10: Things you wouldn’t know: More German idioms


If you’ve been around for previous NaBloPoMo-years, you might remember that I’ve posted German idioms before. I am a language nerd, appreciate good grammar, spelling, and punctuation and mastering the art of a foreign language definitely includes idioms. I’ve taught J many Germans idioms over the years and I am still learning new English idioms all the time. I think they’re fun. 

Find the first rounds of idioms herehere, and here.

This time, I thought I’d share some German words that don’t have a direct English translation but are very useful, IMHO.

1. Fernweh (Distance pain)
This word describes the feeling of wanting to be somewhere else. It’s the opposite of homesickness (Heimweh in German), a longing for a place that isn’t where you are right now. Fernweh is closely related to Wanderlust, a word that has been adopted in the English-speaking world.

2. Fremdschämen (External shame)
One of my favorite words! If you cringe inside when others make a fool of themselves, this word describes what you’re feeling. You’re embarrassed for someone else and would like to ‘disappear in a hole’  on their behalf. 

3. Sitzfleisch (Sit flesh)
This word describes a (sometimes annoying) character trait. The word Sitzfleisch itself literally refers to a person’s butt. Figuratively, “Sitzfleisch haben” (to have sit flesh) means to have the ability to endure or persevere in an activity, to have the ability to sit still on your butt for hours and hours of time. However, the  context it’s more commonly used in (at least as far as I know) is to describe when someone overstays their welcome and doesn’t get up to leave when the party is over. 

4. Fingerspitzengefühl (fingertip feeling)
The German dictionary describes it as “Sensitivity; a talent for empathy in interaction with things and people”. If you have Fingerspitzengefühl, you are acutely and intuitively aware of changing situations and know how to act accordingly and with care.

5. Schnapsidee (schnaps idea)
Schnapsidee is a word for an ingenious idea that comes to you when you’re drunk – or a plan that is simply too stupid to be carried out successfully.

6. Sandkastenfreund (sand box friend)
This is a friend that you’ve known since your childhood, regardless if you actually played in a sandbox together ;)

7. Bildungslücke (education gap) 
A critical piece of information that one is expected to know at a certain point in time.  If you don’t know it, you have a serious Bildungslücke.

8. Reisefieber (travel fever)
This feeling describes all the feelings of joy, excitement, anticipation and worry before a big trip.

9. Feierabend (celebration evening)
We call the time after work Feierabend (celebration evening) in German. Now, isn’t that nice? Fits nicely with the concept that Germans “work hard and party hard”.  You can also say “Ich mache jetzt Feierabend” (I make Feierabend) to refer to the time when you’re getting off work.

10. Weltschmerz  (World pain)
Don’t we all have it from time to time? Weltschmerz describes the state of sadness  that we feel at how the world keeps falling short of expectations and how there are so many things wrong in this world.  

Now it’s your turn! Teach me an idiom!

  1. Love this series!! So fun to hear how other cultures approach life. We just got done watching the one season of The Great British Baking Show on Netflix, and it makes me want to add some idioms into my repertoire :-)

    Speaking as a Minnesotan, we have some that people like to make fun of like ‘yeah sure you betcha’. One of my personal favorites is ‘uffda mayda’, but of course that comes from our Norwegian forefathers (my grandma didn’t learn English until she went to school, so this was a particular favorite of hers). Another one that I hear is ‘goodnight nurse’, which is also an exclamation of exasperation, but I have no idea where that originated from!

    1. So glad you enjoy these posts! I think it’s so fascinating to learn about language idiosyncracies ;) What does “uffda mayda” mean?

  2. We have some funny ones in Arabic, but I don’t think they’d make any sense in English. I also can’t really spell them since Arabic is in a completely different script. I’m guessing you know most English (American) ones!

    1. Oh, you still need to share the meaning with me..

  3. I love this series – your descriptions are so on point!

    1. Thank you, I am glad you enjoy this too :)

  4. I love the way these words translate to English. Like sandbox friend and world pain! So appropriate. :)

  5. i never realized that there are so many words in german, that don’t have a proper english translation! i wished there would be a word for “feierabend” in english.

    1. I know, right? Every language needs a “Feierabend” :)

  6. What a fantastic collection, San! I love the words you picked, and your translations and explanations are superb! (says a fellow language nerd)

    1. Thank you – I appreciate that :)

  7. My favorite German restaurant here in Seattle is called Feierabend! And now that I know what it means, I think it’s a perfect name for a restaurant :-)

    1. Ha! That is awesome… and such an appropriate name for a German restaurant :) One more reason for me to come visit!

  8. I love this! Thank your for posting! German is such a pragmatic language. Out of these 10, fernweh is definitely my favorite. I have suffered from this since my teens but never knew what to call it. Fingerspitzengefuhl is my favorite to pronounce.

    1. Yes, German is very pragmatic – I agree :) And I love that Fernweh describes something you have felt since you were little!

  9. Ha, this is awesome! Love these posts! So much fun!

  10. I always wondered if there is a translation to “Feierabend” seriously why isn’t there any. Loving this series it’s so fun.
    Have a great weekend,

  11. Hihi, das ist lustig :) Feierabend ist definitiv eines meiner Lieblingswörter!!

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