Some idioms in languages such as Spanish or French have a pretty similar translation with English, but German idioms are a different story. I don’t see that many similarities between German idioms and English idioms but they’re really interesting and some of them are pretty funny too.
What is an idiom?
An idiom is an expression we use to describe something but the literal words don’t actually make sense. For example in English we get on like a house on fire. It means we get along well but if you take the words literally, it doesn’t make any sense.
Idioms are used in most languages and normally have an origin but we don’t necessarily know where they always come from. Though idioms do normally have a long ingrained history with the language and the culture. That’s why they don’t always make so much sense to us anymore, because they were created at a time for example when more people owned live stock or the weather was a bigger influencer in our lives and our ability to eat or seek shelter.
Why should I learn them?
You should learn them because you want to improve you German and start sounding like a native! We all go through various stages of language learning and each time we get to a new stage we want to progress again. Things like idioms make the difference between having a strong level of proficiency and reaching more native standards.
Sometimes an idiom is the only thing that can express the exact idea you want to say. And if you don’t know the idiom then you will spend a lot more time describing a relatively simple concept that could just be summed up in three or four words via idiom.
Also if you’re living in the country and you can communicate and you have German friends you don’t want to get caught out when someone says something that to you seems completely incomprehensible.
15 German idioms
Da steppt der Bär
Literal translation: Here steps the bear
Meaning: It means it’s going to be a good party. Try to think of it like this, if you’re going to the party and that’s where the bear’s dancing, then it’s got to be good, right?
Um den heißen Brei herumreden
Literal translation: To talk around the hot mash
Meaning: The meaning of this phrase is to beat around the bush. We use this when we’re talking around a subject rather than addressing it head on.
Literal translation: To have a pig
Meaning: It actually means, to have a stroke of luck. I guess at one point in Germany it was considered lucky to have a pig.
Schlafen wie ein Murmeltier
Literal translation: To sleep like a marmot
Meaning: In English, the closest equivalent is to sleep like a log, which of course means to sleep very well.
Das ist ein Katzensprung
Literal translation: It’s a stone’s throw away
Meaning: Luckily in English this is the same!
Ich bin fix und fertig
Literal translation: I’m ready and done
Meaning: In English, the equivalent would be ‘I’m beat’ or ‘I’m tuckered out’ depending on where you come from.
Himmel und Hölle in Bewegung setzen
Literal translation: To put heaven and hell into motion
Meaning: Luckily the English equivalent of this is very similar so it shouldn’t be too difficult to remember; to move heaven and earth.
Weggehen wie warme Semmeln
Literal translation: To go like warm rolls
Meaning: Again, this one is pretty similar to the English version, to sell like hot cakes.
Wo sich Fuchs und Hase gute Nacht sagen
Literal translation: Where fox and rabbit say goodnight
Meaning: The English equivalent is ‘in the middle of nowhere,’ ‘in the sticks,’ or ‘in the back of beyond’. I think which one you uses depends on which English speaking country you’re from.
Da kannst du Gift drauf nehmen
Literal translation: You can take the poison on that
Meaning: In English we would say ‘you can bet your life on that.’
Eine Extrawurst verlangen
Literal translation: To ask for an extra sausage
Meaning: We don’t have an equivalent idiom, but in English this would translate as asking for special treatment.
Die Daumen drücken
Literal translation: Keeps your fingers crossed
Meaning: This is the same in English and it’s something we do for luck. If we want something to go our way, or something specific to happen then we keep our fingers crossed.
Da liegt der Hund begraben
Literal translation: The dog is buried there
Meaning: In English the closest translation would probably be ‘that’s the crux of the matter.’
Du nimmst mich auf den Arm!
Literal translation: You’re pulling my arm
Meaning: Pretty similar to English just with a different limb: you’re pulling my leg, which we use when we think someone is teasing us.
Die Kirche im Dorf lassen
Literal translation: Leave the church in the village
Meaning: This one might sound a bit weird but it basically means to not get carried away
Where can I learn more idioms?
With each Duolingo course, they have an idioms module which is a really fun way to learn and memorise these idioms. The only thing is, these idioms aren’t part of the normal duolingo course, you have to buy them with your lingots. So it’s really up to whether or not you want to spend your lingots.
Or you can organise a language exchange with someone and teach them some English idioms in exchange for some German idioms. This is my favourite way to do it because you can ask questions as you go and find out where some of these strange idioms originally came from.
These idioms are a bit strange and lots of fun. Try learning a few and seeing how well they go down with locals. I’m sure native speakers would appreciate this step forward in trying to integrate into the language and culture.
They also help you to learn a bit about the culture and the history of the country, as idioms normally give us an insight into what life used to be like at some point.
Good luck and keep learning!