Learning a new language should be fun. And every language has some colorful expressions for ordinary things, which make the language richer. And entertaining. So today we will look at some funny German phrases which will make you giggle.
Weird German Phrases
auf dem Holzweg seinTranslation: being on the wood way
Meaning: being on the wrong track
Origin:This weird German phrase was recorded for the first time in the 15th century. Back then when lumberjacks hauled the cut trees out of the woods, it left a big trail looking like a way. But when you followed it, you just ended up in a dead end in the woods.
Example: Wenn du glaubst, dass du eine Gehaltserhöhung bekommst, obwohl du ständig zu spät zur Arbeit kommst, dann bist du auf dem Holzweg!
If you think you will get a pay rise despite showing up late at work all the time, you are totally wrong!
die Nase voll habenTranslation: having a “full” or snotty nose
Meaning: being annoyed
Origin:Having a snotty nose (e.g. during a cold) doesn’t feel good. So when you have this feeling, you are really annoyed.
Example: Du kommst schon wieder zu spät! So langsam habe ich aber die Nase voll davon!
You are late again. I’m really fed up with this!
einen Zahn zulegenTranslation: to add a tooth
Meaning: to speed up
Origin:The first cars and planes used toothed wheels to control the engine. So in order to
go faster, you had “to notch a tooth up”.
Example:Wenn wir rechtzeitig am Bahnhof sein wollen, müssen wir einen Zahn zulegen!
If we want to reach the train station in time, we have to go faster!
Ich verstehe nur BahnhofTranslation:I only understand train station
Meaning:I don’t understand you, I’m not interested
Origin:During the First World War, the soldiers became battle weary and the train station was their symbol of hope for returning home. So whenever someone wanted to talk to them about anything other than going home, their reply was “I only understand train station.”
Example:Als der Mathelehrer über Integrale sprach, habe ich nur Bahnhof verstanden.
When the maths teacher spoke about integrals, I didn’t understand a single word!
über seinen Schatten springenTranslation:jump over your own shadow
Meaning:leave your comfort zone
Origin:It’s impossible to jump over your own shadow. So this German fun phrase means doing something that’s uncomfortable or hard to do.
Example:Du solltest nicht fernsehen, sondern über deinen Schatten springen und für den Test morgen lernen.
You shouldn’t watch TV but get out of your comfort zone and prepare for the exam tomorrow.
Funny German Phrases Drinking
Eine Milchmädchenrechnung aufmachenTranslation:to make a milk maid’s calculation
Meaning:to plan for something which won’t happen
Origin:It probably goes back to a French fairy tale, where a milk maid is on her way to the market. On her walk she dreams about the things she can do with the money she’ll make from selling her milk. Like buying some chickens, making more money by selling milk and eggs, buying a pig and so forth. Unfortunately while dreaming she stumbles and spills her milk. So her dreams will never come true.
einen Kater habenTranslation: to have a tomcat
Meaning: to have a hangover
Origin: As often there are several possible explanations. One is that your brain feels as if you had a cat scratching at it.
Example: Nach der Firmenfeier hatte ich einen üblen Kater.
I had a serious hangover after the company party.
Jemandem reinen Wein einschenkenTranslation: to pour someone pure wine
Meaning:to be honest with someone, even when it’s painful
Origin:Another phrase stemming from the middle ages. Dishonest landlords often watered down the wine they served their customers. Only a landlord serving pure wine was honest.
Example: Mein Mann sucht immer noch den Autoschlüssel. Ich muss ihm wohl reinen Wein einschenken und ihm sagen, dass ich ihn verloren habe.
My husband is still looking for the car key. I guess I have to be honest with him and tell him that I lost it.
Schnaps ist Schnaps und Dienst ist DienstTranslation: booze is booze and duty is duty
Meaning:Now it’s time to work, not to celebrate
Origin:It simply means you should separate work from party time.
German Funny Phrases with Animals
Auf den Hund kommen / vor die Hunde gehenTranslation:to go to the dogs
Meaning:to go to the dogs
Origin:There are several possible explanations. One is that the rope of the gallows was nicknamed a dog collar in the middle ages.
Example:Nachdem er seine Arbeit verloren hat, ist Peter wirklich auf den Hund gekommen.
After he lost his job, Peter has really gone to the dogs.
Bei dir piept’s wohl!Translation:You must be chirping!
Meaning:You must be crazy.
Da liegt der Hund begrabenTranslation: that’s where the dog was buried
Meaning:that’s the crux of the matter.
Origin:In the old time people stored their most precious possessions in treasure cases. These cases often carried the picture of a devil or a savage dog to scare off thieves. So when you found the place where “the dog” was buried, you had found the most important thing.
Da wird der Hund in der Pfanne verrücktTranslation: The dog in the pan goes crazy there
Meaning: That’s bonkers
Origin:According to German folklore a man named Till Eulenspiegel traveled from town to town in the 14th century. He always played the fool, but his pranks often showed people that they weren’t as clever as they thought. But some pranks were also just some kind of cruelty. One of the stories goes that Till Eulenspiegel worked as temp at a brewery. The brewer asks him to cook the hops. But unfortunately the brewer’s dog is also named Hop, so Till Eulenspiegel throws the dog into the brew kettle. A brew kettle is called “Sudpfanne” in German, so the dog went crazy in the (hot) pan.
die Katze im Sack kaufenTranslation: to buy a cat in a sack
Meaning: to buy something unseen, to accept something without due diligence
Origin: In the past, livestock was sold at farmers’ markets. It sometimes happened that a dishonest trader cheated a customer by putting only a “cheap” cat in the sack instead of an expensive piglet or rabbit.
Example: Bevor du den Wagen kaufst, solltest du eine Probefahrt machen. Du willst doch nicht die Katze im Sack kaufen!
Before you buy that car, you should take it to a test drive. After all, you don’t want to buy it without trying it out first.
Du hast doch einen VogelTranslation: You really have a bird
Meaning: You are crazy
Origin:In the middle ages people thought that birds had built a nest in the head of people with mental problems.
Example:Der Chef will, dass ich unbezahlte Überstunden mache. Der hat doch einen Vogel!
The boss wants me to work unpaid overtime. He must be mad!
Ich glaub, mein Schwein pfeiftTranslation: I think my pig whistles
Meaning: I can hardly believe this
Origin:Pigs can’t whistle. So when you think it does, something really astonishing is happening.
Example:Der Chef will, dass ich unbezahlte Überstunden mache. Der hat doch einen
Man hat schon Pferde kotzen sehen – vor der Apotheke!Translation: One has seen horses throwing up – in front of the pharmacy!
Meaning: something hard to believe happened or might happen
Origin:Like the phrase above, another one of the funny German phrases about something really unusual. Horses can’t throw up. So when you saw them doing it, something really hard to believe has happened or is about to take place. The addition of the pharmacy is used to strengthen the phrase, as a pharmacy is usually a place which will sell remedies against nausea.
sich einen Bären aufbinden lassenTranslation: to get a bear tied on your back
Meaning: being lied at
Origin:It’s not quite clear where this phrase comes from. But it is probably an alteration of the old Germanic “bar”, which meant to carry. The “bar” changed to “Bär”, in the sense of you can’t tie somebody a bear on his back without him noticing. But if he manages to pull that trick off, you’ve been fooled.
Example:Als der Autoverkäufer dir sagte, dass die Reifen an diesem Wagen ganz neu sind, hat er dir aber einen ganz schönen Bären aufgebunden!
When the car dealer told you the tires on this car are brand new, he fooled you pretty badly!
Fun German Phrases about Food
Da haben wir den SalatTranslation:now we have the salad
Meaning: now we are in a right mess
Origin: In a salad all ingredients are mixed up. So if you have a salad, things are out of order.
Das geht mir auf den KeksTranslation:This is getting on my cookie
Meaning: This is annoying
Origin: “Keks”, the German word for cookie, stands here as a synonym for head or brain (see also “einen weichen Keks haben” below). It is similar to the English “this is getting on my nerves.” There are variations of this phrase like “das geht mir auf den Senkel” (this is getting on my shoe lace) or “das geht mir auf den Wecker” (this is getting on my alarm clock).
Das ist mir WurstTranslation:This is sausage to me
Meaning:I don’t care
Origin:There are two theories. The first one is that in former times there were no regulations what kind of meat had to be in a sausage. So butchers took low quality meat and leftovers to fill their sausages. In other words: they didn’t care.
The other theory is that a sausage looks the same on both ends. So it doesn’t matter at which end you start eating it.
Einen weichen Keks habenTranslation:to have a soft cookie
Meaning:to be soft in the head
Origin:Once more, “cookie” stand here for “head” or “brain.”
In den sauren Apfel beißenTranslation:to bite the sour apple
Meaning:to do something which is necessary, but uncomfortable
Origin:Most people don’t like sour food, as our brain associates sour with unripe and unready to eat. So the sour apple in this German funny phrase stands for something unpleasant.
Example: Die Garage sieht aus wie ein Müllhaufen. Ich muss wohl in den sauren Apfel beißen und aufräumen.
The garage looks like a right mess. I guess I have to bite the bullet and tidy it up.
Jemandem die Wurst vom Brot nehmenTranslation:to take someone the sausage off his bread
Meaning:to take the bread out of sb.’s mouth
Origin:Germans love sandwiches with meat, ham or sliced sausage (like a salami). So when someone takes the sausage off your bread, he takes the best part of something and leaves you only with the dull bread. In some parts of Germany you also hear the expression with “Butter” instead of sausage.
Jetzt geht’s um die WurstTranslation: Now it’s about the sausage
Meaning: Now it’s all or nothing
Origin:At fun fairs in the middle ages the first prize at games often was a sausage. Meat was expensive, so it was a big prize for poor people.
Example: Das ist das letzte Spiel dieser Saison. Wenn wir heute gewinnen, können wir noch Meister werden. Heute geht’s um die Wurst!
This is the last game of the season. If we win today, we can still become champion. Today it really counts!
Funny German Phrases with a maritime Background
die Segel streichenTranslation:to paint the sails
Meaning:to give up, to leave
Origin:The fun part here is that “streichen” usually means “to paint” in German. But in the Navy “die Segel streichen” meant to reek the sails in combat as a sign of surrender. A ship without sails couldn’t move, so the enemy had won.
Example: Die Party gefällt mir nicht, ich werde wohl bald die Segel streichen.
I don’t enjoy this party, I guess I will leave pretty soon.
Schlagseite habenTranslation: to have list
Meaning: to be drunk, to be a bit unsteady on one’s feet
Origin:A ship whose cargo isn’t distributed equally leans or cranks to one side. This image of an unbalanced ship for a drunk person was probably first used by sailors. After weeks or months aboard their first trip in a foreign harbor was often to one of the many pubs, where they drank rather heavily.
wieder auf Kurs bringenTranslation:bring back on course
Meaning:to get back on track
Origin:A ship will never reach it’s destination, if it doesn’t take the right course. So if somebody or something is heading in the wrong direction, you have to get it back on course.
Funny German Phrases with a military Background
08/15 — Null Acht FünfzehnTranslation:Zero Eight Fifteen
Origin:The expression goes back to the German machine gun 08/15. It was invented in 1908 and much improved in 1915, hence the name 08/15. How this became a synonym for something rather common, isn’t clear. One theory is that it was the standard machine gun for the German army in World War I. So to the soldiers it was “nothing special.”
Ich kenne doch meine Pappenheimer!Translation:I know my Pappenheimers
Meaning:to know exactly what to expect from someone
Origin:zu Pappenheim was a German noble man, who led his own regiment during the 30 year war in Germany in the 17th century. His soldiers were known for being well-trained and won many battles. The phrase itself comes from a play by German author Friedrich Schiller about one of the leading generals, Wallenstein. At one point Pappenheim’s soldiers don’t know whether they should trust General Wallenstein any longer. And he replies with this phrase, meaning “I know everyone of you. I know you will be loyal to me.” So originally it was a kind of praise. But nowadays it’s more often used with a negative tone, in the sense of “I know these guys are trouble makers!”
Either way, have fun!