Differing languages bring many things to the communication game in relationships ; confusion, misunderstandings, hilarity, moments like these. They also bring the gift of idioms, lots and lots of lovely idioms, those pithy little expressions we rely on in daily conversation to say precisely what we want to say in a quick, humorous manner. We also rely on our conversation partner understanding precisely the meaning of the idioms we use, and conversation smoothly flowing onward. In bilingual relationships, that doesn’t always happen.
German, like English, is a language rich with idioms, and SG a German who enjoys employing them at every turn. He particularly enjoys translating German idioms directly into English which sometimes works – we have several idioms in common – but very often doesn’t. Which is how we end up having conversations about people smearing honey around the mouths of others, or being gutted by the key-cutter, like a Christmas goose.
In honour of the excellence that is the German idiom, I have compiled some of my favourites, the direct English translation and then the English counterpart (the former and the latter most often not being the same thing.)
— It goes DE // Direct Translation // EN Idiom Counterpart —
* Um den heißen Brei herumreden. // To talk around the hot soup. // To beat around the bush.
* Man soll den Ast nicht absägen, auf dem man sitzt. // One shouldn’t saw off the branch he’s sitting on. // Don’t cut your nose off to spite your face.
* Jemanden Honig um den Mund schmieren. // To smear honey around someone’s mouth. // To butter someone up.
* Sich in den Arsch beißen. // To bite oneself in the arse. // To kick oneself.
* Sich auf die Socken machen. // To make the socks. // To make tracks.
* Sie spielt die beleidigte Leberwurst. // She’s playing the insulted sausage. // She’s in a huff.
* Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof. // I can only understand ‘train station’. // It’s all Greek to me.
* Hier spielt die Musik. // This is where the music is playing. // This is where the action is.
* Jemanden ausnehmen wie eine weihnachtsgans. // To gut someone like a Christmas goose. // To take somebody to the cleaners.
* Arschgeige. // Arse violin. // Arsehole.
* Dumm wie Bohnenstroh. // As dumb as a bean straw. // As thick as a brick, or as dumb as a post.
* Daumen drücken! // To press your thumbs. // To cross your fingers.
* Die Kirche im Dorf lassen. // To leave the church in the village. // To not get carried away.
* Mein lieber Herr Gesangsverein. // My dear Mr Choir. // My Goodness!
* Schwein haben. // To have a pig. // To have a stroke of luck.