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?

  • 1
    The literal meaning, obtained when you analyse the verb and translate the two constituents literally while taking context into account, is simply beat off.
    – user2183
    Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 6:40

4 Answers 4


"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.

  • Is it safe to assume that Grimm is only guessing?
    – vectory
    Commented Feb 10, 2019 at 20:28

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!"

  • 1
    Nice explanation. "Hau ab" definitely is stronger than "Geh weg". "Verpiss Dich" is used regionally (but less so recently).
    – Takkat
    Commented Oct 4, 2011 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
    Commented Oct 4, 2011 at 8:15
  • 2
    But why "ab" and not "weg"?
    – Takkat
    Commented Oct 4, 2011 at 8:22
  • 1
    +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
    Commented Oct 4, 2011 at 10:55
  • 4
    @Takkat "Hau weg" means something completely different: redensarten-index.de/…
    – starblue
    Commented Oct 4, 2011 at 12:06

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


The more appropriate translation appears to be, “beat it.”

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.