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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.