Fun with Idiomatic Expressions

Literal Translations of Common German Sayings (Image making its rounds on Facebook but no clear creator mentioned)

Literal Translations of Common German Sayings (Image making its rounds on Facebook but no clear creator mentioned)

Idiomatic expressions have a completely different meaning than the literal one and are thus difficult to understand for language learners or readers from another culture even if they speak the same language (e.g. American and British English). Idiomatic expressions are also fun to translate literally to show that they really do not work outside of their context/culture and some argue to give insight into what this culture values or pays attention to.

One of the first idiomatic expressions I learned in English was “It’s raining cats and dogs.” I am not sure why we learned this one first in English class, but it might have to do that it rains quite a lot in Austria and thus connects us with the British, whose language is usually taught more commonly than American English in public schools. Equivalent Austrian expressions are that it is raining out of bucketsĀ  or that it is raining “Schuasterbuam,” which are literally cobbler apprentices; however, this term does not refer to real people but the sweet bread with the same name:

Schuastabuam – sweet bread (found on

An image that made its rounds amongst Facebook and Instagram friends included the following entertaining literal translations:

“Your English is under all pig” = “Ihr Englisch ist unter aller Sau,” which means that your English is horrible. I could not come up with a good idiomatic expression in English for this one.

“I believe I spider” (could also be literally translated as “I believe I spin (yarn)” = “Ich glaub ich spinne,” which means that the person just cannot believe it.

“I believe me kicks a horse” = “Ich glaube mich tritt ein Pferd,” which has the English idiomatic expression “Blow me down.” This is also an expression more common in Germany than Austria I feel.

“Nobody can reach me the water” = “Keiner kann mir das Wasser reichen,” which also has an idiomatic expression in English: “You are not fit to hold a candle.”

“I get foxdevilswild” makes use of the wonderful ability of the German language to create a new word by just sticking a whole bunch of words together (“Ich bin fuchsteufelswild”). The emotion seems to be important and cross-cultural since English has plenty of idiomatic expressions for this one: “I am hopping mad” and “I am mad as hell.”

“I understand only rail-station/train station” = “Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof,” which is the English “It is all Greek to me.” In this case, the English expression actually seems easier to understand and makes more sense.

And last but not least, “Now we have the salad” = “Nun haben wir den Salat,” which translates to the rather boring “Now we have the mess.”

There are plenty of entertaining examples on the Web to waste a few minutes online for procrastination: