(Credit: Hannah Köll, Carola Wörz)



tothe language advisory service of the Department of Linguistics of the University of Innsbruck

The “speech telephone” provides information on first and last names, product and company names, farm and field names and much more.

We answer questions about oral and written language, explain how a certain place´s name can be historically explained, provide information about the origin of your first or family name, answer questions about the correct spelling of a word according to the last spelling reform, deliver the right word, the appropriate idiom, or the stylistically best formulation for your text, and help you to create a text gender-neutrally in accordance with the Equal Treatment Act.

The technical background for answering the questions is provided by the broad language competence of our multilingual staff, our library with a large number of reference books on European and non-European languages, research on the Internet, and information from native speakers and experts at various language institutes of the University of Innsbruck.


Due to the different processing times, which may vary depending on the complexity of the search, we answer inquiries in writing under: sprachwissenschaft@uibk.ac.at

Language consulting is subject to a fee! You will find information on the rates on our homepage.


The Innsbruck Language Telephone was established in 1999, in the Linguistics Department of the Institute for Languages and Literatures on the initiative of Manfred Kienpointner.

It is a language-advice centre which deals with enquiries concerning various types of names (mainly first names) and also general language (e.g. spelling, etc.).

These inquiries are processed by the staff of the department by means of literature and internet research as well as in cooperation with native speakers of various languages. For years there has also been close cooperation with the registry offices in Tyrol, especially with the Innsbruck registry office, which tends to make the most first-name enquiries. 

"A pig in a poke" is "Graffl".

Every Tyrolean knows colloquial phrases like "buy a pig in a poke" (in German it’s the cat in a poke), "buy something without having seen it before" or the term "Graffl" for useless rubbish or junk. But hardly anyone deals in everyday life with the origin of the sayings or their original meaning. At the market they tried to sell the cat to the buyer instead of a much more valuable piglet or a rabbit. The "Graffl" comes from a device for "gathering" berries. So former everyday objects or customs, which are no longer common, found their way into the general language. The Innsbruck “speech telephone” of the linguists provides answers to these and many other omnipresent linguistic topics.

Where does the saying "buy a pig in a poke" come from?

Meaning: "Take something over without checking it, buy it (and be cheated in the process)."

The phrase, originally "buy something in a bag", actually means "buy something without having seen it first".

The term "to buy a cat" is based on the fact that in the past a worthless cat was often put in the bag instead of a piglet or rabbit in order to trick the careless buyer.

Source: Duden 7, Das Herkunftswörterbuch. Mannheim 2001 DUDEN - Service Online Jakob und Wilhelm Grimm: Deutsches Wörterbuch. Leipzig: Hirzel 1873. Nachdruck: München: dtv 1984, S. 286.

Why are wie saying “Graffl”?

The word „Graffl“ as it is descriped in Martin Reiter: Sprechen Sie Tirolerisch? (Wien: Tosa 1995: 107):

"g’raffl": junk, useless stuff.

An etymological explanation offers J.A. Schmeller: Bayrisches Wörterbuch (München: Oldenbourg 1877, Neudruck 1985: 63) where "Graffl is attributed to "raffen". From "raffen" the intensive form "raffeln" (and "Raffel" – 'device for stripping off berries' and "Raspel") can be derived.

The "raffle" (dialectal: "graffl") is then "the (hastily or indiscriminately) gathered together", just worthless, useless stuff, in a word: graffl.


Manfred Kienpointner, Department of Language and Literature (Faculty of Language, Literature and Culture)

This micro exhibition is part of the 350th anniversary of the University of Innsbruck.


Hannah Köll, Carola Wörz, Institute of Design (Faculty of Architecture)

Project members

Patrick Plaschg, Thierry Lopes


(Credit: Veronika Schaffer)


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