111 German idioms in English with illustrations [+ translation]

Illustration of German idioms in English

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Once you start feeling comfortable participating in German conversations, you will be surprised by how little you might understand. Germans love, sorry, I mean, absolutely love to use German idioms in their conversations. Funnily enough, some Germans will use the literal translation of the German idioms in English conversations.

My wife, who is German, has said in the middle of our English conversations things like: ‘Do you have tomatoes on your eyes, Jen?’. 🍅 Uh, what?

Once, in a German conversation we were having with a friend of ours, my wife said: ‘And then I let down my pants’. 👀 Uh, again…what?!

According to this article of the Deutsche Welle (in German), there are 250.000 proverbs in German! Oh boy, that is a lot! Not all of them are used in the day to day life, though. So don’t worry.

In this article, you’ll find a list of 111 German idioms in English so the next time you are in a conversation, you don’t feel as lost as I have. Feel free to read this list at a party with other expats or to some Germans. It will, for sure, bring you some laughs.

111 German Idioms in English

train

1. I only understand train station

German: Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof
Meaning: I don’t understand anything. It’s all Greek to me.

blowfish

2. To feel like a fish on the dry

German: sich wie ein Fisch auf dem Trockenen fühlen
Meaning: Fish out of water

dog

3. That’s where the dog is buried

German: Da liegt der Hund begraben
Meaning: That’s the heart of the matter

Illustration of crossing fingers in Germany

4. Press the thumbs!

German: Die Daumen drücken!
Meaning: Keep your fingers crossed!

fox and hare

5. Where fox and hare say goodnight to one another

German: Wo sich Fuchs und Hase gute Nacht sagen
Meaning: In the middle of nowhere

tired

6. I’m done and ready

German: Ich bin fix und fertig
Meaning: I’m wiped out or I’m exhausted

arm

7. You’re taking me on the arm!

German: Du nimmst mich auf den Arm!
Meaning: You’re pulling my leg!

cat

8. That’s a cat’s jump

German: Das ist ein Katzensprung
Meaning: It’s a stone’s throw away

groundhog

9. Sleep like a groundhog

German: Schlafen wie ein Murmeltier
Meaning: Sleep like a log

porridge

10. To talk around the hot porridge

German: Um den heißen Brei herumreden
Meaning: To beat around the bush

poison

11. You can take poison on that

German: Da kannst du Gift drauf nehmen
Meaning: You can bet your life on that

monkey

12. Make an ape of yourself

German: Sich zum Affen machen
Meaning: Make a fool of yourself

flies

13. Kill two flies with one swat

German: Zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe schlagen
Meaning: Kill two birds with one stone

sausage

14. To ask for an extra sausage

German: Eine Extrawurst haben
Meaning: To ask for special treatment

bear

15. The bear dances there

German: Da steppt der Bär
Meaning: It is a good party

the air burns

16. The air burns!

German: Da brennt die Luft!
Meaning: Heated atmosphere – tension

tomatoe on the eyes

17. To have tomatoes on one’s eyes

German: Tomaten auf den Augen haben
Meaning: Not to see obvious things/to be blind

mustard bottle

18. To add your mustard to it

German: Seinen Senf dazugeben
Meaning: Give your opinion / give your two cents

vest

19. To know something like one’s vest pocket

German: Wie seine Westentasche kennen
Meaning: To know smth. like the back of one’s hand

20. Don’t praise the day before the evening

German: Man soll den Tag nicht vor dem Abend loben
Meaning: Don’t count your chicks before they hatch

21. Clear as dumpling broth

German: Klar wie Kloßbrühe
Meaning: Crystal clear

church

22. To leave the church in the village

German: Die Kirche im Dorf lassen
Meaning: To not get carried away

pig

23. To have a pig

German: Schwein haben
Meaning: To get lucky

pinocchio

24. Lies have short legs

German: Lügen haben kurze Beine
Meaning: Lies don’t get you far

spider

25. I believe I spider

German: Ich glaube ich spinne
Meaning: I think I’m going crazy

cat

26. To have a cat

German: Einen Kater haben
Meaning: To have a hangover

horse

27. You can steal horses with him

German: Mit jemandem Pferde stehlen
Meaning: Someone that is trustworthy / someone to do unsual things with

bird

28. To have a bird

German: Einen Vogel haben
Meaning: To be a little cuckoo

glass

29. To look too deep into the glass

German: Zu tief ins Glas schauen
Meaning: To drink too much

poop

30. Small cattle also make poop

German: Kleinvieh macht auch Mist
Meaning: Small wins also count/small wins add up

pig

31. Under all pig

German: Unter aller Sau
Meaning: Catastrophic

cannon

32. Under all cannon

German: Unter aller Kanone
Meaning: To be really lousy

liver sausage

33. To play the offended liver sausage

German: Die beleidigte Leberwurst spielen
Meaning: Being unnecessarily pouty

basket

34. To give someone a basket

German: Einen Korb geben
Meaning: To be stood up

butter

35. All in butter

German: Alles in Butter
Meaning: Everything is ok

bear

36. To tie a bear to someone

German: Jemandem einen Bären aufbinden
Meaning: To lie to someone in a joking matter

ear

37. To hit someone over the ear

German: Jemanden übers Ohr hauen
Meaning: To bamboozle/trick someone

banana

38. Why is the banana curved?

German: Warum ist die Banane krumm?
Meaning: I don’t know either

fish

39. The fish stinks from the head

German: Der Fisch stinkt vom Kopf her
Meaning: The problems start at the top (in an organization)

cow

40. I am not a cow to be milked

German: Ich bin keine Kuh, die man melken kann!
Meaning: You can’t take advantage of me

drums and trumpet

41. To go down with drums and trumpets

German: Mit Pauken und Trompeten durchfallen
Meaning: To fail gloriously, guns blazing

emperor

42. That is an argument over the emperor’s beard

German: Das ist ein Streit um des Kaisers Bart
Meaning: To get lost in the details

monkey

43. To put a monkey theater on stage

German: Ein Affentheater aufführen
Meaning: To perform a charade

bed

44. To stick under one blanket

German: Unter einer Decke stecken
Meaning: To do something secretly with someone

egg

45. The egg of Columbus

German: Das Ei des Kolumbus
Meaning: An easy solution to a problem that appears difficult to solve

hair

46. Search/ find for a hair in the soup

German: Haar in der Suppe suchen/finden
Meaning: To see a glass half empty

pig whistling

47. I think my pig whistles

German: Ich glaube mein Schwein pfeift
Meaning: That’s absurd

broom

48. I even eat a broom

German: Da fresse ich glatt einen Besen
Meaning: I can’t believe it

49. There we have the salad

German: Da haben wir den Salat
Meaning: Now we have a problem

ink

50. We sit beautifully in the ink

German: Wir sitzen schön in der Tinte!
Meaning: We are in a bad situation

cat

51. It goes off like the cat of Schmitz’

German: Das geht ab wie Schmitz’ Katze
Meaning: It’s great, it’s a lot of fun

sausage

52. That is sausage for me

German: Das ist mir Wurst
Meaning: I don’t care

poop

53. The poop is steaming

German: Die Kacke ist am dampfen
Meaning: We are in trouble

sponge

54. Sponge over

German: Schwamm drüber
Meaning: Don’t worry about it

butter and fish

55. Now butter at the fish

German: Jetzt Butter bei die Fische
Meaning: To speak the truth, get to work, give extra effort

human

56. Human, Meier

German: Mensch, Meier
Meaning: Jeez!

palm tree

57. Don’t bring me on the palm tree

German: Bring mich nicht auf die Palme
Meaning: Don’t get me started, don’t get me angry

laugh fist

58. To laugh into one’s small fist

German: Sich ins Fäustchen lachen
Meaning: To laugh up one’s sleeve – To rejoice or be amused secretly

jacket and pants

59. That is jacket as pants

German: Das ist Jacke wie Hose
Meaning: It doesn’t matter, there is no difference

card

60. To put everything on one card

German: Alles auf eine Karte setzen
Meaning: Put your eggs in one basket

bang

61. Bang and fall

German: Knall und Fall
Meaning: Suddenly

cow on ice

62. Get the cow off the ice

German: Die Kuh vom Eis holen
Meaning: Avert imminent danger/ to difuse a difficult situation

boots

63. Those are two pairs of boots

German: Das sind zwei Paar Stiefel
Meaning: Those are two different unrelated matters

skewer

65. To turn the skewer

German: Den Spieß umdrehen
Meaning: To switch roles / to retaliate

pink glasses

66. To see something through pink glasses

German: Etwas durch die rosarote Brille sehen
Meaning: To be naive / too optimistic

pants

67. To let down one’s pants

German: Die Hosen runterlassen
Meaning: To come clean

egg yolk

68. That’s not the yellow of the egg

German: Das ist nicht das Gelbe vom Ei
Meaning: To be insufficient / not the best

pants

69. Here is dead pants

German: Hier ist Tote Hose
Meaning: Nothing is happening here / It’s boring

70. Until the dolls

German: Bis in die Puppen
Meaning: Until late

corner

71. To go around the corner

German: Um die Ecke gehen
Meaning: To go to the bathroom

cannon and bird

71. To shoot cannons at sparrows

German: Mit Kanonen auf Spatzen schießen
Meaning: Overkill

field

72. I make me from the field

German: Ich mache mich vom Acker
Meaning: I am leaving

fly

73. To make the fly

German: Die Fliege machen
Meaning: To leave

snout

74. To have the nose/snout full

German: Die Nase/Die Schnauze voll haben
Meaning: To be fed up

75. Like a rock in the surf

German: Wie ein Fels in der Brandung
Meaning: Solid as a rock

sauce

76. Nonsense with sauce

German: Quatsch mit Soße
Meaning: Total nonsense

beer

77. That is not my beer

German: Das ist nicht mein Bier
Meaning: That is none of my business

doctor

78. Until the doctor comes

German: Bis der Arzt kommt
Meaning: Excessively

cups

79. To not have all cups in the cupboard

German: Nicht alle Tassen im Schrank haben
Meaning: To be bonkers

flower

80. To say something through the flower

German: Etwas durch die Blume sagen
Meaning: To break something to someone gently

goat

81. To not have a buck

German: Keinen Bock haben
Meaning: To not be in the mood

sport

82. Sport is murder

German: Sport ist Mord
Meaning: Sport can be dangerous /exhausting

mouse

83. That is to milk the mice

German: Das ist zum Mäusemelken
Meaning: To become desperate

hammer

84. That is the hammer!

German: Das ist der Hammer!
Meaning: That’s awesome!

85. For an apple and an egg

German: Für einen Apfel und ein Ei
Meaning: A bargain / a steal

human nose

86. To pull something out of someone’s nose

German: Jemandem etwas aus der Nase ziehen
Meaning: To force conversation with someone

pig

87. To let the pig out

German: Die Sau rauslassen
Meaning: To party hard / to paint the town red

laundry

88. To look dumb from the laundry

German: Dumm aus der Wäsche gucken
Meaning: To look surprised

dance on nose

89. To dance on someone’s nose

German: Jemanden auf der Nase herumtanzen
Meaning: To walk all over someone / To be disrespectful

pepper

90. Stay where the pepper is grown!

German: Bleib wo der Pfeffer wächst!
Meaning: Stay away!

green nines

91. Oh you green nines!

German: Ach du grüne Neune!
Meaning: Good heavens!

sit

92. I sit on you

German: Ich setz auf dich
Meaning: I count on you

93. Three cheeses high

German: Dreikäsehoch
Meaning: A small child

bike chain

94. Could’ve had could’ve had bike chain

German: Hätte hätte Fahrradkette
Meaning: Hindsight is easier than foresight

water

95. To not be able to pass someone the water

German: Jemandem nicht das Wasser reichen können
Meaning: Can’t hold a candle to someone – inferior to someone or smth.

ball

96. To keep the ball leveled

German: Den Ball flach halten
Meaning: To not exaggerate

swan

97. To act like a dying swan

German: Den sterbenden Schwan markieren
Meaning: To exaggerate injury/pain

gold in mouth

98. The morning hour has gold in the mouth

German: Morgenstund hat Gold im Mund
Meaning: The early bird catches the worm

spanish

99. That seems Spanish to me

German: Das kommt mir Spanisch vor
Meaning: Something is off/something is fishy

100. To make a Polish

German: Einen Polnischen machen
Meaning: To sneak away without saying good-bye (e.g. at a party)

mail post

101. Here goes the post mail off!

German: Hier geht die Post ab!
Meaning: It’s all happening here!

23:55

102. It’s five to twelve

German: Es ist fünf vor zwölf
Meaning: It’s high time

Hair on teeth

103. To have hair on one’s teeth

German: Haare auf den Zähnen haben
Meaning: To be confrontational/bossy

pants

104. That goes in the pants!

German: Das geht in die Hose!
Meaning: It will fail!

blue sky

105. To promise the blue of the sky

German: Das blaue vom Himmel versprechen
Meaning: To uninhibitedly promise the impossible

dance out of line

106. To dance out of line

German: Aus der Reihe tanzen
Meaning: To not stick to the rules/agreement

tongue on scale

107. To be the little tongue on the scale

German: Das Zünglein an der Waage sein
Meaning: To hold the balance of power

honey

108. To smear honey around someone’s mouth

German: Jemandem Honig um den Mund schmieren
Meaning: To butter someone up

stay with ball

109. Stay with the ball!

German: Bleib am Ball!
Meaning: Keep at it!

strike calculation

110. To draw a line through someone’s calculation

German: Einen Strich durch die Rechnung machen
Meaning: To ruins someone’s plans

111. Everything has an ending, only the sausage has two

German: Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei
Meaning: Everything will come to an end eventually

That’s the ultimate list of German idioms in English. I hope you had some laughs and learnt some so you can impress your German friends.

👀 New to Germany and you only understand train station? Check out our Germany 101 section to understand the quirks of living in Germany.

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Jen
Jen is originally from Guatemala and moved to Germany in 2012 to start a new job without any knowledge of German or life in Germany. Jen’s mission is to help fellow expats beat bureaucracy and to have a smooth time while they settle into their new life in Germany.