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.


6 Answers 6


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/goodbye, like "Hi!"/"Bye!" 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.

  • As you get even further south than Germany, you'll also find the pronunciation morph to "Servas". Jan 18, 2023 at 20:49

It's short for 'servus Christi', or 'servus humillimus Christi': (a most humble) servant of Christ. Also used by Hungarians, spelled 'szervusz'. Nothing to do with the military whatsoever.


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."

  • 9
    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, 2014 at 16:29

I'm aware that this question is 3 years old, but I found it randomly and would like to add to the answers.

"servus" (also often pronounced "seavus") comes most likely from Latin "servus", as some other people have already pointed out. What I'm not convinced about is that it comes from a saying similar to "I'm your slave". Bavaria was occupied by Romans for about 300 years to a time when the Celtic population here was very sparse due to recent migrations. As far as I know there were no major settlements of Romans here (largely just garrisons), so the amount of people who owned slaves here seems to have been rather low. The later Germanic settlers didn't seem to have been too aggressive either, so the chance for many (Latin speaking) slaves was also rather low.

I think it's more likely that it comes from a military greeting like "At your service", which simply shortened to "servus" over time.

Interestingly it is not just common in Bavaria, but also Austria (who also speak Bavarian) and all the countries under the Austro-Hungarian Empire. There is also a Wiktionary article, but I'm not sure how accurate it is.

I do not have any evidence to back up my claims. Sadly there isn't much evidence of that time to give a definitive answer.

  • 1
    Hmm. At your service would be something like zu Diensten in German. Bavaria (contrary to Prussia) isn’t known for being particularly military-loving. Without any backing sources I’m inclined to say your explanation is wrong.
    – Jan
    Aug 31, 2016 at 23:05
  • 2
    @Jan: You are talking about modern Bavaria while I was talking about Roman occupied Bavaria as the source, and they were "military-loving". I thought more of it as a greeting between soldiers in a garrison at that time, which simply shortened over time. Sep 1, 2016 at 6:23
  • 1
    Your claim "no major settlements of Romans here" is definitely wrong. Bavaria formed the Roman province of Raetia with very major settlements like Kempten (Cambodunum), Regensburg (Castra Regina), Passau (Batavis) and its capital Augusta Vindelicum with a population of more than 20,000 (Augsburg today).
    – tofro
    Oct 25, 2021 at 6:22

Two random examples:

  1. I was in Bavaria (Allgäu) last week and also in Austria, doing some climbing. I greeted a passerby but was corrected by the lady: “We say servus in Bavaria” — which would agree with some of the explanations above.

  2. Bastian Schweinsteiger recently retired. A banner in the crowd used the #servus. I googled it (Ok, I know) to find the answer and found ‘servus’ (shortened from the german expression translating roughly to: Your humble servant, at your service). In this instance I think it was used as a mark of respect of service to the country (121 games).

Both explanations seem to have some accuracy it seems. I was born in Münster and have some interest for this reason as well as being a member of the military.

  • 1
    Wow … it would never cross my mind to greet a random passer-by with servus unless they looked 25 or younger.
    – Jan
    Sep 12, 2016 at 13:42
  • 5
    Also, if the meaning of at your sevice ever existed, nowadays servus definitely does not carry it anymore. The fans were simply saying ‘goodbye’.
    – Jan
    Sep 12, 2016 at 13:44

It has been told abundantly now where "Servus" comes from. A missing part, though, is how and when to use it:

"Servus" as a greeting is only used when one is on a first-name basis ("Du") with the person being addressed! As long as one would address the other as "Sie" you cannot use "Servus" but rather "Guten Tag (Morgen, Abend, ...)", "Grüß' Sie" (short for "Ich grüße Sie") or "Grüß Gott", which is a shortening from the very old-fashioned "Gott zum Gruße". In Austria (i am not sure about southern Germany) one can also use "Mahlzeit" around noon.

Most Germans speaking northern variants of the language get that wrong and use "Servus" without this distinction.

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