german idioms

Oh, idioms! Those silly little phrases that seem elusive for most foreign language learners! Recently, a good friend of mine, who speaks English as his second language, and I were talking.

He is from Berlin, Germany, and was running me through some common German phrases like daumen drücken — which the literal translation is “fingers crossed” — and geht, which means “goes”. We were having a good night at a train station though it was quite loud.

Everything has faded from memory and I only remember the common German words he used — the idioms! In language learning, I can only express a few things that stand above all else, and idiomatic expressions are one of them. He was telling me about the latest horror film he had seen and I casually said, “Yeah, that’s really not my cup of tea.”

He looked at me extremely confused and said, “Not your cup of tea? I was talking about a movie!” It’s all about the cliche sayings! I replied. Das ist, he said. Idioms are phrases and sayings that seem to have a meaning different from a traditional understanding.

This is similar to the English explanation of “that’s not my cup of tea”. I was simply stating that I do not prefer horror films. What does tea have to do with this? Nothing more than a kuh, which is German for cow! If you want to learn German then you are in for a treat.

The German language and its German expression catalogue has some wonderful idiomatic expressions that can make you feel like a native speaker and converse like the locals!

Common German Idioms

Da bin ich überfragt 

(translated: “I’ve been over-asked”)
This idiom simply means that you’ve got nothing more to offer to the conversation. It’s similar in English when someone says, “I’m all spent!” It  refers to the fact that you’ve had enough and need some time to recharge.

Sie hat nicht alle Tassen im Schrank.

(translated: “She doesn’t have her cups in the cupboard.”)
It seems like every language known to man has a roundabout way of calling someone crazy and German do not disappoint! It’s similar to the English idiom, “She’s got a screw loose” to refer to someone who’s not fully mentally aware.

Was Hänschen nicht lernt, lernt Hans nimmermehr.

(Translated: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”)
This German idiom has an English counterpart that says exactly the same thing. The idea behind the idiom is that habits are hard to break, especially as we get older. It often refers to someone’s stubborn disposition.

Sich keine grauen Haare über etwas wachsen lassen

(Translation: do not let grey hair grow on your head over something.)
This is a simple way of saying that some things are not worth making a fuss over. A common English idiom that means the same thing would be, “Don’t lose any sleep over it.” The idea is to not let small issues disrupt your life.

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zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe schlagen

(Translation: kill two flies with one trap.)
The English equivalent is similar but it uses a different victim and a different killing device: “Kill two birds with one stone.” This is great to use when you have been able to accomplish two or more things by one simple task. For example, you give your mother-in-law a compliment and it also pleases your wife!

Tomaten auf den Augen haben

(Translation: Someone has tomatoes in their eyes.)
This is an appropriate ending to our list as it is also my favorite German idiom! I have no idea why tomatoes are involved, but Tomaten auf den Augen haben simply means that someone is completely oblivious to the world around them. In English the phrase, “They’ve got their head in the clouds” has a similar meaning.

Taking your German Idioms further

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