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Funny German Sayings and Their Origins [Part One, Quick Read]

Main image of blog about funny German sayings and their origins.

Hey guys! I thought about adding some humor to the educational character of my language blog. I got the idea from my German ex-colleague Fabian, who liked to translate German sayings into English, making them sound hilarious. So, I will make a continuous blog series about funny German sayings and their origins.

I am sure you will enjoy them and be surprised by their peculiar historical roots! Additionally, this post will start a new, the fifth, category on this blog: German! So, let’s get right to it and start with #1!

#1 Hold Your Ears Stiff

German: Halt die Ohren steif.

English counterpart: Keep a stiff upper lip.

What the heck does this mean, then, and when would you say something like that? Germans use it in occasions of offering the other person support in a difficult situation. This saying conveys a person’s worries for the other’s well-being and tells him or her to keep their spirit up. Don’t let an issue get you down!

Where does this saying come from? Take a guess!

It originates from the animal world. Our wild friends, like donkeys, rabbits, or dogs, hold their ears stiff and upright when they are cautious. Thus, keeping your ears stiff means that a discouraging situation will pass as long as one stays alert and optimistic!

#2 You Cannot Pass Me the Water

German: Du kannst mir nicht das Wasser reichen.

English counterpart: You are unable to hold a candle to me.

What does this strange saying mean, and why would you forbid a person to give you water? Well, Germans do! This idiom is appropriate when you find yourself in some discussion, conflict, or comparison with someone. With this phrase, you tell the other that he or she is not in your league but below it.

Now, what has your league to do with water?

Persons handing over a glass of water.

Our quest for the answer takes us back to the Middle Ages. In the area of today’s Germany, using cutlery was not widespread (in contrast to, e.g., Balkan countries). Instead, people of high social rang washed their hands before and after their meal. The nobility had appointed servants for this special task. Those servants who were not allowed to perform it were seen as less worthy!

#3 There the Dog Goes Crazy in the Pan

German: Da wird (ja) der Hund in der Pfanne verrückt.

English counterpart: That’s enough to drive you round the bend.

According to me, this saying is especially peculiar. Indeed, it is one of the craziest sentences I have ever heard!

You talk about the dog going crazy in the pan in moments of astonishment or amazement. Indeed, you have seen or heard something incredible that seems impossible to believe, but you have witnessed it and you are, thus, sure that is true.

The saying comes from a tale from Till Eulenspiegel, the protagonist of a German chapbook published in 1515. Moreover, Till was famous for his bad behavior as he loved to play pranks. In this tale, Till was working for a brewer of beer, and the brewer commanded him to add “Hopfen” (=hop) to the hot wash.

The brewer’s dog, however, was called “Hopf”. So, Till just went about it and threw the dog into the pan! What happened to Till? The brewer chased him off his property. The story sounds hard to believe, doesn’t it?

#4 There the Rabbit Lies in the Pepper

German: Da liegt der Hase im Pfeffer.

English counterpart: That’s the snag.

The Germans seem to love animals in their sayings, even though now the rabbit does not hold its ears stiff but goes for a lie down in the pepper. But, what does this weird saying mean?

Germans use this phrase when they search for the core, the very reason for a problem. The rabbit in the pepper is a metaphor for the core within a problem. More precisely, the one who finds this very essence of an issue is the one to voice this old German saying. Very strange indeed. I would like to know the origin of it!

I have found its origin and, in fact, there are several. One says that in Upper or Southern German dialects, an intensely seasoned broth is called a “Pfefferbrühe” (=”pepperbroth”), or just “the pepper!” The rabbit then goes into this broth. As you might imagine, there is no escape as our animal is destined to be prepared and eaten. It symbolizes the core of the problem, from which there is no way out. And that’s where the rabbit lies in the pepper!

#5 I Believe That my Pig Whistles

German: Ich glaub(e), dass mein Schwein pfeift.

English counterpart: Blow me down.

It was challenging to find an equivalent in English. Where else would a pig get the idea of whistling? I highly doubt that this animal is really able to whistle. Anyway, what do Germans express with this idiom?

Pigs shown on a farm, symbolizing one of the German sayings and their origins.

We find ourselves in situations of disbelief. It is quite similar in meaning to #3, however, when your pig whistles, you often add a slightly aggressive undertone to your incredulity or your disbelief. All Germans know this phrase, but they do not use it often.

Ok, now, which creative brain has thought of this legendary saying. Unlike the other idioms, there is no captivating background story for this phrase. Seeing a pig whistle is something outrageous, which is why people started saying it after hearing something equally outrageous or unprecedented.

Anyway, I planned this post as a funny Quick Read and as the start of a blog series. Be excited to read more articles about funny German sayings and their origins.

Funny German Sayings and Their Origins (Part One, Quick Read) – The Coming of an Entertaining Blog

In this blog, you will discover a bunch of proven tips on how to crack the language-learning game! Just give me a bit of time. This rounds up my first blog post in the new category “German!” See you in my next blog post!

There will be a loooooot more articles coming!

Are you asking yourself: “Who is this guy whose words I am reading right now?” You will find some information about me here.

#15 QuickTip: If you know a native speaker of the language you want to learn, use this unique opportunity. Try to communicate with him or her in this language every day for at least a bit!

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1 Comment

  • 2fecundity


    February 17, 2022 at 17:07
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