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!Are 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?
Pretty 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.
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.
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!
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?
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”.
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.
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.
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!
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.