Hilarious German Proverbs: Part II

“Silence is golden.” — Image Credit: Gustavo Devito (https://www.flickr.com/photos/devitogustavo/) — Subject to CC 2.0 License.

Remember that first list of German proverbs I published? This here is the second part. It contains even more expressions from German-speaking people from around the world. (Even the weird parts, where they speak German for absolutely no apparent reason.)

And as I mentioned before: I cherish German people. They’re hilarious, in their own morbidly depressing way. Especially with their old-timey expressions and proverbs, many of which — while illuminating — are about as cheerful as Sunday brunch down at the gallows.

What follows is another list of my favorite German proverbs, which I have translated literally — exactly the way they sound to my American ears — followed by the original German expression:

“If you want to dine with the devil, you’ll need a long spoon.”

German: “Der muss einen langen Löffel haben, der mit dem Teufel essen will.”
English equivalent: “He who sups with the devil needs a long spoon.”
My interpretation: “Stay out of pitchfork range.”

“The shoemaker has the worst shoes.”

German: “Der Schuster hat die schlechtesten Schuhe.”
English equivalent: “The shoemaker goes barefoot.” (Because he’s too busy making shoes for other people, I presume.)
My interpretation: “Look out for #1”

“Disaster rarely comes alone.”

German: “Ein Unglück kommt selten allein.”
English equivalent: “When it rains, it pours.”
My interpretation: “Everything sucks and it’s about to suck harder.”

“Don’t paint the devil on the wall.”

German: “Den Teufel nicht an die Wand malen.”
English equivalent: “Speak not of the devil, lest he appear.”
My interpretation: “Don’t jinx the beer run, dude.”

“More die from gluttony than by the sword.”

German: “Durch Völlerei kommen mehr um denn durchs Schwert.”
English equivalent: “Gluttony kills more than the sword.”
My interpretation: “Get your fat ass to the gym.”

“Self-praise stinks.”

German: “Eigenlob stinkt.”
English equivalent: “Don’t toot your own horn.”
My interpretation: “Nobody likes an asshole.”

“Laziness is the key to poverty.”

German: “Faulheit ist der Schlüssel zur Armut.”
English equivalent: “Idle hands make one poor.”
My interpretation: “Work harder, peasant.”

“Everyone should have a happy, healthy distrust.”

German: “Ein jeder habe das fröhliche, gesunde Mißtrauen.”
English equivalent: “Keep a healthy amount of skepticism.”
My interpretation: “Trust no one, Agent Mulder.”

“A log alone does not burn.”

German: “Ein Scheit allein brennt nicht.’’
English equivalent: “It takes two to tango.”
My interpretation: “Well, I didn’t handcuff myself to the bed, officer…”

“One swallow does not make summer.”

German: “Eine Schwalbe macht noch keinen Sommer!”
English equivalent: “Don’t get your hopes up.”
My interpretation: “Welcome to Germany.”

Have you heard any old German proverbs lately? Check out the comments section below!

19 thoughts

  1. What about “Vertrauen ist gut, Kontrolle besser” or “Verlass dich auf jemand anderen und du bist verlassen” – both stands for “trust nobody unless you check everything or simply do the job yourself (I hope you understand what I mean…)


  2. I can’t for the life of me remember how to say it in German but my Bavarian coworkers use “life is not a pony farm” quite frequently!


      1. “Das Leben ist kein Ponyhof” or in the modern version “Das Leben ist kein Pornofilm” (“Life isn’t a porn movie”). ;)


    1. Das Leben ist kein Ponyhof. Often also Das Leben ist kein Zuckerschlecken. (Life is not sugar licking). I like to mix the two up into:
      Life is not pony licking …


  3. Okay, here is one in the other direction, something I’ve been wondering about for years: what does “eat your heart out” mean?
    Your posts are always fun to read!


  4. “Wie man sich bettet so liegt man”
    How to bed oneself so one will lie.
    You made your bed, now sleep in it.
    “Was Hänschen nicht lernt, lernt Hans nimmermehr”
    What little John don’t learn, John never learn.
    You better learn in youth than in old age.
    “Wie man in den Wald hineinruft, so schallt es heraus”
    What one shouts into the woods, that is what will echo back.
    How you deal with someone, he will deal with you.
    “Viele Hunde sind des Hasen Tod”
    Many hounds kill the rabbit.
    Even a specialist can’t win against the supremacy.
    “Scheißt der Bär in den Wald? Ist der Papst katholisch?”
    Shits the bear in the forest? Is the pope catholic?
    The answer to a question with total clear issue.


  5. Wenn der Bauer nicht schwimmen kann, dann liegt es an der Badehose.
    (If the farmer can’t swim, it’s the bathing suit’s fault)


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