Hilarious German Proverbs: Part VI

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.” — Albert Einstein (Image Credit: Jonas Foyn Therkelsen [https://www.flickr.com/photos/30588093@N06/] — Subject to CC 2.0 License.)
You know what? I think it’s time for another list of funny proverbs from Germany.

Now, most of these come straight out of Germany, but some are from other countries with a German-speaking populace, like Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, France and — I kid you not — Italy.

As always, I must say German people are rather awesome; they have such a dark, uniquely pessimistic view of the world — in good times and in bad — and I find it completely hilarious. Living in Germany as an American expat is like listening to a really bitter old man on a park bench complaining about the weather on the most beautiful day in the universe:

OLD MAN: “Today is a terrible day.”

ME: “But look! The sun is shining!”

OLD MAN: “It will probably rain soon.”

ME: “Look at that happy family over there!”

OLD MAN: “My wife is dead and my children hate me.”

ME: “Well, at least we have these refreshing German beers to drink, right? Prost!” *Clink*

OLD MAN: “This swill is from Denmark.”

As one might expect, the German language itself is rife with morbid expressions. Sometimes they’re just plain weird, but they can be quite insightful too. And when translated directly into English, they never fail to make me laugh.

So, 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 expression:

“I am fox-devil-wild!”

German: “Ich bin fuchsteufelswild!”
English equivalent: “I am furious!”
My interpretation: “Step away from the German.”

“Neidhard is dead, but he left a lot of children behind.”

German: “Neidhard ist gestorben, hat aber viele Kinder hinterlassen.”
English equivalent: “Envious people may die, but envy itself never dies.”
My interpretation: “Some nerd croaked and left all his stupid poems laying around.”

“The morning hour has gold in its mouth.”

German: “Morgenstund hat Gold im Mund.”
English equivalent: “The early bird gets the worm.”
My interpretation: “Get up and brush your grill, homie. You stank.”

“Stop talking around the hot porridge.”

German: “Hör auf um den heißen Brei herumzureden.”
English equivalent: “Stop beating about the bush.”
My interpretation: “Cut the small talk and eat your mush, Princess.”

“No one can complain about the sea who — for the second time — has suffered a shipwreck.”

German: “Niemand kann sich über das Meer beklagen, der zum zweiten Male Schiffbruch erlitten hat.”
English equivalent: “Don’t do the same thing again and expect different results.”
My interpretation: “Worst. Captain. Ever.”

“Quit acting like insulted liverwurst!”

German: “Spiel doch nicht immer die beleidigte Leberwurst!”
English equivalent: “Must you always get into a huff?” or “Don’t be so dramatic.”
My interpretation: “You’re being a little bitch.”

“Only dead fish swim with the stream.”

German: “Nur tote Fische schwimmen mit dem Strom.”
English equivalent: “The easy way is for the weak,” or, “Don’t be afraid to think for yourself.”
My interpretation: “Don’t be a pussy.”

“Leave the church in the village.”

German: “Lass die Kirche im Dorf.”
English equivalent: “Don’t blow things out of proportion.”
My interpretation: “Yeah. Calm down, dick.”

“Bad manners, good law.”

German: “Schlimme Sitten, gut Gesetz.”
English equivalent: “Good laws have sprung from bad customs.”
My interpretation: “We used to burn fools at the stake for no real reason. That’s illegal now.”

“In an emergency, the Devil eats flies.”

German: “In der Not frisst der Teufel Fliegen.”
English equivalent: “Beggars can’t be choosers,” or “Any port in a storm.”
My interpretation: “The bad news is we’re out of beer. The good news is we’re finally going to open that bottle of pink champagne your aunt gave us at the wedding.”

Do you know any funny German sayings or proverbs? We’d love to read ’em in the comments section below!


21 thoughts

  1. “There hasn’t a master fallen down from the sky yet”
    German: “Es ist noch kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen”
    English equivalent: “No one is born a master”
    My interpretation: “Lazy bums never get anywhere!”

    Hi OGM, I really enjoy your blog! I’m a native German and “I can speak English very well, but I ka’s no ned so schnell” (that’s a combination of Swabian & English = Swenglish LOL!) –

    (Swabian for “bye” or Adieu,
    not to be confused with the known singer!) 😉

    – Matthias


  2. How about: Mal doch nicht den Teufel and die Wand (Don’t paint the devil on the wall)
    Meaning: Don’t be overly pessimistic, or: Don’t expect the worst.


  3. In times of need tastes the sausage even without bread (In der Not schmeckt die Wurst auch ohne Brot) Somehow related to the fly eating devil thing…


  4. “Lass die Kirche im Dorf!” Haha, I hear that one ALL THE TIME from my German colleagues (maybe because I’m a bit of a worrywart?). My Swabian host mom always used to say ‘s Läbe isch koi Schlotza = life is not a lollypop.


  5. Ich habe Kohldampf! (I have cabbage steam)…. Ehem, well, I’m starving! (But doesn’t mean you have to eat cabbage, right?) 😂
    Hola die Waldfee! (Wohow the forest fairy!) expression of surprise.
    Mein lieber Herr Gesangsverein! (My dear mr singing club!) also surprised reaction.
    Da wird doch der Hund in der Pfanne verrueckt! (The dog goes crazy in the frying pan!) eeeerrr… Not even sure what this means!
    Wir machen Naegel mit 2 Koepfen (let’s make nails with 2 heads/tops). Let’s finalise this thing once and for all.


  6. Haha, there are some which seem really old-fashioned e.g. “Hoffen und harren macht manchen zum Narren” – ask a young German if they know what “Harren” is. However, I think these two haven’t been mentioned yet:
    “Vorsicht ist die Mutter der Porzellankiste” and “Man hat schon Pferde kotzen sehen” – sometimes we don’t even think about these expressions or where they came from.


  7. Hi there,
    Sorry to correct you (double so if it was already mentioned in the comments), but the meaning behind nur tote Fische schwimmen with dem Strom is that you shouldn’t be a lemming and follow the masses but to think for yourself. In a quite brutal way, I might add :)

    Love your blog by the way, big fan!
    Lot’s of love from a small village near Hannover


  8. “Man hat schon pferde kotzen sehen?” I think it means the equivalent of “stranger things have happened” but why vomiting horses?


    1. Because horses are physically unable to vomit…. So it’s would be a strange sight to see….. basically meaning „stranger things have happened.“


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