More Fun German Idioms and their English Translations and Equivalents

More Fun German Idioms and their English Translations and Equivalents

Originally published on my A Travel for Taste blog on June 17, 2012, when I was teaching English in Germany. HOWEVER – I’VE ADDED MORE IDIOMS (because I still teach English online to non-native speakers), SO FRESH CONTENT FOLLOWS!

I’m a collector of idioms, regardless of the language. For those of you who have forgotten your high school English, idioms are common phrases that mean something different than what the literal meaning of the phrase conveys. For example, to spread yourself too thin doesn’t REALLY mean you are spreading yourself anywhere, just like to get caught with your pants down doesn’t REALLY (we hope) means you’ve dropped trou. Also, closely related to idioms are proverbs, axioms and sayings, such as A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

As you can imagine, teaching English idioms to non-native speakers here in Germany can be a challenge, but it’s also one of the most fun aspects of my job. Conversely, I get to hear equivalent idioms from my student’s language. I’ve collected many of them into a list here. I hope you find it as entertaining as I do:

German phrase: Wenn du ein Tischler im Haus hast, denn wacheln die Stuhle.
Literal Translation: When you have a carpenter in the house, the chair wobbles.
English equivalent: The shoemaker’s children go barefoot.

German phrase: Mir ist ein Stein vom Herzen gefallen.
Literal Translation: A stone has fallen from my heart.
English equivalent: That’s a load off my mind. (This is one of the most poetic expressions in German, which isn’t the most poetic language I’ve ever known.)

German phrase: Er lebt auf grossem Fuss.
Literal Translation: He lives on a big foot.
English equivalent: He’s a big spender.

German phrase: große Augen zu haben
Literal Translation: to have big eyes
English equivalent: dog-tired

German phrase: Ich mache dich kalt!
Literal Translation: I’ll make you cold.
English equivalent: I’m gonna kill you.


German phrase: auf das falsche Pferd setzen
Literal Translation: to sit on the wrong horse
English equivalent: to bark up the wrong tree

German phrase: alles auf eine Karte setzen
Literal Translation: everything sits on one card (think poker)
English equivalent: to put all your eggs in one basket

German phrase: Es geht weg wie warme Semmeln.
Literal Translation: It’s going like warm bread rolls.
English equivalent: It’s selling like hotcakes.

German phrase: Erbsenzahler
Literal Translation: pea counter
English equivalent: bean counter

German phrase: um die Ecke denken
Literal Translation: to think around the corner
English equivalent: to think outside the box (almost wrote “bun”)

German phrase: sich mit Fremden Federn schmuecken
Literal Translation: to adorn oneself in borrowed plumes
English equivalent: to take credit for someone else’s work

German phrase: Sahnehäubchen
Literal Translation: small hat (like a maid’s cap) made of cream
English equivalent: cream of the crop; icing on the cake

German phrase: das i–Tüpfelchen zu fehlen
Literal Translation: to be missing the dot on the i
English equivalent: it’s missing something but I don’t know what

German phrase: den Loeffel abgeben; ins Grass zu beissen
Literal Translation: to give away the spoon; to bite the grass
English equivalent: to kick the bucket; to buy the farm, etc. (The movie “The Bucket List” is called “The Best is at the End” in German because the bucket idiom doesn’t translate literally.)

German phrase: wie Olga im Aldi
Literal Translation: like Olga (Russian woman) in the Aldi supermarket
English equivalent: to go hog wild

German phrase: 08/15 or 8:15
Literal Translation: average; mediocre
English equivalent: plain vanilla

More language of interest:

In German, thunder is Donder and lightning is Blitzen (any Christmas songs come to mind?). In addition, Germans have one word, Gewitter, that means both thunder and lightning together.

Many German holidays fall on Thursdays or Tuesdays, which I used to think wasn’t as smart as moving them to Mondays, like in the USA, so we can have three-day weekends. However, I’ve come to learn that many people take the intervening Friday or Monday off work and make a four-day weekend! They call these extra days off the Brücketage, or bridge days. Interestingly, Google translator translates this German word as long weekends.

To let the cat out of the bag is the same in German as in English.

BTW, one of my all-time favorite English idioms was uttered by a friend of mine, Ginny Overman, years ago when she didn’t understand what I’d just said to her (dripping with a Texas accent): Cripple that one and drag it back by me again!

Other observations:

I recently saw a display in the supermarket for some disposable diapers. The brand name was Poopeys! I did some net research and found that it is a new trademark from a company in Poland.

One of my students brought me a copy of a menu from a restaurant he’d recently visited. It featured “Franconian sushi” which consisted of sushi rolls that had bratwurst and liverwurst instead of raw fish! I also saw something similar on the menu at a sushi place in Nuremberg. Eww!!!

On the bike path along my way to the train station for my recent Kronach trip, I heard the baa-ing of sheep. I glanced across the river and saw the biggest flock of sheep ever! There must have been 500 or 600 of them! Of course I took a couple of shots:

During the train journey, I snapped a couple of photos I thought you might find interesting. One was graffiti on a freight car that read very British:

My assumption was that Colin Saysell was a friend of the graffiti artist. However, for fun, I googled the name and found that he is actually “an anti-graffiti officer in Bristol who has followed (the infamous graffiti artist) Banksy for years…” Who knew?

The train I take to Kronach is a regional one, much different from the high-speed inter-city ones with dining cars and such. Mostly they are a little older, but some are new. The difference is that they stop at every station along the route. I thought you might like to see a more or less typical train station at a small town in Germany:

I hope you’ve enjoyed a little visit to my second language today. I continue to collect these linguistic jewels and you’ll see more of them from time to time. Til next week!

Photo for No Apparent Reason:

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