German Phrases – What they mean, Where they originated

Are you learning a new language?

If you try to translate idioms or common phrases word for word, you will find the outcome rather ridiculous.

Computer-aided translation apps usually can’t make sense of the word combinations.

Here are some interesting and funny phrases in German translated literally to brighten your day!

Da wird der Hund in der Pfanne verrUckt!
The dog goes crazy in the pan!


Saying this phrase indicates that you are very astonished and surprised about something.

The saying supposedly goes back to Till EulensPiegel, a character from German and Dutch legends who is said to have lived in the Middle Ages. He pranked people, for instance, by taking a saying literally and putting it into practice.

As the story goes, Till Eulenspiegel worked for a brewer who owned a dog called “Hopf’ (Hops). On one occasion, the brewer asked Till to cook the hops plant in the pan, but he used the dog instead.

lch glaub’, mein Schwein pfeift !
I think my pig is whistling!

This expression is used to show that you are surprised. However, it’s not in a positive sense, rather an annoyance.

A young political movement coined this saying to emphasize the unsatisfactory circumstances in Germany during the 1970s and 1980s.

Da lachen ja die HUhner!
The chickens are laughing!

People use this phrase if wanting to express that something is ridiculous or nonsensical.

This expression is based on the assumption that chickens are unintelligent animals and therefore only laugh when something is evidently ridiculous or stupid.

Einen Eiertanz auffUhren !
Performing an egg dance!

With this idiom, one is expressing either the need to act very carefully on a specific task or the feeling that someone is being overly long-winded.

The saying is attributed to the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He watched a girl lay eggs as patterns on a carpet and dance around them blindfolded. She never touched an egg while doing so. Goethe described this experience, and it became well known.

Aus der Reihe tanzen
To dance outside the line

This phrase describes someone who stands out by getting out of line or acting different from everyone else.

The Reihen/Reigen was a popular dance in the Middle Ages. The dancers either formed a chain or stood in pairs behind each other. They followed the movements of one or more lead dancers and the rhythms of the music.

Those who “danced out of line” did not submit to the dance order and thus attracted unwelcome attention.

Today, the meaning fluctuates between a negatively understood lack of willingness to conform and a positively understood non-conformism

Es sieht aus wie Kraut und RUben !
It looks like cabbage and turnips!

This expression is frequently used to convey that something or a place is highly disorganized and chaotic.

This idiom is first found in the 17th century. At that time, cabbage and turnips were often grown together in one field, while all other crops were planted in separate areas.

This is only one of many food related phrases AND of cabbage!

Germans sure love their cabbage … and SAUSAGE!

kraut varza

Kohldampf
Cabbage steam

It’s about food, but not vegetables or steaming meals. The term comes from Rotwelsch,. which is a medieval secret rogue language.

“Kohler” meant something like hunger. The word steam had the same meaning. So cabbage steam translated means nothing more than “hunger hunger”!

Ok, just 1 more cabbage phrase …

Das macht den Kohl auch nicht fett!

This does not make the cabbage fat either!

When this is said, it is understood that it doesn’t matter anymore. A cause has already been lost.

In former times cabbage was a food for the common people. Since the poor people did not have meat or bacon as another ingredient to make the cabbage tastier and more filling. It was of no use to add salt, for example. The cabbage still did not taste “fat”.

And we’ll continue with one of Germany’s all time favorite foods …
SAUSAGE!

Das ist mir wurscht
That’s sausage to me

Declaring this, is the same as saying: “I don’t care.”
There are several hundred varieties of sausages in Germany, and the popularity of this food is evident in many idioms and phrases. The sausage is, however, also considered a coarse, unrefined food in that it contains ingredients that we might not even want to know about, contrary to the more refined roast. The saying implies that it does not matter what’s in the sausage, as long as it tastes good!

Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei !
Everything has an end, only sausages have two!

In 1987, the singer Stefan Remmler made this saying extremely popular in Germany with a hit song by the same name. Yet the saying has been in use since the Middle Ages. Even in those days, people knew: No matter where you bite into a sausage, everything must end eventually.

Eine Extrawurst kriegen
Getting an extra sausage

“An extra sausage” doesn’t necessarily mean it is just that. The expression refers to just about ANYTHING. An extra sausage can be a freebie, added bonus, exceptional service, or anything received as an addition.


Even more sausage sayings …

Es geht um die Wurst
It’s al I about the sausage

Imagine an athlete who has spent the past four years training for the Olympics. Finally, on the day of the competition, “it’s all about the sausage!”
Horner first mentioned this phrase in the book “Odyssey.” Sausages were the winning prize in competitions of the day, a feast for poor people. So, it was very literally about the sausage.

Spiel nicht die beleidigte
Le be rwu rst !
Don’t act like an insulted liver
sausage!

Although this proverb is from the 19th century, the medical notion that the liver was the seat of yellow bile and consequently of choleric and other emotions, such as being insulted, had long been accepted.
The word “sausage” was added later: The butcher first cooked the other sausages in a pot, and the liver was offended – because it had to wait.

And last but not least:

Armes WUrstchen
Poor sausage

It’s hardly a compliment to be referred to as a “poor sausage”. Even in a country where sausages are one of the most popular dishes, this isn’t the case. It is frequently used in a semi-serious manner to express sympathy for someone who is in a difficult but solvable circumstance. The term can be traced back to the nineteenth century.

I really hope you enjoyed this excursion into German idioms and phrases.
Which ones are your favorite?

Oh, and FYI, literally translating English phrases into other languages is equally amusing!



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As an American native, Joy translates profficiently marketing content from German and Chinese into English. She is one of our in-house translators.

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