gets shortened to su and su has been changed to the animal Sau. Transformations of one word that in the course of historical change becomes something incomprehensible and are changed into something known are not so rare. Compare French valise that became Felleisen. val- became Fell, and -ise became Eisen. Fell and Eisen have nothing to do with the leather satchel journeymen wore on their back around 1800.

  • 1
    The german language is not a romanic language. Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 9:29
  • Germanic languages are related with Latin and there are more common elements in German and Latin than people think. Compare simple words such as Mutter and mater, Vater and pater, Bruder and frater. Such relations are easy to see. It is more complicated to see the connection between quattuor and vier or quinque and fünf, in dialects finfe.
    – rogermue
    Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 9:54
  • That might be true. Still deriving Sau from Super is a leap. Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 9:56
  • Why is it a leap? In the case of transformations, ie one word changes its form into another word (in our case the animal Sau) it is normal that one takes the new word as the original source. But transformations are frequent in the history of words and it should be clear that a Sau has nothing to do with cold, the first hint that the word might be a transformation.
    – rogermue
    Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 10:06
  • If you read my answer then you see my explanation of why say has something to do with abnormality and thus with abnormally cold. Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 10:07

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