Hilarious German Proverbs: Part V

“Forbidden fruit is always the sweetest.” — Image Credit: Boudewijn Berends (https://www.flickr.com/photos/boudewijnberends/) — Subject to CC 2.0 License.

Here’s another list of German proverbs! Most of them come from Germany, but some are from other countries with a German-speaking populace, like Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Denmark, Hungary, Poland and Italy. (Seriously, there’s a province in Italy called South Tyrol, and they totally speak German there. Isn’t that weird?)

Anyway, I think German people are awesome. They’re so serious. So morbidly deadpan. And this cultural trait is perfectly exemplified by their expressions, many of which — while revealing — are about as much fun as “fresh fish” day at the state penitentiary.

What follows is yet 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 saying:

“If the rider sucks, it’s the horse’s fault.”

German: “Wenn der Reiter nichts taugt, ist das Pferd schuld.”
English equivalent: “A poor craftsman blames his tools.”
My interpretation: “I don’t know what happened. My computer just, like, broke.”

“Joy or sorrow — in 50 years, it’s all the same.”

German: “Leid oder Freud’, in fünfzig Jahren ist’s alles eins.”
English equivalent: “It will all be the same a hundred years hence.”
My interpretation: “Nothing really matters. Life is suffering. Please pass me the shotgun.”

“Love and coughing cannot be hidden.”

German: “Lieben und Husten lassen sich nicht verbergen.”
English equivalent: “Love is hard to hide.”
My interpretation: “When mom and dad come home from ‘date night,’ find your earplugs quick.”

“Better an end with pain, than pain without end.”

German: “Lieber ein Ende mit Schmerzen als Schmerzen ohne Ende.”
English equivalent: “Get it over with quick, like a Band-Aid.”
My interpretation: “Dude, quit messing around with the razor and wax those awful butt cheeks.”

“Lies have short legs.”

German: “Lügen haben kurze Beine.”
English equivalent: “Lies don’t travel far.”
My interpretation: “The truth, on the other hand, has long, sexy legs.”

“You will soon find a stick, if you want to beat a dog.”

German: “Man findet bald einen Stecken, wenn man einen Hund schlagen will.”
English equivalent: “If you want to be mean, you will always find a reason.”
My interpretation: “Man, I just had the worst day ever. Where’s my beatin’ stick?”

“You can’t see the brain on the forehead.”

German: “Man sieht das Hirn nicht an der Stirn.”
English equivalent: “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.”
My interpretation: “I shot Marvin in the face.”

“You shouldn’t sell a bear’s fur before you’ve killed him.”

German: “Man sollte das Fell des Bären nicht verkaufen, bevor man ihn erlegt hat.”
English equivalent: “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.”
My interpretation: “See this big stupid bear right here? For like $20 bucks I’ll sell you his–oh god my arm!

“Many kiss the hand they would like to chop off.”

German: “Mancher küßt die Hand, die er abhauen möchte.”
English equivalent: “People are often polite to those they intend to harm.”
My interpretation: “No no, you were right; I was acting like my mother. Now eat this food I just decided to make for you…”

“Caught together, hanged together.”

German: “Mitgefangen, mitgehangen.”
English equivalent: “Accomplices to a crime will hang as well as the criminals.”
My interpretation: “Idiot! I told you not to bring that shit across the border!”

Do you know any funny German proverbs or expressions? Let us hear ’em in the comments section below!

12 thoughts

  1. Instead of “If the rider sucks, it’s the horse’s fault.” you can also say “Wenn der Bauer nicht schwimmt, ist die Badehose schuld” (If the farmer can’t swim he blames his swimming trunks)


  2. Another German proverb attributed to Martin Luther:
    “In der Woche zwier schadet weder ihm noch ihr”
    Twice weekly harm neither him nor her.


  3. Yes, the old Austro-Hungerian Empire owned northern Italy at one point and borders changed after the First World War. Remember in the Musical “Chess” the mayor of Livano sings, “we used to be German but now we’re Italian the border keeps switching around; but speaking as one of the Patriarchs, we don’t mind taking your Lire or Marks” (it’ll be easier nowadays – only need Euros; lol)
    Love your posts btw, been a fan awhile now.


    1. The Bavarian speaking Südtirol (Alto Adige) is war booty like Elsass- Lothringen (Alsace- Lorraine) or Schlesien (Sleskia).


  4. I just spit out my coffee with “I shot Marvin in the face.” I just returned from the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland and the German-speaking part of Italy. It’s so strange because you meet people whose mannerisms and hand gestures just don’t seem to match their primary language. But so much fun!


  5. Just in case you haven’t heard this one: “Da hilft kein Schütteln und kein Klopfen, in die Hose geht der letzte Tropfen.” (“You can shake as hard as you want, the last drop will go in your pants.”) I don’t even know if this actually counts as a proverb, but I always interpreted it as “you’ll never reach perfection, settle for 99% and finish up” – and I like the imagery. ;-)


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