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April 22, 2021

Holerö! 90s German Translationese from Nintendo

I've been playing a most delightful little game recently, called "CrossCode." The game is set in a world where people have such advanced virtual reality technology that they can play a massive international game with total immersion. It's a love letter to MMORPGs like World of Warcraft and Runescape, and the interactions they foster. One such interaction is international, with the game having characters from France and Germany that sprinkle non-English words in for flavor. One that caught my eye was such:

I was a bit confused at first because this word looks more Swedishy to me than German, but the character otherwise uses recognizably German phrases.

Looking it up shows that I'm not the only one to have this question.

Lukas' german catchphrases
I'm around 3 hours in, and Lukas mentions what seems to be a german expression, "holerö". I looked up its meaning and I was very puzzled to see that the only notable thing I've found was a german Super Mario comic which included the word. It's kind of stupid but I've gotten very curious about what the word means. Any help?

Ernsteen [has CrossCode] Jun 18, 2019 @ 3:18pm
It's just a rather uncommon way of saying hello.
Iirc the devs said they included it as a nod to bad old Nintendo translations.

Google gives me this, where someone quotes a (now offline) interview of the translator C. Moyse.

Originally posted by C.Moyse:
Also "holerö" stammt von meinem Kollegen Marcus. Ich weiß allerdings auch nicht genau, wo er das herhatte. Vielleicht von Loriot oder Helge Schneider. Das fanden wir so dämlich, dass wir es auch immer verwendet haben. (So "holerö" comes from my colleague Marcus. I don't know exactly where he got it, though. Maybe from Loriot or Helge Schneider. We thought it was so stupid that we always used it.)

So apparently it was just a silly in-joke, that he added into a few games' German translations.

GFluegel [Moderator] Jun 22, 2019 @ 6:04am
Yep, it's a reference to old German Nintendo translations and silly comics that appeared in German Nintendo magazine in the 90s. :>

The German magazine in question seems to be 'Sag niemals Holerö' meaning 'never say holerö.' In the magazine, 'holerö' turns characters into blocks of cheese. You can see an example below, with an explanation from the Bomberman Wiki that Holerö is an 'informal greeting' and a running joke in the German Nintendo magazine:

C. Moyse seems fondly remembered by a certain generation of German gamers, who recognize the use of this word from Secret of Mana and Evermore.

Posted by u/Saikonte
8 months ago
To whomever did the German translation..

Thank you! It's so good to read things like "holerö" from Schneider or geek-speak and little things that I myself encountered, when I first startet playing mmos.

The Holerö quote reminded me of Cloud M. Moyse who translated lots of games for the snes (Secret of Mana, Secret of Evermore) and I couldn't stop smiling for the 3 hours I'm in the game.

Thank you!

There is also an example in the 1996 game Donkey Kong Country 3, where a world is named 'Höhlen-Holerö'.

So far, we've been tapping around the question of what holerö actually means. And truth be told, I am not sure. One user claimed it was an 'uncommon way of saying hello,' and that is how it is used in the game. But actual references to this word are rather rare.

The word seems recognizable in translations of English to German, as one user on the forum Reset Era complains about its appearance:

Hektor: I wish we had movie dubs with regional dialects like Asterix Mundart

"Surtur, sapperlot! Dich gibbet ja immanoch!"

Alice: And then I'd wanna Rick James anyone who adds Holerö.

Looking it up on Instagram, for example, there are examples of food...

...and not food.

Some kind of berry, perhaps? (See UPDATE below.) This quote from an 1877 book would seem to suggest so:

"aus Tannzapfen gebrannt wurde , sowie das „ Holeröl " aus den Beeren des schwarzen Hollunders . Man versekte es mit Zucker und Wasser . Es hilft gegen das Uebertrinken und ist überhaupt „ a guits Zuig . Noch einmal gebrannt , wird"
("was distilled from pine cones, as well as the" Holeröl "from the berries of the black elderberry. Add sugar and water to it. It helps against drowning and is generally "a good Zuig." Burned again, " )

I haven't yet found any citations for this word being used as any sort of greeting outside of Nintendo-related sources, so this is a curious translation mystery! Could it be some kind of regionalism?

If you'd like to hear it pronounced, Bartleby from Germany has got you covered.


David Marjanović, a German speaker, has offered two corrections:

  • "End-stressed nonsense syllable strings like this are common in yodeling." Usage is probably extrapolated from that. It is not an 'uncommon way of saying hello'!
  • 'holeröl' is elderflower oil with no relation to 'holerö'. False positive.

I think this is the fastest an unsolved linguistic mystery on here has ever been solved. :)