At least before Corona, it seemed to be a common ritual in large companies or authorities: From around 12 noon, unrest broke out, corridors filled with colleagues who streamed towards the canteen - in the hubbub of voices the phrase "meal" was repeated again and again hear. The lunch break greeting par excellence, which is said on the way to lunch, in passing, so to speak, and not at the beginning of lunch (when it is usually just "bon appetit"). What's the deal with the old-fashioned salutation? And how out is she now?
When someone used to get up in the office and say "Sun. Meal." said, then it meant something like "I'm going to eat now - is anyone coming with me?". Some then felt compelled to make a pun: "How, without pens?" – as if "meal" had been said.
"Eating" each other seems to be far less common these days than it was, say, ten years ago - perhaps also because people are sitting and eating at home in front of the computer more often than in the office. "'Mahlzeit' is German throughout, but it's definitely out of fashion," says Frankfurt-based management and human resources consultant Hans-Peter Luippold.
"Mahlzeit" was - or is - used as a curt greeting at lunchtime in many areas of Germany and Austria. It is probably a short form of the words "Blessed Meal!", which used to be common. The abbreviation was already common in the 19th century, as the dictionary of the Brothers Grimm reveals. In German-speaking Switzerland, however, the greeting is unusual. There, when leaving the workplace or directly before eating, there is the Swiss-German saying "En Guete!" (Bon appetit).
The Grimms already used it ironically, for example as an expression of displeasure or negative surprise, such as "Well, meal". Friedrich Schiller used the phrase "Cheers Meal" in the drama "Wallenstein's Camp" (1798).
"Greetings are an interesting topic because they somehow concern everyone in everyday life and are a basic means of communication," says the linguist Manfred Glauninger from the University of Vienna. "Like everything in language, they are subject to constant change - and also through the internet and social media, we are experiencing an even faster change in language, society and conventions."
"Mahlzeit" is a greeting that was originally more common in Catholic areas in Germany, says Glauninger, who also does research at the Austrian Academy of Sciences. It was originally - like "Grüß Gott" - a blessing. Dies "Meal!" So maybe because many people today don't want any reference to God in their everyday language?
"I don't think this connotation and accompanying idea with the religious plays any role in the disappearance. That "meal" was once a kind of blessing formula is hardly known," says the linguist. “Perhaps the decline in greetings has more to do with the fact that the behavioral norms for regular meals have changed a bit. Breakfast, lunch, dinner – for many people it’s no longer regulated like that.”
Glauninger emphasizes that greetings have a strong social component and also express hierarchies. "In the past, 'hello' and even more so 'hi' was considered impolite, today it's established. 'Hello' is also popular in a professional context. It doesn't differentiate between 'Sie' and 'Du', but it doesn't go as much on a personal level as " Meal" that can be more intimate with reference to food."
During the National Socialist reign of terror, "Mahlzeit" sometimes even had something of resistance. There are reports that "meal" was a welcome alternative for some at the time to avoid the Hitler salute, as Glauninger says. Many Nazis probably accepted that the so-called German salute should be subject to the more German salute "Mahlzeit".
The greeting was particularly widespread in the 1960s and 1970s, otherwise the sketch "Mittagspause" in the TV series "Fast wia im Echter Leben" with Gerhard Polt and Gisela Schneeberger would hardly have worked. In the sketch from 1979, the word is spoken about 50 times in the canteen within a minute and a half – in front of the counter display with Sanremo fillet pots and Strindberg roast beef. Until a colleague suddenly doesn't say "meal" but "bon appetit". "Who is that?" – "Mei, some new guy."
The "Duden" lists the term "meal". The origin goes back to the late Middle High German "malzit" (fixed time of a meal). In addition to the meaning of regularly eating cold or warm dishes and taking them together, it is also a "greeting at lunchtime, especially between work colleagues" and a figure of speech for "That's a nice gift! ; that can be cheerful!".