My Grandma, born in 1883 to German immigrants in New York would use the odd German phrase in daily life here in the States. Each year her answer to "What would you like for Christmas?" was something sounding like "nichtly bichtly" which I know is not correct. She said it meant an "empty box" but I cannot find a translation that fits. Anyone know this one? Man, I sure do miss her - and also her spaetzle! Thanks.

  • What was she conveying when she responded with those words? (BTW, I'm sure her spaetzle was delicious! If she had a recipe, feel free to share it via a link... although most likely she cooked by taste and years of mouth watering experience, like all the best do.) Dec 13, 2023 at 13:06
  • There's no recipe for Spätze: Everyone does them by taste. Wheat flour, some whole eggs, more salt than you think makes sense, less water than you think makes sense and beat it. The important thing is the muscle and time that goes into the dough, not the ingredients.
    – tofro
    Dec 13, 2023 at 13:44

2 Answers 2


A traditional local (SW German) answer to the "what do I get for Christmas?" question would be

A Nixle em a Bixle

in Hochdeutsch somewhat like

ein Nichtslein in einem Büchslein

translating along the lines of "a little nothing in a small tin box", the double diminuitive conveying the meaning of "a little present", but rather used in cases where you're telling your kid to "don't ask, because you won't get an answer anyways" to keep the suspense.

  • 3
    It might be worth mentioning, since the OP is apparently not a German speaker, that many dialects of German are very different from Standard German and were more so in the past.
    – RDBury
    Dec 12, 2023 at 13:19
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    Notice that "Nichtslein" is a play on words: "nichts" is "nothing" and "Nichtslein" is the diminutive of that. Swabian dialect is famous for creating diminutives for everything. They even have "Gottle" (the diminutive of "god").
    – bakunin
    Dec 12, 2023 at 15:53
  • … mit am goldna Wartaweile.
    – Stephie
    Dec 13, 2023 at 4:59
  • With the passage of time I am certain my memory of Grandma's phrase has eroded and could possibly have exchanged "Nichtly" for "Nixle" and, likewise "Bichtly" for "Bixle". The idea she was communicating was that she did not need or want anything for Christmas, being happy with what she had. She would deliver the phrase with a smile; a look that said she had made a funny joke.
    – motomuso
    Dec 14, 2023 at 14:42
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    @ThomasWeller You are both somewhat right and somewhat wrong. The diminuitive of "Gott" is "Göttle" ("Ach du mei lieb's Herrgöttle vo Biberach". And the Patentante is "Dote". "Gotte" and (Swiss) "Götti" is Allemannic, so more regional to Südbaden.
    – tofro
    Dec 14, 2023 at 18:32

The "nichtly" is the probably a "nicht" with a "ly" americanism, using the "nicht" as a negation in the sense of being practically absent (in the sense of having entirely negligible monetary value); "bichtly" sounds to me like a form of "bißchen" as the stem, meaning "a little". The "Büchse/box" is not that obvious. The implicit meaning is: "I'd be glad to get something but don't bother to spent time or money on it." That said I don't know the colloquial Swabish because I've lived only a total of 15 years in the Upper Rhinge Valley but the first 25 years near Cologne, so if someone knows the corresponding "A Nixle em a Bixle", that also sounds convincing.

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