How many times can you say the word “sausage” in a conversation that isn’t about lunch?
In English, you might sound a little odd. In German, I challenge you to say “sausage” twenty times.
As it turns out, that might not be such a difficult challenge when speaking German.
It’s all too easy to talk about sausage without actually talking about sausage.
German, like English, is a language generously sprinkled with idiomatic expressions.
Learning to become comfortable with just a handful of them will surely improve your confidence, prevent you from coming off sounding like a robot and help bridge the gap from beginner to intermediate learning.
Learning idioms in another language also comes with the added intellectual bonus of giving you fresh eyes with which to reevaluate the expressions you already use in your mother tongue. That ought to make you feel like one sharp cookie. Wait, what? Sharp cookie? Huh. Hmm.
This type of self-reflective exercise will stretch out the language-learning muscles in your brain and prepare your mind for the weird and wonderful sayings that other languages have to offer, which, in the case of German, are very likely related to pork products.
21 Delicious German Expressions to Give You Food for Thought
In Germany, the pig is pretty popular. A symbol for various things, to get lucky is to “have pig” (Schwein haben), but if your German skills are unter den Sau, “under the pig,” they’re not very good at all.
Hopefully, though, you won’t think your pig whistles (Ich glaube mein Schwein pfeift) because in that case you’ve just totally lost your mind.
Now, on to the best of the Wurst.
1. er glaubt, er bekommt eine Extrawurst
Literally: He thinks he gets an extra sausage.
Does he think he’s special? Like he gets an extra sausage? We all know someone like this.
2. du armes Würstchen!
Literally: You poor little sausage.
You have a cold! Oh you poor little sausage. Let me make you some soup. (Careful, as this one is also frequently used condescendingly, which I have to say seems extraordinarily appropriate.)
3. die beleidigte Wurst spielen
Literally: Acting the insulted sausage
Pay no mind to Sally over there. She’s just acting the insulted sausage: pouting, because she didn’t get her way.
4. sich die Wurst vom Brot nehmen lassen
Literally: To let someone take the sausage off your bread.
Stand up for yourself! Don’t let anyone take the sausage off your bread. You’re too good to be taken advantage of like that.
5. das ist mir Wurst
Literally: That is sausage to me.
I don’t care about that at all. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a sausage.
6. sieht wie eine Presswurst aus
Literally: Looks like a stuffed sausage.
You might want to rethink the size of your clothing. You’re looking a bit like a stuffed sausage in that top. (Oh dear.)
7. es geht um die Wurst
Literally: It goes about the sausage.
Okay now, there are two minutes left in the game! It’s crunch time people! It’s all about the sausage!
8. Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei
Literally: Everything has an end, only the sausage has two.
To end this sausage spree on an existential note: everything has an end—except for the sausage—only the sausage has two.
Okay. So sometimes (if you’re extra hungry, I guess) there are a few other food options in Germany besides the majestic Schweinefleisch. Alternative table-talk has predictably, like in English, flavored (haha, see what I did there?) all kinds of idiomatic expressions. Here are more food-related German expressions that aren’t about sausage.
9. um den heißen Brei herumreden
Literally: To talk around the hot soup/porridge.
He simply will not get to the point. He keeps talking around the hot porridge/ hot soup, or, as we say in English, beating around the bush. (“Beating around the bush” is a pretty strange English one, right?)
10. Jemandem Honig um den Mund schmieren
Literally: To smear honey around the mouth.
Before you ask Tim for that favor, make sure you give him lots of compliments—you know, smear honey around his mouth. (English equivalent: “to butter someone up.”)
11. Jemanden ausnehmen wie eine Weihnachtsgans
Literally: To gut someone like a Christmas goose.
If I get another passive aggressive email from Bob I swear I will tear him a new one. I will take him to the cleaners. I will gut him like a Christmas goose. (Whoa!)
Little Clara is celebrating her fourth birthday today. She’s not but a wee little thing, barely three cheeses high! I don’t know what it is, but I just love this one. It literally refers to the height of three wheels of cheese stacked on top of each other.
This is also a great example of how German creates single words for a variety of fascinating concepts and situations; for more on that, check out this post!
13. Senf dazugeben
Literally: To add mustard.
Mary always offers her two cents on whatever we’re talking about—whether she’s asked for her opinion or not. She’s always adding her mustard to the conversation.
14. nicht mein Bier
Literally: Not my beer.
Someone’s spreading rumors? Well don’t look in my direction. That’s got nothing to do with me. That sort of thing is not my beer.
15. Tomaten auf den Augen
Literally: Tomatoes on the eyes.
Seriously! Are you blind!? Do you have tomatoes on your eyes!??
16. kleine Brötchen backen
Literally: Baking little rolls.
Our country is taking baby steps toward a brighter tomorrow. We’re baking little rolls.
17. Schokoladeseite zeigen
Literally: To show one’s chocolate side.
We want to present our best work to the client at the next meeting. We’ll show them our good side. Our chocolate side.
18. mit dem ist nicht gut Kirschen essen
Literally: Not good cherry eating.
Yeah…don’t bother inviting Tim tonight. He woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. With him is not good cherry eating. We might say in English that he’s not a man you want to mess with.
Now that I’ve got your stomach rumbling and the wheels in your brain turning, allow me wrap up this post with a couple of just plain wonderful German idioms that, I must admit, I use in translation in English from time to time—they’re just that good. (And yes, I sound pretty weird. I’m aware of that.)
19. Jemandem einen Korb geben
Literally: To give someone a basket.
When a boy is courting a girl (or, perhaps more realistically, he just asked her to join him for a Döner after they stumbled out of the techno club at 8 am) but she refuses his advances, she “gives him a basket.” The expression works thusly: “Did you hear what Dan said to Clara last night? Yeah, she wasn’t into it. She gave him a basket.”
Apparently, this wonderful idiom dates all the way back to the 14th century, when a lover hoping to get invited into a royal maiden’s chambers would literally have to be pulled up into her tower secretly in a basket. Should the noble maiden not really want the visitor to arrive, she might send down a very thin basket, or even a bottomless one—thus rendering the journey impossible. (This was before the age of simply not returning someone’s texts.)
Before properly researching this phrase I asked a German friend of mine what she thought it might mean. She replied, “ I dunno, maybe it’s like, ‘Yeah… I’d rather not, thanks, but…um…here’s a nice basket as a consolation prize?’ Everyone needs baskets.” I think I like that better.
20. du kannst mich mal!
Literally: You can me once!!
Okay, so technically this is more of an “elision” than an idiomatic expression. However, I enjoy the completely nonsensical English translation so much (You can me once!!) that I felt compelled to include it on this list. “You can me once” implies a few things—leaves a few words to the imagination—which I am not completely comfortable repeating here…but just imagine what you can do to someone who is most certainly upset with you. I’ll give you a hint: This is very similar to the English expression, “you can kiss my…” you get the point.
21. das Leben ist kein Ponyhof
Literally: Life is not a pony farm.
Ain’t that the truth! Life, my friends, is quite simply not a pony farm.
And, well, there you have it! Twenty-one German idioms for all sorts of situations to make you sound like a pro (if a slightly food-obsessed one).
Now go find a German language partner and practice! And while you’re at it, try explaining to them a few of the thousands of English idioms we take for granted every day. I suggest beginning with “to let the cat out of the bag,” “to be in a pickle” and “everything but the kitchen sink.”
Oh, and for even more great German idioms, check out this post!