20: Things you wouldn’t know: (not quite) German 101


I am a language nerd, I appreciate good grammar, spelling and punctuation.  And idioms are awesome. I am always intrigued to find  new idioms in English and then try to find the closest translation in German. Or vice versa. It’s not always that easy. Not all idioms translate well…. but I’ve been trying to teach J as many idioms (and also colloquial phrases) in German as possible, because nothing really beats a foreigner using some colloquial expressions that nobody expects from him when visiting the in-laws (as he will this Christmas!).

Here’s a list of my favorites:

Du hast nicht alle Tassen im Schrank“. (J’s favorite!) Literally, it translates to “you don’t have all your cups in your cupboard“. You can probably figure out what it means? Right, something along the lines of “you don’t have all your marbles”.

Du hast eine Schraube locker.You have a screw loose. Ha! surprisingly, this is one of the (few) idioms that works in both languages. I am always surprised when that happens. 

Du hast einen Knall” . You have a bang.  Basically, it means “you are nuts” .

I swear, it’s a total coincidence that the first three idioms that came to mind have to do with calling someone a little crazy (but aren’t we all a little crazy?).

Erstens kommt es anders und zweitens als man denkt“. First, it turns out different and second, than you thought. Yeah, this one is a little screwed up grammar-wise (even in German), but you get the picture: things never turn out the way you expect.

Ich habe einen Bärenhunger. I’m hungry as a bear” . Mmmh, so you explain to me why you say “to be hungry as a horse” in English. Are horses hungrier than bears? I doubt it.

Das hat er sich jetzt gerade aus den Fingern gesaugt.” He sucked this out of his fingers just now. I have no idea where this expression originally comes from, but it basically means to make something up out of thin air or (it can also mean ‘to come up with something’).

Das ist ein Kinderspiel“. That is a children’s game. It’s a piece of cake.

Er hat mir eine Frikadelle ans Ohr gequatscht“. He talked a meatloaf into my ear. Also one of J’s favorites. It simply means that someone kept talking and talking and didn’t shut up.

Halt die Klappe.Hold the flap.  This means: shut up! It can be used jokingly or when you’re real serious.

Das kannst du laut sagen“. You can say that loudly.  I use that a lot. It means: Amen to that.

Does your significant other speak a different language? Do you like to teach each other idioms? Do you know any in other languages?  It makes for some funny misunderstandings sometimes, but it’s also pretty awesome to know the ins and outs of a foreign language better than any school could teach you!


  1. Hahahahaha, “Er hat mir eine Frikadelle ans Ohr gequatscht“?? I’ve never heard that one before. Will use it all the time now. :-D

  2. I love this! But now I need a video for pronunciation ;)

  3. I read these to Jack and we both had a giggle. You know he speaks probably high German, but a little slang. I remember when Uschi taught me the word Schnaeppchen. My mispronunciation made her laugh and laugh! I laughed too. It’s great when you feel so relaxed with someone and can joke about things!

  4. These are awesome, San! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Haha, these are really fun!! xxx

  6. I think the “he talked a meatloaf into my ear” is now one of my favorite expressions EVER. Ha! I love that. Idioms are so funny to think back on — especially when you learn how they began.

  7. I have never heard “Er hat mir eine Frikadelle ans Ohr gequatscht“ before.
    We say “Er hat mir ein Ohr abgekaut”.

  8. I second Stephany. I’m going to start using “He/she talked a meatloaf into my ear from now on.”

    Also, I usually say hungry as a bear. I don’t hear hungry as a horse very often, but who knows? Maybe horses ARE hungrier than bears! They do all that running and stuff… ;-)

  9. Ha, the talking a meatloaf into my ear one is awesome! Thanks for sharing more about your language! I tried taking a community ed course in German before my trip to German in 2004, but I had a really hard time with the pronounciations!!

  10. I love this post! I know a little spanish but not enough to get me anywhere unless I’m looking for a dog/cat, bathroom or library! LOL

  11. Haha these were great! Thanks for sharing!

  12. Ah, I hope you do a second edition of this! Maybe of hand gestures? Are there any in German that don’t translate? I know hook ’em horns hand symbol for Texas means something completely different in Italian. It is always so interesting to compare languages and cultures. I like the cupboard one!

  13. Love this! I think the weird translations make it all the better.

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