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The fun in Idioms

Hello dear Duolingo-ers,

The correct use and understanding of idioms is in my eyes a big part in actually knowing a language and a necessary step to become fluent. But those little buggers can be a pain in the behind... Sometimes they make no sense, but they make a language richer.

With the comparing of languages lately and RedAngel666 working on a German-English Idioms set on tinycards. I noticed even more how funny some of those are.

My two cents, about German idioms and their translations and meaning:

  • An English one I love to use even in my native German is "Great minds think alike". It's not that we don't have an equivalent. But I don't like the equivalent as much it's: "Zwei Dumme - ein Gedanke" - "Two stupid people, one thought". I think it's interesting how the intelligence level of the people spoken about changes so drastically. ;)
  • "Hals- und Beinbruch" is in the same vain. It's our version of "Break a leg!", a leg is not enough for us, we wish the neck to be broken as well.
  • If you broke that neck, then this applies "Die Radieschen von unten ansehen" you look at the radish from below. Maybe you can guess from the situation that it means the person is dead.
  • When you're being annoyed of someone then that person "geht mir auf den Wecker" - he or she goes on my alarm-clock, no idea why. Alternatively you can say "geht mir auf den Zeiger" meaning pointer.
  • If I don't care then "ist es mir Wurst" - it's sausage to me.
  • And if I don't understand something. It's not Greek or any other language. It's just a train-station. "Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof" literally - "I only understand train-station".
  • And if someone is crazy, then he has a bird. "Der hat einen Vogel!"
  • Instead of losing your marbles, you don't have all the cups in the cupboard "Nicht mehr alle Tassen im Schrank"
  • Und "Ich glaube ich spinne" often an example for funny literal translations "I think I spider", but spinnen in this sense means to spin as in yarn. Still a funny thing to say when you want to say "I think I'm crazy".
  • If it's a fun party you could say "Hier geht die Post ab!" - the mail goes from here.
  • The next morning you might be hungover and have a male cat "einen Kater haben". btw. If you're sore the day after a workout you have a "Muskelkater" your muscles are hungover. ;)

So, penny for your thoughts - what are some idioms in your native language or a language you're learning? What would they literally translate to and actually mean? Why do you love them - why do you perhaps hate them?

October 14, 2017



I love idioms - and try to collect some in each language I learn.

Re: "Nicht mehr alle Tassen im Schrank", in English we also say "A sandwich short of a picnic" or "he's short of a shilling" (not some much since those who used Lsd coinage are not so many now) or "<something> short of a <collection>" for example: "a sheep short of a flock" - we could change the thing to suit the person, so for a sailor " he's a ship short of a regatta".

If it is raining heavily in England, then it's raining cats and dogs (because in heavy rain they would get down from the turf or thatch roof and come indoors), but if you're over the border in Wales, where it rains even more often and even more heavily then Mae hi'n bwrw hen wragedd a ffyn - literally It's raining old women and sticks. My guess is that the old women need their sticks to be able to come in out of the rain....

I think idioms make a language more interesting. I'll add more as I notice them!


Also in Wales, it rains knives and forks. (Mae hi'n bwrw cyllyll a ffyrc)


Hi Elin,

thank you very much for your reply, your translations are very helpful I was looking for them for our project in the tinycards. Are in my list now. :-))) Your other idions I will write down, too if you are ok with that.

best regards Angel


I'd be honoured!

In English, we use "to measure one's length" as a phrase for falling flat on your face, as in "I tripped over the cat and measured my length"

For more Welsh idioms see here: http://www.madog.org/dysgwyr/gramadeg/gramadeg3.html


Hi Elin,

please forgive me my late answer. The bugs the forum has at the moment driving me mad! (no bell, no notifacation, I have to click ans scroll).

Thank you for your permission and thank you very much for the link, I love it!

but I have to adimit only the try to pronounce the originals knots my tongue *lol. But it's a great link!

best regards Angel


Bitte schoen

:oD You need to start the Welsh course...


Thank you for those! You're right it does make a language more interesting and it also gives it a bit of its own character.

"It's raining cats and dogs" reminds that we have the idiom "wie ein begossener Pudel" - like a wet poodle, something we say about people who look embarrassed. :D

And it's funny that it's raining old women in Wales, but then again there exists a song about how "it's raining men." :D


Like you, I love learning the different ways different languages express the same thing. I have done ever since, as a child at school, I bought a book listing some of them. Among my favourites are the equivalence pairs "Taking coals to Newcastle"/"Eulen nach Athen bringen" and "I have other fish to fry"/"J'ai des autres chats à fouetter"

There is actually a longer version of the "great minds" idiom in English - "Great minds think alike, fools seldom differ".


Hallo tiramisues, ich habe diese Diskussion dazu rausgesucht. Da findest du auch noch zwei weitere Links. Heschmat hat mal einige Idiome, Redewendungen gesammelt. Leider ist er im Moment nicht mehr aktiv bei DL :-(.


Vielleicht ist ja etwas dabei, was ihr noch nicht habt. LG Geo


Was mich eben auch interessieren würden wären die Redewendungen anderer Länder, also nicht nur Deutsch und Englisch, auch wenn sie gerne erwähnt werden dürfen. Nicht nur zum lernen, sondern auch weil es ja auch ein wenig über die Kultur sagt und vielleicht lustige Gemeinsamkeiten auftauchen. :)


Hi Geo,

dankeee, werd ich mir auf jeden Fall durchsehen. :-))

Grüße Angel


Jetzt wo man so drüber nach denkt machen voll viele nicht so viel Sinn XD z.B ,,Der geht mir auf den Wecker!'' Das verstehe ich nicht, ist es denn nicht eigentlich angenehm wenn dir jemand auf den Wecker geht und ihn somit ausschaltet/zerstört, damit du weiterschlafen kannst :b?


Mucho ruido y pocas nueces means all talk and no action is Spanish



There are several variations on this in English :o) Others include:

"All talk and no trousers" - someone who boasts but never delivers

"Fur coat and no knickers" - a woman [yes: gender specific :o( ] a woman who is not as good/wealthy/well-born as she would like you to believe. I'm not sure that a male equivalent phrase exists even though the personality type does!!


I do not understand very well what you want to refer to


English and other languages have idioms and phrases, that might be leftovers from old usage or that just a flowery description of something happening. They are more figurative than literal but are important to the language and you often use them without even noticing which might get confusing for non-natives. Or even give a moment to pause for a native speaker once they think about it.

I just wanted a discussion on their use (are they difficult to you or not? Do you like them or hate them?), a bit of compare and contrast, maybe there are similarities in otherwise unrelated languages and find out why some of them even exist. Or maybe we'd just have a good laugh about some of those while learning something.


Hi Sue,

"Du hast nicht mehr alle Tassen im Schrank" oder "Du gehst mir tierisch auf den Keks" are one of my favourites. Unfourtunatly I didn't find an english match for the cards until now.

Rakascha opend a discussion about that two month ago, too. Look https://www.duolingo.com/comment/23908882 and during my diggings für the card I found that https://www.theintrepidguide.com/amusing-german-phrases/#.WclXCLKGPIV

Bin mal gespannt, was aus den anderen Sprachen noch so kommt.^^

liebe Grüße Angel

PS. Die Karten für die phrases/Phrasen werden weiter wachsen und die Planung für die Redewendungen-Tinycards gehen auch weiter voran. Muss nur dazu kommen^^


"Du gehst mir tierisch auf den Keks" ist really awesome. I don't know why I forgot to mention it! I also like "Was ist denn dir für eine Laus über die Leber gelaufen?" I also say "Klappe zu, Affe tot" way too often when I shut down my laptop. :D

I just found this page: http://ithinkispider.com/ it's veeery literal though. But funny.

Falls man dir bei den Karten irgendwie weiterhelfen kann, sag Bescheid!


Hmm. Yes I do like idioms. At first I thought they were ridiculous and now I love them!


oh! I love idioms! One of my Spanish idioms translated to Belly full, heart happy.


Hi liviagirl,

would you please be so kind to post the spanish phrase? Thanks :-))

regards Angel


barriga / barriguita (in some places) llena, corazón contento.


Yes. It is Barriga llena, corazón contento


A Welsh idiom: Rhoi'r ffidil yn y tô Literally it means to put the fiddle (violin) in the roof. It means to give up.


Hi Sara,

I like that even I can't speak out the original^^

best regards Angel


Hi guys,

I have a new favourit idiom in english, found it today :-)) I only hope the german translation is correct.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it. So ist es, ob's dir passt oder nicht!

Genial! Angel


It must be said with a sharp voice and an emphasis on "that" to get the full effect! I am loving the idea of several Germans wandering around saying this!

Thank you for making me smile :oD


I will remember that *grin


Let me add my three cents (dorzucić swoje trzy grosze in Polish means add something from yourself into a discussion). All idioms I'll use will be Polish - literal English translation followed by Polish original and meaning explanation. You should catch it, after all for smart head two words are enough (mądrej głowie dość dwie słowie well, if you're smart you should understand after two words, note it uses an old declesion, today we would use dwóch słów but we still use the original version). For foreigners the idioms are difficult to comprehend as they have totally different meaning than actual words. The dog is buried here (Tu jest pies pogrzebany - This is the main reason or problem) why idioms are so difficult to learn and use for natives. But you should not look like an ox on a painted gate (patrzeć jak wół na malowane wrota - look at something without comprehension, usually with a dumb expression on your face). Instead, catch the bull by its horns (złapać byka za rogi - fave some challenging issue) and hammer to an iron (wykuć na blachę - learn by heart) at least few of them :-)


How about: I'm not as green as I'm cabbage looking" ?!?

This means "I'm not as stupid [inexperienced] as you think I am"

Related phrases are "wet behind the ears" and "green as grass", both of which mean inexperienced, a raw recruit.


Hi Elin,

we have a similar speech in german. "Grün hinter den Ohren" or "noch nicht trocken hinter den Ohren" in inglish round about to be green behind the ears or not dry behind the ears yes. Same meaning inexperienced, a raw recruit.

best regards Angel



I've got a phrase in spanish I love but I don't know the english translation, sorry.

Contigo, pan y cebolla. (german Mit Dir geh' ich durch dick und dünn)

best regards Angel


My Spanish is not existant and Mein Deutsch ist nicht sehr gut...so could you give literal translations and/or an idea of what it is used to mean and I'll let you know if there is something similar in English.


Hi Elin,

Contigo, pan y cebolla (with you, bread and onion) / Mit Dir geh ich durch dick und dünn (with you I go through thick and thin) means I stand by your side and whatever happens, we will do it together.

best regards Angel

edit: I started a little project as a addition to 'here'. Due to the fact that privat conversations are not well-regarded in the forum and many interesting chats are fading to nirvana I created a board for things like that. Maybe you want to have a look? Though you need to register (no public access) I would appreciate your visit :-) https://sup.tu-inside.com/index.php. Please use your nickname from Duo so I know who's 'knocking'.

@ Sue of course you are also very welcome

best regards Angel


Thanks - will do (but later as I've been on DL too long already today ^^

Here are some English phrases that express the same sentiment:

...I will stick with you through thick and thin

...We will stand shoulder to shoulder

...One for all, all for one


Hi Elin,

thank you for the translation. :-)

see you Angel


Hello Sue,

I found a discussion. Have a look, it is very interesting.


best regards Angel


Redangel666? Yikes!

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