6: Things you wouldn’t know: more German idioms


Last year, I posted a list of German idioms that I’ve been teaching J over the years. Idioms are awesome, they are fun to try and translate… especially when there is no easy translation. My usual approach is to literally translate the phrase into English and see if J can pick up what it means. Then, we’ll try to find a corresponding idiom in English.
We do speak a mix of English and German at home, so some phrases just make it into our bilingual vocabulary in literal translation which totally works for us, but can be awkward – and frankly, quite hilarious – when you start using those phrases with other native speakers.

Since some of you enjoyed my post last year, I thought I’d make a second edition this year. Find the first round of idioms here.

“In den sauren Apfel beißen.”  To bite into the sour apple.  I guess this one is quite easy. It means ‘to bite the bullet” and to accept a negative aspect or punishment.

“Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof.” I only understand train station. Haha, this one always makes me laugh, because I don’t even know where this idiom has its origin and it doesn’t seem to make any sense at all. It means ‘to understand nothing at all’ or to not know what someone is talking about.

“Das ist nicht dein Bier.” That is not your beer. I mean! Could there be an idiom that is more German than this one? The Germans like their beer…. and if something is ‘none of your business’, then it’s also none of your beer. Ha!

“Ich drücke dir die Daumen.” I squeeze my thumbs for you. Yes, in German, we don’t cross fingers, but we make a fist and squeeze thumbs for good luck (try doing both at the same time = twice amount of luck!)

“Du gehst mir auf den Keks!” You’re getting on my cookie. Also a favorite. It means ‘you’re getting on my nerves’, but doesn’t ‘getting on my cookie’ sound so much more fun?

“Einen guten Draht zu jemandem haben.” To have a good wire to someone. I guess this one is pretty self-explanatory. It simply means ‘to have good connections to someone’ or ‘to be on good terms with someone’.

“Das Ende vom Lied ist….” The end of the song is… Not much of a mystery here, but since I love music, I like this saying a lot.  It means ‘the end of the story is…’ or ‘the bottom line is…’.

“Das Leben ist kein Ponyhof.” Life is not a pony farm.  Not sure where this one has its origin, but it’s probably something that girls say a lot, because every girl I know has gone through a phase in their young lives where all they wanted to do is live on a pony farm forever and ever, amen. But, alas, life is no walk in the park.

“Sich eine Eselsbrücke bauen.” To build a donkey bridge. This means to ‘find a mnemonic to remember certain things’. I’ve taught this phrase (in literal translation) to all my co-workers and ‘donkey bridge’ is now an established phrase around the office.

“Die beleidigte Leberwurst spielen.” To play the miffed liverwurst. Haha. Also a classic. It sounds hilarious in English. It basically means that someone is easily miffed and offended and everybody knows it, so people are calling the person out on it.

Teach me an idiom!
Or ask me for any other idioms you’d like to know the German translation for!

  1. I love this so much. I really miss living in Germany. Thanks for sharing these, I may have to adopt some of them.

  2. Love this post :) j and I also have this kind of mixed language at home with literal translations :) so fun! And the code language at the office became ueberdeutsch ;-) even if i don’t have mich time for online stuff anymore I still do enjoy reading your blog very much! Hope all is well with you guys!

  3. These are the best! Andy and I were reading them together and basically want to start using all of them.

    I can’t think of any idioms off the top of my head right now, but I’m sure I can come up with some good ones that I use regularly if I really think about it. I’ll get back to you :-)

  4. These are great! I think my favorites are “You’re getting on my cookie” and “Life is not a pony farm.” I may have to start using them.

    I use “it is what it is” and “to each their own” a lot. My mom actually hates “it is what it is” but I think it’s such a good little term. I can’t think of any other really interesting ones, but those I use a lot!

  5. I love so many of these – especially this is not your beer and life is not a pony farm. I think those are my favorites. And I can see myself snarking at someone about how “this is not your beer.”

  6. too funny! :D I think the last one is my favorite!

  7. We’ve done a booklet for a co-worker who moved to NYC for a while and collected a whole bunch of them. I might even have the file on my laptop. But my very favorite ones are: “I make me me nothing you nothing out of the dust” (try translating that back to German…) and “don’t paint the devil on the wall”.
    Have a great weekend, Tobia

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