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Hilarious German Idioms

If you have been learning a foreign language for a while, the following scenario might sound strikingly familiar: you are reading a book or carrying out a conversation, and suddenly a bizarre expression comes up. You know all the words, but their combination doesn’t make any sense.

Well, the good news is that your language skills are solid enough to understand literal meanings. The even better news is that you are ready to move to the next level: the fascinating realm of idioms! 1

Idioms are established word combinations that have a figurative meaning 2. They are vastly used in everyday conversation and rely on language devices 3 to describe something more vividly and paint a more colorful, striking picture. And let’s be honest: some idioms are pretty amusing. Which is why today you are in for a treat: a cartoonized compilation of hilarious German idioms.

Here we go, hold on to your seats!Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, German, lustige RedwendungenAre you going through a rough patch or a harsh situation? In German, you can use the very visual idiom “I’m sitting in the ink”. Sounds messy, doesn’t it?

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, German, Redewendungen, WurstPretty much like Germany cuisine, the repertoire of German idioms is fairly smeared in sausages. “That is sausage to me” conveys in a very colloquial manner that you couldn’t care less about something. Legend has it that this expression originated among butchers, who – uncertain of what to do with slaughtered animal scraps – decided to stuff the low quality leftovers into sausages. This practice gave way to the idiom, which is used nowadays to express that someone doesn’t really know what to do or just doesn’t care.

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, German, deutsche Redewendungen

Back in the day of ancient warfare, fearful soldiers took advantage of the ubiquitous swirling dust to flee the battlefield without being noticed. Hence, the idiom “I make myself out of (the) dust” comes in handy when you run away from an unpleasant situation or leave in a hurry without notifying anyone.

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, German, alemán, Deutsch

Wouldn’t it be nice to wake up every day without worries, and indulge in daydreaming and life’s little pleasures? Unfortunately, “Life is no sugar-licking”, meaning that life ain’t easy. This idiom is similar to “das Leben ist kein Ponyhof” (lit. Life is not a pony farm). Schade!

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, German, idiomático

If your German friends refer to a place as “What is this for a juice shop?”, they are not exactly talking about a cute lemonade stand. Quite the contrary, for a Saftladen hints at crummy establishment or dinky joint. That lemonade doesn’t sound as enticing anymore, does it?

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, German, Phraseologismen

We all have that one irritating acquaintance who constantly asks for favors or that insufferable boss who keeps piling more tasks on our shoulders. But enough is enough! “The devil I will do” is the German equivalent of “I’ll be damned if I will!” or “when hell freezes over”.

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, expresiones fraseológicas

If you find something nonsensical or rubbish, feel free to describe it as “such a cheese”. This idiom is used throughout Germany, but its etymology is unclear. Some suggest that the particular – somewhat stinky – smell of certain cheeses may have given this dairy product the idiomatic connotation that it has today.

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, German, phraseology

The idiom “(there) you look stupid out of the laundry” implies that someone has a puzzled, surprised or downright dumb facial expression. This idiom seems to date back to the Second World War, during which soldiers who weren’t so bright were tasked with collecting dirty laundry. If you picture the soldiers strolling through large piles of dirty clothes, with their befuddled faces popping out of the mountains of laundry, it’s easy to understand why this idiom is still in vogue today.

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, German, linguistics

Whenever someone drives you up the wall or exasperates you big time, let them know by saying “you bring me to the palm tree”. Imagine what a great deal of anger and distress someone must feel in order to climb atop a palm tree!

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, German, funny expressions

Last but not least! This is one of the first German idioms that I learnt, and it still makes me chuckle. In German, you are not insane, you just “don’t have all your cups in the cupboard”. There’s no consensus on how this goofy expression originated, but popular belief connects the word Tasse to the Yiddish toshia, which alludes to common sense. Whereas English speakers lose their marbles, crazy Germans are short of cups. Simply genius!

All good things must come to and end, but if you are interested in this topic, let me know and I’ll put together a second batch of idiomatic illustrations. What are your favorite idioms? Do you know hilarious expressions in other languages? Leave a comment and share with your friends.

Auf Wiedersehen!

Umlauts

Someone asked me if there was something about the German language that I found amusing. Well, umlauts are fun. Those two simple dots change a vowel’s pronunciation just by hovering over it. They cause more than a headache to Spanish speakers and take hours of practice to master for anyone who attempts to learn German.  Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Umlauts, German language, fun, lustige SpracheIf you can’t get the hang of umlauts, here’s the ultimate tip to be able to pronounce them in no time. This strategy helped me as a native Spanish speaker. I’m sure it’d work for Italian and Portuguese people as well. Here we go!

  • Ü (the head-over-heels happy u): put your mouth in “u” position (as if you were going to say /u/) but say /i/ instead.
  • Ö (the flabbergasted o): put your mouth in “o” position but say /e/.
  • Ä (the scared a): put your mouth in “a” position but say /e/.

Easy peasy.

Come to think about it… there’s something inherently disturbing about this drawing. Her face is just… unsettling. What have I done?! I’ve created a monster!

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The False Friend Realization

Legend has it that, once upon a time, a Spaniard landed in Germany with an unsettled stomach and walked into a café to get a comforting tea. And then false friends happened.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, false friends, Spanish, German, infusion, blunders

From Latin īnfundō (to pour in, upon or into), an infusion originally referred to the liquid which had had ingredients steeped in it to extract useful qualities, hence nowadays we still use the word infusion for beverages such as tea. Later on the term slid into medicine to refer to the administration of liquid substances directly into a vein, i.e. transfusion. False friends may not as distant as they might seem. One just has to find the etymological link between them. : )

German Time Measurements

As if the German language weren’t twisted enough with its random gendered articles and convoluted syntax, even simple time structures can mess up your whole schedule. Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, German time, die Uhrzeit auf Deutsch, Deutsche Sprache schwere SpracheIn the spoken language, 3:00, 3:05, 3:10 and so on are easy: drei Uhr (three hour), fünf nach drei (five after three), zehn nach drei (ten after three). But when the minute hand reaches “half past”, Germans take the next full hour as a reference. In German – unlike most languages – “halb drei” wouldn’t be “half past three” but “half past two”, in the sense of “we are half way to three”.

This incident made me realize two things. First, the reason why Germans think of foreigners as “tardy people whose idea of being on time is showing up an hour late”. If you don’t know how time works and get all your appointments at “half”, you are bound to perpetuate the stereotype of the lazy, unpunctual foreigner.

The other thing I realized is that Germans live in the future. Instead of taking the current hour as a reference, they jump on to the next, as if they were anxious to get past the present. For 3:25 they’ll say “fünf vor halb vier”, literally “five before half way to four”. With such a rush to beat time, no one can really enjoy the present. No wonder everyone is so stressed out.

Expat Gone Foreign, linguist, travel and language comics, life abroad