Say you run out of milk and need to go to the grocery store. You also need to drop off the package at the post office. Turns out, the supermarket is conveniently close to the grocery store, so instead of having to take two trips, you can do both at once. The good news is, less driving for you! The bad news is, you just killed two animals! At least figuratively. The idiom “to kill two birds with one stone” has close relatives in dozens of other languages. In central and northern European countries, it is common to say “to kill two flies with one swat/swatter”. In Eastern Europe, you kill two rabbits with one bullet, and in the southern Europe, as well as in English speaking countries, it’s those poor little birds.

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As this example shows, idioms can be remarkably similar across cultures and languages, and they are an important ingredient to understanding situational and conversational use of language. Some say that one has only truly mastered a language if one can grasp the fine nuances and cultural references embedded in its puns, phrases and idioms. Not only is learning idioms a useful tool when diving deeper into another language, it is also very entertaining. While Germans are not necessarily famous for their sense of humor, we find that the following German idioms are both, useful, and hilarious. Enjoy!


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     1.  Den Salat haben

Literally: to have the salad

Figuratively: to have to deal with a messy/chaotic situation

Example: I told her not to let the dog out of the bathroom. He made a mess everywhere. Now we have the salad!

     2.  Jemandem auf den Keks gehen

Literally: to go/walk on someone’s cookie

Figuratively: To annoy someone/be annoying to someone

Example: Tom always talks over everyone. He seriously walks on my cookie.

     3.  Eine extra Wurst brauchen/wollen

Literally: To need/want an extra sausage

Figuratively: To want/require special, preferential treatment

Example: No one else ordered dessert. But of course, he did, and everyone had to wait for him. He always needs an extra sausage!

     4.  Tomaten auf den Augen haben

Literally: To have tomatoes on one’s eyes

Figuratively: To be oblivious to what is happening/going on.

Example: If you cannot see how bad the team is playing, you must have tomatoes on your eyes!

     5.  Weggehen wie warme Semmeln

Literally: To go like warm buns

Figuratively: To be very popular/sell/get used up quickly

Example: The show sold out in only two hours. The tickets went like warm buns.

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     6.  Seinen Senf dazu geben

Literally: To add one’s mustard

Figuratively: To share/add one’s opinion even when it isn’t asked for

Example: You’re not really part of this conversation. You don’t always need to add your mustard!

     7.  Die Kirche im Dorf lassen

Literally: To leave the church in the village

Figuratively: To not get carried away

Example: Before we speculate about what happened, let’s just call him. Let’s leave the church in the village.

     8.  Wurst sein

Literally: To be sausage (to someone)

Figuratively: To not care about something

Example: Today is my last day at my old job. I’m running late but that is sausage to me.

     9.  Glauben sein Schwein pfeift

Literally: To believe one’s pig whistles

Figuratively: To not believe the craziness/bizarreness of a situation

Example: First they told me they cancelled my reservation, and then they wanted to charge me for an extra night. I believe my pig whistles!

     10.  Bock haben

Literally: To have he-goat/billy goat

Figuratively: To feel like doing something

Example: They asked if I wanted to join them at the movies, but I didn’t have he-goat. Do you have he-goat to go?

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     11.  Jemandem einen Bären aufbinden

Literally: To tie a bear to someone

Figuratively: To lie to someone/try to deceive someone

Example: You told me you were at the office, but when I called, they said you didn’t come in. Are you trying to tie a bear to me?

     12.  Ein Haar in der Suppe finden/suchen

Literally: To find/search for a hair in the soup

Figuratively: To look for negative things

Example: The presentation went really well. You don’t need to find a hair in the soup.

     13.  Mit der Tür ins Haus fallen

Literally: To fall into the house with the door

Figuratively: To cut straight to the chase, to be very direct.

Example: I needed some time to prepare myself for the conversation, but she fell right into the house with the door.

     14.  Kalter Kaffee sein

Literally: To be cold coffee

Figuratively: To be irrelevant/old news/no longer important.

Example: They told me the they had new information on the case, but we had already discovered this weeks ago. Cold coffee!

     15.  Nicht auf den Mund gefallen sein

Literally: To not have fallen on one’s mouth

Figuratively: To be very eloquent/ good with words

Example: He really knew how to explain the issue. He didn’t fall on his mouth.

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     16.  Auf dem Schlauch stehen

Literally: To stand on the hose

Figuratively: To not understand what’s happening

Example: She tried to explain it to me several times, but I’m still not getting it. I guess I’m standing on the hose.

     17.  Mit seinem Latein am Ende sein

Literally: To be at the end with one’s Latin

Figuratively: To be at one’s wits end

Example: I really tried every possible way but can’t seem to be able to figure it out. I’m at the end of my Latin.

     18.  Nur noch Bahnhof verstehen

Literally: To only understand train station

Figuratively: To not understand what’s going on

Example: I missed a couple of lectures, and now I only understand train station. 

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