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Funny German Expressions and Their Origins

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Language learning can often be a serious endeavor, but it’s also important to remember that every language has its share of quirky expressions that can provide a good chuckle. German, known for its precision and perhaps a stereotype of seriousness, is no exception and has its own set of funny idioms. Here, we explore some of the most amusing German expressions and dig into their origins.

Da steppt der Bär (literally: “The bear dances there”) is an expression used to describe a really good party or a place where a lot is going on. It’s akin to saying “It’s going off!” in English. The origin is unclear, but it might stem from dance events in the past where dancing was so vigorous it was as if a bear was stepping around.

Gestern war ich auf einer Party, und da steppte der Bär bis in die frühen Morgenstunden! (Yesterday, I was at a party, and it was hopping until the early morning hours!)

Ihn hatscheinbar am Fünfer gepackt (“It seems to have grabbed him/her at the five”) is a colloquial way of saying someone has gone crazy or is acting weirdly. It is thought to originate from the five-finger discount, implying that someone losing their sanity is like someone getting caught stealing.

Er tanzt auf dem Tisch! Ihn hat anscheinend am Fünfer gepackt. (He’s dancing on the table! He must have lost his wits.)

Jetzt geht’s um die Wurst (literally: “Now it’s about the sausage”) means that it’s crunch time or that a pivotal moment has been reached. The phrase likely comes from historical fairs or competitions where the prize was literally a sausage.

Das Finale beginnt, jetzt geht’s um die Wurst! (The final begins, now it’s do or die!)

Tomaten auf den Augen haben (“To have tomatoes on one’s eyes”) means that someone is not seeing what everyone else can see, suggesting obliviousness. This expression likely comes from the idea that if you have tomatoes on your eyes, your vision is blocked.

Sie hat nicht gesehen, dass ihr Schlüssel auf dem Tisch lag – sie hat wohl Tomaten auf den Augen. (She didn’t see that her keys were on the table – she must be blind.)

Nicht alle Tassen im Schrank haben (literally: “Not to have all cups in the cupboard”) is used to say someone is a bit crazy or not quite right in the head. It has a similar meaning to the English idiom “not all there.”

Er glaubt, dass seine Katzen mit ihm reden können. Der hat wohl nicht alle Tassen im Schrank! (He believes his cats can talk to him. He must be a sandwich short of a picnic!)

Die Kirche im Dorf lassen (literally: “To leave the church in the village”) means to not get carried away or to not exaggerate. The saying is thought to come from the habit of keeping things local or within a community.

Er plant ein riesiges Fest für nur zehn Gäste. Er sollte lieber die Kirche im Dorf lassen! (He’s planning a huge party for only ten guests. He should keep things in proportion!)

Schwein haben (“To have pig”) colloquially means to be lucky. The origin of this expression is not entirely clear, but it may have something to do with farming where owning a pig was synonymous with having a valuable asset.

Ich habe das letzte Ticket gekauft – ich habe wirklich Schwein gehabt! (I bought the last ticket – I really got lucky!)

German expressions, funny and peculiar as they may be, give us insight into the culture’s history, humor, and values. Next time you’re practicing your German, try sprinkling some of these expressions into your conversation. You might just get a laugh, or at least a smile, while also showing off your knowledge of the language’s colorful idioms.

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