I have recently heard the following conversation:

Alice: Es gab keine Milch mehr, also musste ich meine Cornflakes mit Wasser machen

Bob: Och du armes Tuk-Tuk

Everybody seemed to understand the meaning of Bob's reply. But what is the origin of this phrase? It sounds very random to me. Is it a quote of sorts? A quick google search was inconclusive.

I am also curious to know if this is a regional phrase or widespread among german speaking communities.


When I heard it the phrase was used among a group of young adults. I interpreted it as a form of calling somebody childish in a kind of lighthearted way. This happened in NRW.

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    First time i hear this, but it is pretty clear what's meant: a poor little being being forced to break the habits for a while, causing some inconvenience but not a lasting reduction in life quality. Will incorporate "Tuk-Tuk" in my passive vocabulary :-)
    – user41853
    Commented Mar 6, 2020 at 9:11
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    I never heard this (North Bavaria) and would consider it as baby-talk vocabulary formed while speaking (probably analogous to Wau-wau). Assuming an etymology for it seems already somewhat ambitious.
    – guidot
    Commented Mar 6, 2020 at 10:33
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    I, coming from the Berlin–Brandenburg region, have never heard Tuk-Tuk before. In addition, I have no idea what it could be. Commented Mar 6, 2020 at 11:28
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    Might it be a regional thing? I heard this in NRW.
    – Nic.Star
    Commented Mar 6, 2020 at 12:34
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    You probably won't find a clear derivation because that may not exist. It is a somewhat ironical but not insulting remark with a diminuitive, like "Oh you poor little thing". May even be meant amicably, depends on situation. There is probably no deeper sense in this ...
    – user41853
    Commented Mar 6, 2020 at 12:44

2 Answers 2


First of all this has nothing to do with an auto-rickshaw (Tuk-Tuk).

Versuch eines bremisch-niedersächsischen Wörterbuchs: T-Z from 1771 says Tuk/Tuck is

ein Wort, womit man die Hühner lockt. Es ahmt die Stimme nach, womit der Hahn die Hennen ruft. Daher nennen die Kinder ein Huhn Tukhoon[sic].

It's kind of an onomatopoeia like wau (dog) or miau (cat) and used like miez (for cats) to attract chicken, still used today and listed in the Duden.

As @guidot assumed in the comments "Tuktuk/Tucktuck" like "Wauwau" are toddler language. And while a Wauwau is a dog, a Tuktuk seems to be a chicken.

(a personal note: I asked a few people today and everyone knew "Armes Tuktuk", but no one knew, what a Tuktuk is.)

And what about the idiom? This site says it's known in the northern Ruhr Area and north Germany. It explains it as:

Der Ausdruck ist in Anlehnung des Lebens eines Huhnes entstanden. Ein Huhn legt fleißig Eier und anschliessend wird es verspeisst. "Armes Tuck-Tuck!"

The expression is based on the life of a chicken. A chicken lays eggs diligently and then it is eaten. "Unfortunate Chicken!"

Maybe that's the origin, but I know similar idioms like

Armes Hasi

Or it's just a variant of

Du Ärmster

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    I never heard a chicken being called "tuktuk", I only know the word "putput" for chicken Commented Mar 8, 2020 at 21:10
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    Vergleiche auch openthesaurus. Commented Mar 10, 2020 at 10:39

I was thinking of an animal sound - but baby chicken go "piep-piep" in German.

Then there is tuckern:

ein Lastkahn tuckerte gemächlich stromauf

("a tugboat was gently puffing its way up the stream")

Cf. Tuk-Tuk as name for a motorized rickshaw, also called baby taxi.

So tuk-tuk is like an universal animal sound, made by a non-animal, for about 150 years now,

Duden even has tucktuck as a call for chicken.

I agree Tuk-Tuk is not really a german word, but if a mother sees her child running out of food (or fuel), it is quite natural to think or say "tucktuck". Baby talk with some reason behind it.

And in the context of a group of young people, with Bob saying Tucktuck to Alice --- it is all the same as with real babies. Cornflakes with water has to make you cry. It is a penalty kick Bob has verwandelt.

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    "So tuk-tuk is like an universal animal sound, made by a non-animal" - the logic of this statement escapes me. Commented Mar 6, 2020 at 15:04
  • Like Choo-Choo-Train. Tschu-tschu-Bahn. But that was steam engines. Simple combustion engines go tuk-tuk all over the world, more uniform than roosters go kikeriki
    – user41814
    Commented Mar 6, 2020 at 15:20
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    Yes, no doubt about that. I just fail to see how something that is explicitly made by a non-animal can be an "animal sound". Commented Mar 6, 2020 at 15:21
  • @O.R.Mapper that should mean it is an immitative call that is not exclusively limited to calling chicken anymore. Actually, if German t[un] is English d[o], then tuk-tuk should be from the duk-duck? (rather nak nak nak in German). Is there such a call in English? What a surreal topic, to be honest. Ente-Ente just does not roll of the tongue so nicely.
    – vectory
    Commented Mar 14, 2020 at 14:20

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