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Learning the German language is fun, especially when creative and witty idioms are included. Here are 22 German idioms that you can use to spice up your conversational skills.
The German language is probably one of the most fascinating languages in the world. With over 100 million speakers worldwide, it is considered one of the popular languages that Polyglots study. It is also prevalent for business talks, making it popular with business people and professionals. In fact, it is the fourth most learned language in the world (with the top 3 being English, French, and Mandarin).
Although famous, German is not an easy language to learn. German is one of the most challenging languages to study if you don’t speak any languages from the
Western Germanic language group. If you’re speaking English or similar languages, you might have an easier time. Luckily, there are German idioms to use if you want to learn in a more interesting way.
Here are 22 famous German idioms that you can use for everyday conversations. Be warned: you’re about to encounter references about food, animals, and sausages ahead.
English Translation: Who knows why the geese go barefoot?
Meaning: That’s just how it is.
The meaning of this German phrase is “that’s just the way things are”. It stems from the fact that geese go barefoot everywhere they go. Is there a reason why the geese go barefoot? Does anybody know if it's a necessary question at all? Maybe yes, maybe no. Perhaps that’s just how it is.
English Translation: It’s a sausage for me.
Meaning: I don’t care / It doesn’t matter
Germans are known for their sausage dishes (wurst). It influences a lot of things in their daily life, like idioms. Dar ist mir Wurst is an idiom to use to show that you don’t care, or something doesn’t really matter. Unfortunately, the history of this idiom was lost throughout the years. But as long as you can use this idiom properly, das ist mir wurst (it doesn’t matter).
English Translation: I only understand the “train station.”
Meaning: I have no clue what you’re talking about.
Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof is the German version of “It’s all Greek to me” in English idioms. This idiom has an unfortunate origin. During WW1, German soldiers would use this phrase to purport that they want to go home. They were hoping for an order to go to the “train station” and be shipped out of the war.
English Translation: I believe I spider.
Meaning: I think I’m going crazy.
If there’s one thing Germans love more than their wursts, that would be their creative metaphors. And they would love it more if the metaphors include animals. Ich glaub’ ich spinne is an idiom comparable to the English “I think I’m going crazy.” It’s a popular idiom that Germans love to say when they are surprised or in disbelief about something (regardless of whether it’s good or bad).
English Translation: He didn’t exactly invent the gunpowder.
Meaning: He didn’t do anything meaningful.
Gunpowder is known as a revolutionary invention in weaponry. It is an integral part of Science and history. This historical information is where the meaning of er hat das Pulver nicht gerade erfunden came from. In some cases, this idiom is used to signify someone a little bit less intelligent among the group.
English Translation: He who eats fire, craps sparks
Meaning: Expect danger if you’re living recklessly.
Wer Feuer frißt, scheißt Funken is the German equivalent of the idiom “Live by the sword, die by the sword.” It is a famous saying that means if you live recklessly, expect to face dangers anytime. Do not be surprised if you get burnt by playing with fire.
English Translation: Everything has an end, except for the sausage, which has two.
Meaning: Everything has an ending.
Basically, this idiom just means “everything has an end.” You can leave it like that or use it with the second part, Nur due Wurst hat zwei. This wurst reference was colloquially added and popularized by musician Stephan Remmler way back in 1986.
English Translation: I think my pig whistles.
Meaning: This is ridiculous.
Ich glaub mein Schwein pfeit has a very straightforward explanation. Since when did a pig ever whistle? A whistling pig is a ridiculous idea, which is why it is adopted as an idiom to describe how ridiculous it is.
English Translation: Speaking around a porridge
Meaning: To beat around the bush.
This idiom is primarily used for stopping someone who is beating around the bush. What transpires this idiom is the stereotype that Germans are usually straightforward and cold. If a German talks about unimportant things, he or she is probably avoiding important talks or speaks around a porridge.
English Translation: Ask for an extra sausage.
Meaning: Expecting special treatment.
Eine Extrawurst verlangen is literally translated as “asking for one more sausage”. It is interpreted by German speakers as someone who is asking for special treatment. So the next time you see a “Karen” character, you can use this idiom to describe that person.
English Translation: Have a goat
Meaning: Wanting to do something.
Bock haben is the everyday version of another German phrase Lust auf etwas haben. It’s a phrase to use if you want to show how you badly want to do something. Interestingly, this idiom doesn’t have anything to do with having a goat at all. Bock is derived from an old language called Rotwelsch, which was a secret language used by wayfarers and vagabonds from Siwtzerland and Germany.
English Translation: To have tomatoes on one’s eyes.
Meaning: Being oblivious to things happening around.
Do you have a friend who is often inattentive to what’s going on around? You can call him someone who is Tomaten auf den Augen haben or someone who’s oblivious. This idiom only pertains to physical objects and doesn’t have any abstract meaning.
English Translation: One shouldn’t praise the day before the evening.
Meaning: Don’t depend on something that has yet to happen.
This idiom is very similar to the proverb, “Don’t count your chicken until they are hatched.” Germans used day and night as a metaphor. It means that making plans based on something that doesn’t happen yet is unwise.
English Translation: Clear as the dumpling broth.
Meaning: Obvious meaning.
Dumpling broth is probably one of the lightest and clearest broths in the culinary scene. When you see such clear broth on the table, you would immediately know the content in your crystal clear soup. That’s why dumpling broth is used to purport something very obvious. Once again, food is used as a metaphor for a German idiom.
English Translation: to leave the church in the village.
Meaning: To not get carried away.
Die Kirche im Dorf lassen doesn’t have anything to do with any church or any village. In German idioms, it means “to not get carried away” or to not take risks and play it safe. This idiom is also used to say, “don’t exaggerate.”
Apparently, this idiom originated from times when churches hold processions in the center of the village. With a large number of participants, the small center area would not be able to accommodate the people. These crowds would often spread throughout surrounding areas and “spill” into nearby villages, away within the church boundaries.
Unsurprisingly, the neighbors would be irritated in this crowd spill that they demand participants “to leave the church in the village” and to stay within the village boundaries.
English Translation: Have a pig.
Meaning: To have a stroke of luck.
To accompany Bock Haben, here’s another animal-based idiom: Schewein haben or “have a pig”. This idiom simply means “to be extremely lucky” or “to have a stroke of luck”.
English Translation: That’s where the dog is buried.
Meaning: The cause of the problem.
Da liegt der Hund begraben is an idiom borrowed from Swedish Det ligger en hund begraven här. It means that you have a suspicion of someone who seems like planning a shenanigan.
English Translation: Where the fox and the rabbit say goodnight.
Meaning: In the middle of nowhere.
To explain this idiom, you must understand the relationship between the fox and the rabbit first. Is there a place where the fox says goodnight to the rabbit? None, right? Hence, this idiom is used to represent a place in the middle of nowhere.
English Translation: The bear can dance in that place.
Meaning: It’s going to be a good party.
Da steppt der Bär is a creative way to describe a good party. This is a witty play in the fact that bears don’t dance. If that place can make a bear dance, then it must be a really good party.
English Translation: Lies have short legs.
Meaning: You can’t get away with a lie.
If someone has a pair of short legs, that person cannot run very fast. The Germans use this physical representation to purport this one abstract concept: you can’t get away with a lie. You won’t get very far if you lie a lot.
English Translation: The egg of Columbus
Meaning: An easy solution to a seemingly tricky problem.
The “Egg of Columbus” is a very clever idiom that refers to a seemingly tricky idea but have an easy solution. Columbus’ egg originated in a 15th-century tale from Christopher Columbus. He challenged his critics to make an egg stand up with only its tip. Of course, the egg wouldn’t stand up, regardless of how the critics do it. Columbus solved this problem easily by tapping the egg in the table, which flattens the round tip.
The German language has tons of cool-sounding words and phrases. Albeit its hard pronunciation and long, confusing words, learning is still manageable via using fun idioms.
If you want a spicier way of learning German, maybe try learning some swear words would do the trick.
If you’re having a hard time dealing with compound words and noun genders, you can get help from native German speakers at Justlearn. Gerne lernen!
Wer weiß, warum die Gänse barfuß gehen - That’s just how it is., Das ist mir Wurst - I don’t care / It doesn’t matter, Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof - I have no clue what you’re talking about., Ich glaub’ ich spinne - I think I’m going crazy.
Although famous, German is not an easy language to learn. German is one of the most challenging languages to study if you don’t speak any languages from the Western Germanic language group. If you’re speaking English or similar languages, you might have an easier time. Luckily, there are German idioms to use if you want to learn in a more interesting way.
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