The Best German Idioms

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 like a Christmas goose, by the key cutter.

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.)

(Some people have left fantastic examples of idioms in the comments, which I have added to the list. Leave your favourites down below!)
Because 95% of German idioms are about pigs.

Because 95% of German idioms are about pigs.

— 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.

* In der Not frisst der Teufel Fliegen. // In adversity, the devil eats flies. // Beggars can’t be choosers.

* Noch grün hinter den Ohren sein. // To still be green behind the ears. // To be half-baked.

* Ins Gras beißen. // To bite into the grass. // To kick the bucket.

* Ich glaub mein Schwein pfeift. // I think my pig whistles. // Blow me down./(I think I’m going off my rocker (or just “oh my god”).

* Ich glaub mich knutscht ein Elch. // I think I was kissed by a moose. // An expression of surprise, like ‘well blow me down.’

* Mein Englisch ist unter aller Sau. // My English is under all pig. // My English is really bad.

* Da kannst du Gift drauf nehmen. // You can take poison on that. //You can bet your life on that.

* Ich glaube ich spinne. // I believe I spider. // I think I’m going crazy. (A touch of controversy over this one! Should the direct translation be ”I think I’m spinning”, or ”I think I spider”?)

90 Comments

  1. Berit

    22 November, 2013 at 4:06 am

    Da kannst du Gift drauf nehmen.// You can take poison on that.//You can bet your life on that.

    1. Liv

      22 November, 2013 at 8:55 am

      Totally adding it, thank you!

      1. Renate

        21 January, 2014 at 10:55 pm

        “Graf Koks von der Gasanstalt” Someone pretending to be more or better or richer than they really are.

        1. Renate

          21 January, 2014 at 10:59 pm

          By the way I grew up in Tirschenreuth, not far from Weiden. I went to “Mittelschule” in Neustadt. We went shopping to Weiden. Your blog makes me homesick.

  2. Berit

    23 November, 2013 at 4:12 am

    You’re welcome! I love your blog! Will add stuff if any comes to mind. I am German expatriate living in the US (since 1996). Reading all this makes me a little homesick, and I am learning some stuff about communicating with my fellow Americans. Very cool.

    1. Berit

      23 November, 2013 at 4:49 am

      PS. I was bo rn and raised in Bremen. Which is, of course VERY DIFFERENT from Hamburg. 😉

    2. Liv

      24 November, 2013 at 10:21 am

      Have you gotten used to the American way of a) greeting everyone as if you know them very well (I know this drives the Germans crazy) and b) small talk? My number one complaint I hear from Germans about cultures that love chatting and greeting ‘hello! how are you!’ is that they are ‘fake’ … which always makes me smile.

      1. theo

        27 November, 2013 at 4:49 pm

        And it is true 😉 I always think americans making fun of me when they come with a giant smile “heeelloo! how are you? how are you doing? youre so nice!” etc

        1. Liv

          27 November, 2013 at 7:57 pm

          Hahaha, Germans always think ‘why is this stranger smiling at me/asking me how I am/talking to me? Do I know them?’

          1. Pat

            3 April, 2014 at 3:38 am

            As a German living in the US (and now US citizen as well) I actually enjoy the smiles and the “Hi, how are you?” Even if people call it fake or superficial, I’d much rather take that than an unfriendly cashier in the German supermarket who wouldn’t even say hello, let alone smile. Also, by now I get really annoyed with my fellow Germans when they bump into you or push you to the side without a word of “Entschuldigung”.

      2. VickiG (@EMTP513)

        27 April, 2018 at 4:20 am

        What do you people ever do to feel reLAXED? If you’re ALways talking deeply I don’t see how you can feel relaxed and several Germans have wondered why the hell so many German people have depression and panic attacks? Well always being deep and never taking time to relax with small talk might be one of the reasons.
        Why’s everyone so anti-American? So attack them in every way, even a physical one? I was attacked that way 2 times in Germany so I returned to America early, but I’m not going to stay in the same country as President Caligula using his iron broom to sweep everyone he dislikes into oblivion.

        1. Corky Rodriguez

          13 July, 2018 at 11:53 pm

          Attacked is a little over the top. Sorry you cut your trip short, I’m amazed at that.

  3. Berit

    24 November, 2013 at 11:52 am

    The greeting – yes, after all these years. It took a while, though. One time I went back to Europe for a visit and was appalled by how “unfriendly” everyone was. I knew then I was americanized. I have learned that the answer to “Hi, how are you” is “Hi, (or fine), how are you”! Not really a question but an exclamation. The small talk – somewhat, but I still feel awkward. I am a snow bird, and we just moved to Florida for the winter. The introduction to my new neighbor went a little wobbly. After reading your blog I know it’s not just me, it’s a German thing.

    1. Liv

      25 November, 2013 at 2:41 pm

      Haha yes, the ‘hi, how are you’ as a greeting and not necessarily a question that requires a detailed response, is so confusing to a lot of Germans. As you said, the response is always, ‘fine, how are you’ and then you can get into the real conversation.

  4. Stefan

    12 December, 2013 at 12:19 am

    Haha i´m a german and the direct translations are really funny 😀 I also have an Idiom for you: *Ich glaub ich spinne // I believe i spider // (Not sure about american translation but must be something like) I think i go crazy

    1. Hans-Joerg

      11 January, 2014 at 2:58 pm

      Halt halt. Momenterl amoi. ‘Spinnen’ ist ein Verb und kein Subjekt. ‘Ich glaube ich spinne.’ heißt dann soviel wie ‘I believe/think I am spinning’, aber nicht im Sinn von ‘sich drehen’.

      1. Nathalie

        29 January, 2014 at 6:04 pm

        nah I think the correct english translation for this case is sth like “I think I am going crazy” because “spinnen” is here not the animal and not “spinnen” seen as “making wool” it’s the expression of “not being in a good state of mind”
        german: spinnen = verrückt sein

        In fact there are two(if you count the animal in, three) meanings of spinnen

        1. Justmy2Cents

          22 February, 2014 at 12:36 pm

          In fact “spinnen” is just a Verb for “being crazy”,

          1. Drey

            11 April, 2014 at 2:04 am

            I’m german too. I think “spinnen” comes from the german word “Spinnrad” in this case. “Spinnrad” is translated to spinning wheel.
            In “Grimms Märchen” is using the spinning wheel a bad idea because the girl stung herself and slept for 100 years.
            I believe that is the origin of the idiom~

      2. Ober Studienrat

        19 September, 2016 at 9:48 pm

        Doch eigentlich schon im Sinn von “sich drehen”. Wird meines Wissens von dem Verb “die Spindel” abgeleitet.

  5. Mimi

    22 December, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    here are some more idioms 🙂

    In der Not frisst der Teufel Fliegen // In adversity the devil eats flies // beggars can’t be choosers

    Noch grün hinter den Ohren sein // to still be green behind the ears // to be half-baked

    Ins Gras beißen // to bite into the grass // to kick the bucket

    Ich glaub mein Schwein pfeift // I think my pig whistles // Blow me down, I think I’m going off my rocker (or just “oh my god”)

    Ich glaub mich knutscht ein Elch // I think I am kissed my a moose // (Just like the one above it’s an expression for when you’re really surprised)

    Mein Englisch ist unter aller Sau // my english is under all pig // my english is really bad

    Just like you already said, Germans have that thing with pigs 😀

    1. Liv

      24 December, 2013 at 11:08 am

      Oh these are fantastic, thank you. Will definitely get them up soon. The one about being green behind the ears is interesting, because we have the expression ‘to be green’ which means the same thing.

      1. linguaphilesblog

        3 March, 2017 at 2:21 pm

        In Afrikaans we say “Nog nat agter die ore” which means “still wet behind the ears” and that also means the same thing.

      2. Chris Platt

        22 February, 2018 at 1:15 pm

        In English you would normally say, “wet behind the ears” to mean the same thing….

  6. Baloo

    7 January, 2014 at 9:04 am

    Hi Liv, I just stumbled upon your blog and I LOVE it! My family and I spent three years in South Carolina and in the beginning I always tried to explain German idioms. At a certain point in time i accepted that German might be the more colorful language and that this might not be able to be transported into another culture.
    Anyway, your blog might be a way to explain to our friends overseas why we are the way we are 🙂

    1. Liv

      10 January, 2014 at 10:17 am

      The idioms do make me laugh – some of them are so similar to the English (and vice versa) and then some are almost the same, but not, and then some are like, ‘what?’

    2. Akumay Kayuce

      29 January, 2016 at 11:21 pm

      I don’t know. I used to live in the American southeast and the language had some interesting idioms. Here are some:

      No skin off my teeth/ not my problem

      Nose to the grindstone/ get to work

      Like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs/ extreamly uncomfortable or nervous

      Tan my hide/ to get your ass kicked

      Piddling/ messing around

      That dog won’t hunt/ useless

      Knee high to a grasshopper/
      short person or child

      Bless your heart/ this can be meant as a kindness but most of the time they are calling you stupid.

  7. Andreas Jourdan

    9 January, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    Hallo Liv, wirklich toller blog mit viel Humor und hervorragend geschrieben.
    Ich würde gerne mit Deinem Einverständnis einige Auszüge für meinen Englischunterricht verwenden.
    Zu den Idiomen, mir macht es total Spass etwas ins Alter gekommene Redewendungen bei den Schülern anzuwenden, um mich dann an den verdutzten und verständnislosen Blicken zu erfreuen 😉

    1. Liv

      10 January, 2014 at 10:31 am

      Hallo Andreas, bitte nimm was du möchtest. Ich freue mich, dass dir mein Blog gefällt. Danke für deine netten Worte!

  8. akismet-95ef3e0fe5ce862f947027e32bcfdd11

    11 January, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    Hey Liv, I found your blog the other day and love it, I’ve been going through some of the same things in reverse (I’m British/American, but spent my whole life in Germany until a few years a go when I started going on an extended bout of moving around England and America). I still remember the first time I stopped an American mid-passing and asked him if we had met because he asked me “how have you been?” <_<

    I feel bad but my German to English cries out that "Ich glaube ich spinne" does not mean "I think I spider" but "I think I'm crazy" or "I think I'm spinning [thread]" depending on what translation of "spinne" you use. Much more boring I know 🙁

    1. marcus

      11 January, 2014 at 2:02 pm

      don’t know why it listed my name as that random collection of words…

      1. Liv

        11 January, 2014 at 2:45 pm

        Hello Marcus,

        I love that you stopped and asked an American if you’d met. That breaks my heart.

        You are probably spot on about the spider idiom – I am going to do some digging. I thought perhaps spinning instead of spider, but I’m not sure. It was from a lovely German reader. Shall definitely find out what it really means.

      2. Liv

        11 January, 2014 at 3:19 pm

        Okay, done some checking, and checked with the German, and it appears to be ‘I believe I spider’! As wonderfully bizarre as that is!

        Update:

        Perhaps not. Good God, what a controversial idiom! I think I’m spinning is the better direct translation, from what I can gather, but lacks the fun of spider. Hmmmm.

        1. Sonja

          11 January, 2014 at 8:52 pm

          I think it actually derives from spinnen as in making yarn – like in the expression “Seemannsgarn spinnen” – making up or exaggerating partly true stories.

          1. Sam

            19 September, 2017 at 11:17 pm

            If spider is correct, then wouldn’t it be Spinnen with a capital S? Then the translation would be “I think I’m a spider.”

        2. marcus

          19 January, 2014 at 1:38 am

          Yeah… I’ve spoken with some of my German friends and they seem to prefer spider even when they agree spinning makes more sense…
          and in fairness to the poor American I wouldn’t have been confused if it hadn;t been ‘how have you been?’ like ‘since last time kind of implication for me…

  9. Ror

    12 January, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    Liv, bist Du noch nie gefragt worden: “Spinnst Du?”?

  10. Ror

    13 January, 2014 at 10:54 am

    Was machst Du damit : “She sued me, because I showed her the bird.” ?

    hahaha.

  11. Anne Bubi

    15 January, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    Hummeln im Hintern haben// to have bumblebees in the but// to have ants in the pants

  12. Franzi

    20 January, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    Here’s another one:

    hinter dem Mond leben // live behind the moon// wasn’t born yesterday? to be behind the times?

  13. Karsten Franke

    22 January, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    Du bist auf dem Holzweg. // You are on the wooden way // (Don’t know the american translation)

    1. Michael Briel

      4 February, 2014 at 12:50 pm

      Translation would be: You are wrong (with the assumption you just made). A wooden path is obviously of less quality than one made of stones. Or yellow bricks.

      1. Daniel Smith

        26 September, 2014 at 8:33 pm

        British idiom would be you are Barking up the wrong tree

    2. Ulrich Birowicz

      19 May, 2016 at 9:42 pm

      you’re totally on the wrong Track

  14. Berit

    22 January, 2014 at 11:31 pm

    I love this one. It means “you are mistaken”. The same meaning for “da hast du dich aber geschnitten” – “you cut yourself there”

    Regarding “ich glaube ich spinne”, spinne is used as a verb, so imho it means spinning yarn and not spider, which is a noun. Imho.

  15. Marius Schneider

    23 January, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    Hey Liv,

    I just have to thank you for your brilliant articles. I’m German and I can identify myself with lots of your thoughts. During my bachelor-thesis I stumbled across this website: http://ithinkispider.com/ which has some very hilarious idioms.

    Do you know a blogger, who’s doing what you do, just back to front? (Is this even an English idiom? :D)

    I’m really thankful, that I stumbled across your blog! Keep up the good work 🙂

    Greetings from Leipzig

  16. Guest

    24 January, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    How could you possibly forget “Da wird ja der Hund in der Pfanne verrückt!” – There becomes the dog in pan crazy! – This is so crazy (and often astonishing), I can’t believe it

    Furthermore: “Ich habe schon Pferde kotzen sehen” – I’ve seen horses puking – that’s unbelievable

    “Das passt ja wie die Faust aufs Auge” – “It fits like the fist to the eye – It fits perfectly

    “Jemandem einen Bären aufbinden” – to bind a bear (yes, the animal) to someone – to be kidding someone, to talk nonsense to someone

    “Hals- und Beinbruch” – Break your neck and leg – Good luck

    “Seit wann kommt der Knochen denn zum Hund?” – Since when does the bone move to the dog? – Why for christ’s sake should I do this? (In general, you say this, when you have the feeling that someone else is dependent on you)

    “Die dümmsten Bauern haben die dicksten Kartoffeln” – The most stupid farmers have the biggest potatos – someone does not deserve this, but got it just by luck

    And another – maybe not a real idiom but still nice – “Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei” – Everything has an ending, just the sausage has two – you say this to solace, if something great ends

  17. Karsten Franke

    28 January, 2014 at 11:32 am

    I just remembered another:

    Mal den Teufel nicht an die Wand! // Don’t paint the devil on the wall! // Speak of the devil…

    1. Berit

      29 January, 2014 at 2:21 pm

      Very good one! But it doesn’t mean “speak of the devil”. It means “be careful what you wish for” or “don’t expect the worst because it might happen”. We do have the same saying as “speak of the devil”: “Wenn man vom Teufel spricht”.

  18. Robby

    29 January, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    Auch Kleinvieh macht Mist // Even small animals produce manure // Every little counts

  19. Jen

    31 January, 2014 at 8:31 pm

    … I think I’m spinning …

  20. SW

    1 February, 2014 at 9:27 am

    Here is another one: ich werde Fuchs-Teufels-Wild // i’m going Fox devils Wild // i’m going Crazy

  21. SW

    1 February, 2014 at 9:33 am

    Zu viele Köche verderben den Brei too many cooks, ruin the mash
    Du Schaumschläger, Du! you foambeater, you!
    Du kannst Dich zum Teufel scheren you can you to the devil scissors
    Schwamm drüber! Sponge over!
    Jetzt häng ich in der Luft now hang I in the air
    Lass die Katze ausm Sack let the cat of the bag
    Er machte uns einen Strich durch die Rechnung he made us a line trough the bill
    Jetzt zieh ich andere Seiten auf now I pull other pages up
    Das Spiel ging unentschieden aus the game walked out undecisioned
    Das kann nur ein Spaß sein this can only a fun be
    Nachmittags aftermiddledays
    Bis gleich! until equal
    Ich glaub mein Schwein pfeift I think my pig pipes
    Ich übersetze alles wortwörtlich I.m overseating all wordwordly
    Es grenzt an ein Wunder it borders on a wonder
    Jetzt gehen mir die Ideen aus now me walk the ideas out
    Du kannst mir den Buckel runter rutschen! you can slide me down the hump!
    Bist Du sicher? are you save?
    Holla die Waldfee holla the woodfairy
    Du kannst mir den Buckel runterrutschen you can slight my back down
    Du bist so ein Angsthase your are so a fear rabbit
    Alles hängt zusammen everything hangs together
    Er machte sich mir nichts, dir nichts aus dem Staub he made himself, me nothing, you nothing out of the dust
    Leben ist kein Zuckerschlecken life is no sugarlicking
    Ich bin Fuchsteufelswild I´m foxdevilswild
    Ich versteh nur Bahnhof I understand just trainstation
    Alles im grünen Bereich evererything in green area
    Stell Dich nicht so an stand you not so on
    Wer andern eine Bratwurst brät, der hat ein Bratwurstbratgerät who fries other ones a sausage, has a sausage-frying-device
    Du kommst in Teufelsküche you come in devils kitchen
    Reiss dich zusammen! rip you together!
    Ist mir Latte is me boner
    Doppelt genäht hält besser double needled holds better
    Nehmen Sie Platz bitte take place please
    Da ist die Kacke am Dampfen there is the crap steaming
    Jetzt geht´s um die Wurst now it goes around the sausage
    Da liegt der Hund begraben there lies the dog buried
    Du hast mir keinen Meter weitergeholfen you helped me no meter further
    einen an der Waffel haben to have one on the wafer
    Die Arschkarte ziehen pull the ass card
    Jetzt mal Butter bei die Fische now butter by the fishes
    Ich freu mich schon drauf I joy me already thereon
    Deckel zu, Affe tot! lid to, monkey dead!
    Danke, es geht so thanks, it walks so
    Sag mal, gehts Dir noch oder was? say once, goes it you still or what?
    mach ne Fliege make a fly
    Das ist Hammerhart this is hammer hard
    Mein Bildschirm geht nicht my pictureumbrella walks not
    Mensch Meier Human Meier
    uns laeuft das Wasser im Mund zusammen us runs the water in the mouth together
    Das geht ab wie Schmitz Katze that goes away like Schmitz Cat
    Ich lach mich kaputt I laugh me broken
    Einfach so daher gesagt easy there along said
    Kratz die Kurve scratch the turn
    Ich bekomme mein Gehalt überwiesen I get my go stop over meadows
    Macht nichts makes nothing
    Jetzt gehts los now it goes loose
    Ich glaub ich brech zusammen I think I break together
    Halt den Rand hold the edge
    Ich klatsch Dich weg! I clap you away!
    auf jeden Fall on every case
    Da bist Du auf dem Holzweg there you on the woodway
    Ich kann nicht mehr I can not more
    Erzähl mir nicht das Blaue vom Himmel don’t tell me the blue from the heaven
    Du hast nicht mehr alle Tassen im Schrank you have not more all cups in the board
    Das ist ein netter zug von Dir that’s a nice train from you
    Ich hab jetzt wirklich die Nase voll I have now really the nose full
    Hau rein! Beat in!
    Da bist Du platt was? there are you flat what?
    es ist mir Wurst it’s me sausage
    Das macht mir keiner so leicht nach that makes me nobody so easy after
    Sieh zu, dass du Land gewinnst see to that you win land
    Mir geht ein Licht auf me goes a light up
    schäm’ Dich was shame you what
    Ich hab die Schnautze voll I have the muzzle full
    Jetzt haben wir den Salat now we have the salad
    Himmel, Arsch und Zwirn! heaven, ass and thread!
    Mein großes Vorbild my great before-picture
    Spaß bei Seite fun by side
    Es haut mich aus den Socken it knocks me out the socks
    Entschuldige, mein Englisch ist unter aller Sau sorry, my englisch is under all pig
    Das ich nicht lache! that I don’t laugh!
    Wie Du mir, so ich Dir! how you me, so I you
    Ich glaub mich laust der Affe I think me louses the monkey
    Nicht schlecht Herr Specht not bad Mr. Woodpecker
    Ach du grüne Neune oh you green nine
    Friede, Freude, Eierkuchen Peace, Joy, Pancake
    Mal nicht den Teufel an die Wand draw not the devil on the wall
    Da stehen mir die Haare zu Berge there my hairs stand up to the mountain
    Zum Donnerwetter! to thunderweather!
    Ich bringe meine Schäfchen ins Trockene I bring my sheep into the dry
    Du gehst mir aufn Wecker you are going me on the alarm-clock
    Ich muss die Brötchen verdienen I must the bread-rolls earn
    Was für ein Hundewetter what a dog weather
    Fass dir ein Herz grap you a heart
    Jetzt schlägt’s aber dreizehn now beats it but thirteen
    Erzähl mir keinen vom Pferd tell me nothing from the horse
    die Schreckschraube the horror-screw
    Es ist nicht gut Kirschen essen mit Dir it´s not good cherry eating with your
    Alles für die Katz everything for the cat
    Gib nicht so an give not so on
    Nur über meine Leiche! only over my corpse!
    Quatsch mit Soße bullshit with sauce
    die Schlauberger the Clever-Mountains
    Kurz und prägnant short and pregnant
    Ich lach mich tot I laugh me dead
    Frag nicht nach Sonnenschein don´t ask after sunshine
    Ich glaub es hackt I think it’s hacking
    Mir reicht es me reaches it
    Das ist einwandfrei that’s one-wall-free
    Das ist mir sowas von scheiß egal this is me so what from shit equal
    Haut ab! Skin off!
    Ich sterbe für Schwarzwälderkirschtorte I die for Blackforrestcherrycake
    Spiel Dich ja nicht auf play you yes not up
    Es brennt mir unter den Nägeln it burns me under the nails
    Aus heiterem Himmel out clear sky
    Komm mir nicht so! come me not so!
    Das ist ein starkes Stück that is a strong piece
    Sag mir den Grund! tell me the ground!
    In den höchsten Tönen von jemanden sprechen to speak in the highest sounds of somebody
    Was ist das hier für ein Saftladen? what’s this for a juiceshop here?
    Da ist was im Busch there is something in the bush
    Hier ist tote Hose here is dead trousers
    Ich mach mich aus dem Staub I make myself out of the dust
    Auf der faulen Haut liegen lie on the lazy skin
    Ich steh aufm Schlauch I stand on the tube
    Stuhlgang chairgoing
    So wird ein Schuh draus so becomes a shoe out of it
    Mit meinem Vorgesetzten komm ich gut klar I come good clear with my before seated
    Jemandem ein Loch in den Bauch fragen ask someone a hole in the stomach
    Ich habe hunger I have hunger
    Der Kerl ist mit allen Wassern gewaschen this guy is washed with all waters
    Gott sei Dank! godbethank!
    Ich habs im Fernsehen gesehen. I saw it in the farlooking.
    ins Fettnäpfchen treten to step in the fatcup
    Dach lachen ja die Hühner there are laughing yes the chickens
    Komm schon…spring über Deinen Schatten come on…jump over your shadow
    Du bist schwer auf Draht you are heavy on wire
    Wer’s glaubt wird selig who believes it, will be blessedly
    Ich schäm mich in Grund und Boden I shame me in ground and floor
    komm klar! come clear!
    Ich halt´s im Kopf nicht aus I hold it in head not out
    Da rollen sich mir die Zehennägel hoch there roll me the toenails high
    Du musst mehr trainieren you must more train
    Ich glaub, ich dreh am Rad I think I’m turning the wheel
    Da könnt ich an die Decke gehen! there I could go to the ceiling!
    Jetzt kann kommen was will now can come what want
    Für mich geht das klar for me goes that clear
    Das ist nicht mein Bier that’s not my beer
    Knapp daneben ist auch vorbei close aside is also over
    Du Glückspilz you luck mushroom
    Das ist so arm… this is so arm…
    mir nichts, dir nichts me nothing, you nothing
    Grüß Gott Greet God
    Es läuft mir Eiskalt den Rücken runter it walks me icecold the back down
    Glaubst Du nicht es reicht jetzt? don’t you think this reaches now
    Ich drück Dir die Daumen i press you the thumbs
    Wer andern eine Grube gräbt, fällt selbst hinein who digs other one a hole, will fall himself in
    Das hier kann nicht Dein Ernst sein this here cannot be your earnest
    nicht von schlechten Eltern not from bad parents
    die Brandblase the fire bubble
    Das passt auf keine Kuhhaut this fits on no cowskin
    Das gibt’s ja nicht! this gives it yes not!
    Ich bekomm die Krise I become the crisis
    voegeln to bird
    Ich wünsch Dir was i wish you what
    Aus die Maus out the mouse
    nimm dich in Acht take yourself in eight
    Er hat es Faustdick hinter den Ohren he has it fistplump behind the ears
    Niemand kann mir das Wasser reichen no one can reach me the water
    Das geht Dich nichts an that goes you nothing on
    Wie spät ist es auf Deiner Uhr? how late is it on your watch?
    Fünfe gerade sein lassen letting be five straight
    jemandem auf den Leim gehen to go someone on the glue
    Wieder was gelernt again what learned
    Tot gesagte leben länger dead said life longer
    Schmerz lass nach pain let after
    Trautes heim, Glück allein known home luck alone
    Nicht das Gelbe vom Ei not the yellow of the egg
    Das Auge isst mit the eye eats with
    Jemandem auf den Zahn fühlen feel somebody on the tooth
    jetzt sitzten wir ganz schoen in der Tinte now we sit quite beautiful in the ink
    Kreisverkehr Circle-Sex
    Ich glaube wir sind jetzt in einem Teufelskreis I think we are now in the devilsround
    Mir fällt ein Stein vom Herzen me falls a stone from heart
    Du schlägst ja ganz neue Töne an you beat yes completely new notes on
    halt die Luft an hold the air on
    Wie Du mir, so ich Dir how you me so I you
    Da guckst Du dumm aus der Wäsche there you look stupid out of the laundry
    Da wird der Hund in der Pfanne verrückt there goes the dog in the pan crazy
    Da kannst Du Gift drauf nehmen you can take poison on it
    Sie hatte einen Kreislaufzusammenbruch she had a circleroundbreakdown
    Geh mir nicht auf den Geist don’t go me on the ghost
    Jemandem etwas auf die Nase binden bind somebody something on the nose
    Sie können Du zu mir sagen you can say you to me
    geh zur Seite go to the page
    Ich fiel aus allen Wolken I fall from all clouds
    Geh vor die Hunde go before the dogs
    Lass die Kirche im Dorf leave the church in the village
    Du bist so eine Pfeife you are such a pipe
    In die Gänge kommen come in the Corridors
    Wie Geil ist das denn!? How horny is that then !?
    Jemandem auf der Nase herumtanzen to dance around on someones nose
    Ich muss mich übergeben I must overgive me
    Halt die Ohren steif hold the ears stiff
    Der springende Punkt ist the jumping point is
    Ich komm mir verarscht vor I come me appled for
    Da könnt ich kotzen there I could puke
    Du kannst mich mal you can me one time
    eine ruhige Kugel schieben push a silent bowl
    Wie geht’s Dir? how goes it you?
    Jetzt ist es Feierabend now it’s celebration evening
    Aller erste Sahne very first cream
    jetzt ist der Ofen aus now is the oven out
    Du bist ein Tunichtgut you are a do-not-good
    Nicht gleich mit der Tür ins Haus fallen not equally fall with the door in the house
    Worum geht es? where round goes it?
    Ich kann den Wald vor lauter Bäumen nicht sehen I can.t see the forest for louder trees
    Ich schmeiß mich über die Häuser I throw me over the houses
    Gemach, gemach! chamber, chamber!
    Ich glaub ich spinne I think I spider
    Das ist mir egal that’s me equal
    Nichts für ungut nothing for ungood
    Du hast einen Sprung in der Schuessel you have a jump in the dish
    Den Teufel werd ich tun the devil will i do
    Das macht mir keiner so leicht nach that makes me nobody so quickly after
    Das ist mir sowas von Wurscht that is me so what of sausage
    Leg ein Zahn zu Put a tooth to
    Jemandem Honig ums Maul schmieren to put honey around someone’s mouth
    Ich seh Schwarz für Dich I see black for you
    Das ist nur ein Katzensprung von hier it’s just a catjump from here
    Du gehts mir tierisch auf den Keks you walk me animally on the cookie
    Lass die Kirche im Dorf let the church in the village
    Du willst mich wohl für dumm verkaufen you want to sell me well for stupid
    Das ist Jacke wie Hose that is jacket as trousers
    Das find ich auch that find I also
    Du bringst mich auf die Palme you bring me on the palm

  22. Berit

    2 February, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    This is a great list. I forgot we had all these. Unfortunately, the English translations are not so great, and some of the idioms are not quite correct. For example, “jetze ziehe ich andere Seiten auf”: that should actually be “Saiten” as in strings of a violin. I will pull up different strings = I will change my tune. (Really meaning “things are about to get nasty”).

    I love “das is Jacke wie Hose”, “jacket as trousers” which means “six of one, half a dozen of another”
    Also “bringing someone on the palm”, how fun is that, but it means “you’re making me very angry”.

    Let me know if you have any questions on these, glad to help.

  23. Nadine

    10 February, 2014 at 6:11 am

    Hi Liv, I discovered your site today and I have not stopped reading and laughing and missing Germany for the last 6 hours. Can’t stop reading, am literally trapped, thanks for giving me a wonderful “reading Sunday”. Actually, I am German (from the south) and been living in Latin America for the last 8 years. Imagine within the next weeks I will move to your homecity, a whole new and unknown adventure, but as you know, these are the most enriching ones in life. Please keep writing! I hope I find something similar exhilarating to read about your mates and Downunder, would definitely help.

  24. John Bergt

    12 February, 2014 at 7:07 am

    Mein name ist Hase, ich weiss Von nichts // my name is rabbit, I know of nothing // I know nothing (said in my best Sgt. Schultz voice)

  25. Lena K

    12 February, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    Wem der Schuh passt, zieht in sich an.//Whom the shoe fits will put it on.//Somebody makes a comment about misbehaviour or anything negative and the other person replies to it:
    A: “I hate people being late!”
    B: “But I was only five minutes late!”
    A: “I wasn’t talking about you…”
    B: “Oh.”

    Es ist noch kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen.//There has never been a master falling down from heaven/the sky.//No-one is born a master.

    Wer im Glashaus sitzt, sollte nicht mit Steinen schmeißen. (or a bit more crude: Wer im Glashaus sitzt, sollte im Keller scheißen.:D)//The one sitting in a house of glass should not throw stones. (The one sitting in a house of glass should shit in the basement.)//If you’re not good at something you should not critisize people who aren’t good at it as well.

    Wer anderen eine Grube gräbt, fält selbst hinein.//The one digging a hole for others to fall in will fall in himself.//Explaining itself, isn’t it? 😀 -> You can easily fall into your own trap.

    Wie man in den Wald reinruft, so schallt es raus. OR: Der Ton macht die Musik//The way it’s shouted into the wood, it will get back out. OR: The sound makes/defines music. -> You are treated as you treat others./ It’s not what you say but the way you say it.

    Wo man singt, da lass dich nieder, böse Menschen haben keine Lieder!//Settle down where people sing because evils don’t have songs.

    Männer sind Schweine//Men are pigs.//Men are arseholes. ->Only somtimes, you know ;^)

  26. Lena K

    12 February, 2014 at 8:51 pm

    Forgot something… XD It really is worth adding.
    Lügen haben kurze Beine.//Lies have short legs//The truth will out. Logically, people with short legs don’t get far…

  27. Silky C

    14 February, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    Super, ich liebe es…

    hier noch one of my favourites:
    das geht auf keine Kuhhaut! that doesnt’ fit on a cow’s skin/ thats just too much, it’s unbearable.

    as mit dem Begrüßen ‘how are you’ stimmt völlig, da falle ich oft selbst nach Jahren noch rein.
    Liebe Grüße aus KA.

  28. Gunter Günni McGee

    20 February, 2014 at 10:22 am

    I just copied a few Phrases, a Image of the Cover and a Link to your Side on my Facebook Page. I love you!

  29. John.....Another Aussie living in Germany

    5 April, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    I find it funny how the Germans are on “Wolke 7″….. while the English are on “cloud 9″…. guess there wasn’t enough space on the one cloud for all of us!!!

    1. forester15

      15 December, 2016 at 5:39 am

      It could be similar to “I was in seventh heaven” 🙂 means quite the same

  30. Emi longhairedatheart

    6 June, 2014 at 3:56 am

    Volle Kanne…./ Full pot (tea)/ = with full force.
    Auf die Kacke hauen/ To hit the poop/ = to have a blast (party)
    Einen Schaden haben/ To have damage/ = To be nuts

  31. Sarah

    21 June, 2014 at 12:20 am

    Ach Du gruehne Neune! // Oh you green nines! // Goodness! Or Oh my!

    1. DarrenStroh

      26 November, 2014 at 11:40 pm

      einem geschenkten Gaul schaut man nicht ins Maul /
      Don’t look in a free horse’s mouth / beggars can’t be choosy

      Also please see:
      http://de.m.wikiquote.org/wiki/Englische_Sprichwörter

      1. Anonymous

        21 January, 2020 at 11:37 am

        Isn’t that more like “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”?

  32. {False Friends or My English is under all Pig!} German-English Edition | Beauty Expression by Luchessa

    8 October, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    […] this idioms topic was written by Liv Hambrett, which i’d really recommend to take a look at. {The Best German Idioms} Her blog is really pretty to look at […]

  33. 12mal12 September - heldenwetter

    4 October, 2015 at 8:10 pm

    […] zum Beispiel die Frage, warum Deutsche eigentlich nicht fett sind. Und teilt die besten deutschen Redewendungen – einfach herrlich, vor allem die englischen Direktübersetzungen und ihre Erkenntnis, dass […]

  34. Fuchsteufelswild

    25 May, 2016 at 8:48 am

    I know I’m not a native German, but after having studied the German language for three years at the UA in Arizona, I feel like if it was meant to be “spider,” then the “s” in spinne would be capitalized. Of course that’s a minor issue, but still something to be considered since nouns are identified through that. But “I think I spider” is much more humorous.

    My personal favorite: Ich bin Fuchsteufelswild! – I am Foxdevilswild! – I am livid beyond belief!
    To be as wild as a fox and as mad as the devil, the ultimate way to say you’re so angry by something.

  35. Lily

    19 September, 2016 at 11:11 am

    Hi my friend. I want to know the meaning of this sentence… please help me. This sentence is Swiss-German. “Du kan Batter.” Thank you.

  36. Barbara Coles

    13 November, 2016 at 2:37 am

    Does anyone have a German equivalent to “In for a penny, in for a pound?”

    1. Ulrich Birowicz

      4 January, 2017 at 3:55 pm

      Mitgefangen, mitgehangen – caught together, hanged together

  37. Constanze Barringer

    23 January, 2017 at 8:00 pm

    Schweinerei –> piggory

  38. Liselotte

    10 May, 2017 at 7:47 pm

    Pretty sure “Ich glaub ich spinne” means “I think I’m spinning/yarning”. Somebody who “spinnt” is not in his right mind about something, seeing things the wrong way, misunderstanding them, making them up. If you want, you can see a relation to the web a spider fabricates so I’m almost sure there’s a common root (Eine Spinne spinnt – a spider webs).

    Also speaking for the verb is the expression Seemannsgarn – sailor’s yarn, a story that’s fabricated, tightly woven to pass as the truth. We’d say “Ein Seemann spinnt Seemannsgarn” – “A sailor weaves/spins/yarns sailor’s yarn”

    Equally, a person who “spinnt” weaves their own truth. “Du glaubst wirklich, er meinte Dich als er sagte er mag keine Idioten? Du spinnst!” – “You really think he meant you when he said he didn’t like idiots? You’re crazy/making up your own version of what he really meant without any reason/proof/you’re seeing things!”

    “Hat er das wirklich gerade getan?! Ich glaub, ich spinne!” however => “Did he really just do that? I can’t believe my eyes/ears/senses, as what really happened is so abstruse, it cannot be true, I must be hallucinating!”

  39. Mike Seven

    18 August, 2018 at 11:16 am

    When I started learning English about 60 years ago my teacher warned us to translate idioms literally. It was an absolute no-no to translate “having butterflies in the stomach” into “Schmetterlinge im Bauch haben”.

    Nowadays this is a common saying in German. Due to the influence of American TV young people are prone to adopt English expressions and merge them into German, e.g. shouting OMG. Nobody would have used this twenty years ago.

    We German speakers even invent “English” words which do not exist in English having the meaning we gave them, e.g. Handy (mobile phone), Showmaster (tv host or anchor), Slip (panties), etc.

  40. Sandra Lohmann

    22 September, 2018 at 12:31 pm

    Sei kein Frosch – don’t be a party pooper

    Es kommt mir aus den Ohren – I’ve had enough of it

    Ich schwebe im 7. Himmel – I’m on cloud 9

  41. Stuart

    23 September, 2018 at 12:41 pm

    Liv, as an Aussie, you’ll appreciate the German equivalent of “beyond the black stump” (ie the middle of nowhere): “Wo sich Fuchs und Hase gute Nacht sagen”

  42. Larry

    29 September, 2018 at 1:00 am

    Hi Liv, I very much enjoyed your blog, it is amusing and very informative. I am an American and my wife of many years grew up in Bavaria, and so we often go over there for visits. I have some American idioms for which I wonder if there is a comparable German saying. These are “when pigs fly” and “in your dreams”. The meaning in English is “no way will that ever happen”. Perhaps you have already listed a comparable one in your list already?

  43. Jessi Peterson

    3 October, 2018 at 1:00 am

    I don’t know if this is an idiom, maybe more a colloquilism from low German? My mother’s family uses a term for when you blow on your soup or other too hot food to cool it off – they call it poosing. Not sure how that would be spelled, but it’s said just how it looks. Does anyone else use this term and have a guess about derivation?

    1. Liv

      3 October, 2018 at 10:32 am

      I would hazard a guess it’s from the verb pusten – to blow?

  44. Fim Tuller

    6 October, 2018 at 1:19 pm

    “I think I spider” makes no sense in English. Using “spider” as a verb doesn’t quite work here.

  45. Anonymous

    29 January, 2019 at 2:09 am

    Translate the idiom: Ihn glauben hier Katz und Hund!

  46. Wayne McKinney

    12 February, 2019 at 6:51 am

    To still be green behind the ears means young and inexperienced, not half baked, at least to my native MD experience.

  47. Nico

    17 May, 2019 at 3:27 pm

    The correct translation of “Ich glaub ich spinne.” would be “I think I’m spinning.”
    The history of this phrase is that a long time ago when people had mental problems, the doctors put them in front of a spindle because they thought it would calm them down. And it really worked! The people were concentrated and could spend some time dealing with something other than with their problems.
    So “spinning” (“Spinnen” – verb) was a therapy for crazy people.
    ———————————
    Die korrekte Übersetzung für “Ich glaub ich spinne.” wäre “I think I’m spinning.”
    Die Geschichte dieses Sprichworts ist, dass, vor langer Zeit, Leute, die psychische Probleme hatten, vor eine Spindel gesetzt wurden und dort spinnen sollten, um sich zu beruhigen. Und es funktionierte wirklich! Die Leute waren konzentriert und konnten sich einmal mit etwas anderem als mit ihren Problemen beschäftigen.
    Also war “Spinnen” – Verb ( “Spinning”) eine Therapie für psychisch Kranke.
    ———————————
    PS: I was born in Munich 14 years ago, now I live in the Swabian region (if anyone knows that). But in my heart I am Bavarian.
    ———————————
    PS: Ich wurde vor 14 Jahren in München geboren und lebe jetzt in schwäbischen Baden-Württemberg. Biz in meinem Herzen bin ich bayrisch.

  48. Anonymous

    20 May, 2019 at 6:20 am

    Interesting collection
    Enjoyed reading.

  49. Vanessa S.

    22 November, 2019 at 12:35 am

    I’m looking for an expression like the English one “Back to the salt mines,” indicating a need to get back to work, or back to being serious. I looked through the many interesting phrases above and didn’t see one, or perhaps I missed it. I’m writing a story where the speaker is from the old DDR (pre- 1989) so one that would be an extra-nice touch if there is a specific one from that era.

    Thanks! Vanessa

    1. Liv

      22 November, 2019 at 1:34 pm

      I asked on Twitter and some good suggestions came through! https://twitter.com/LivWrites/status/1197766132310192133

  50. Jackie

    21 January, 2020 at 11:40 am

    Is there an equivalent German idiom for “old as dirt”?

What do you think?