My German friend Gert Krell writes:
“That’s what we say in German when we wish someone a ‘Happy New Year!’ The term ‘Rutsch’ implies gliding or sliding, in this case into the new year, with the additional implication that people might literally ‘rutsch’ (i.e. slip) on the winter snow or ice. So better have a ‘Guten Rutsch’ than a bad one.
“Etymologically, the whole ‘Guten Rutsch’ probably has nothing do to with the familiar German term ‘rutschen’. Language experts speak of a ‘secondary motivation,’ when people adapt words from a different language so that they fit and make sense in their own. What’s really behind ‘Guten Rutsch’ is the Hebrew word, ‘Rosh’. So we transferred a term from the Jewish New Year into the German language.
“I am sure most Germans are unaware of this connection. With the expulsion and murder of the German Jews, Hitler-Germany also destroyed most of Jewish culture in Germany. But there are many traces of Hebrew and Yiddish in German.”
In 2010, Gert and I are launching a blog called Shadows of the Holocaust: An American and a German discuss the legacies of the Nazi era. Please visit our new blog at www.shadowsoftheholocaust.com.