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Interesting German Idioms

Here are 6 GENIUS GERMAN IDIOMS WE SHOULD BE USING IN ENGLISH, my personal favorite is "Kopfkino" :)


July 25, 2014



The English for "Ohrwurm" is "earworm"; it's been in common use for decades (at least among people I talk to). The Oxford English Dictionary has a citation for it from 1991, and the Wikipedia page dates it to the 1980s.

The English for "überflüssig" is "superfluous", and the literal meaning is exactly the same: over-flowing.

I am rather fond of "Tote Hose", though.


Yeah, I've heard it before. Oliver Sacks uses the term "ear worm" in his book Musicophilia.


"Ist das Kunst oder kann das weg?" is mostly used if you know exactly that something isn't art. For example you tidy the room, and some stuff of your flat mate is lying around. It looks like garbage to you, but you are too polite to simply throw something away that belongs to another person, so you ask "Ist das Kunst oder kann das weg?" meaning "this obviously has no discernable practical use anymore and looks like garbage to me, has it still any value to you or can I just throw it away?"

Kopfkino means something triggers some film in your imagination, often about something you don't like. For example your kids leave for some party and you can't help but imagine them getting wasted, do drugs and hook up with someone you don't approve.


"Ist das Kunst oder kann das weg?" - The inspiration for this is obviously the famous incident around the Fettecke (grease corner; link to German Wikipedia) by Joseph Beuys. It consisted of 5 kg of butter installed in the corner of a room in 1982, on the day before a visit from an important Tibetan. A janitor removed this art installation in 1986. As the result of a court case, the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia had to pay 40,000 DM (20,000 Euros) in compensation to the owner.


Oh! I learned something new!

In Finnish, we have the word "aasinsilta" (literally: donkey's bridge) so I've always thought it has the exact same meaning in German. But in Finnish, we usually use it to mean a "segue", not a "mnemonic" (although the latter use is also possible).

Good to know! :)


It all started with Euclid. Swedish also has ‘åsnebrygga’, which most often refers to a book giving a very simplified introduction or summary of some topic. I guess two millennia is enough time for meanings to diverge a little bit :-).


Ah, Kopfkino, story of my life... Thanks for sharing!


i like " nice is the little brother of shit"


Oh, I am going to make good use of these! My favorite is "Ist das Kunst – oder kann das weg?" This sentence will come in handy when I'm asking the 3 year old if something is "art".


I don't know the German for it...but there is a saying "seven beers is a schnitzel' meaning that even though you should drink before you eat, 7 beers is basically a snitchzel/meal anyway.


"Sieben Bier sind auch ein Schnitzel" seems to be what Google suggests. You can find T-shirts too with it :D


I only know "3 Bier sind eine Mahlzeit, und dann hat man noch nichts getrunken".


I thought one should eat before drinking and not the other way around, but the expression is fun!


I like Ohrwurm and Kopfkino :-)


Gee, Caveat Emptor, I feel like tjbayly who commented in "German fail, probably" that he was embarrassed by the native German man's response to his innocent and generous offer to photograph the family together. I guess your misperception is my "English fail, probably", because I only meant to respond lightheartedly to the person's comment about what to say to a three-year-old. I thought we all had a common purpose here. I'm sorry.


I didn't think you would have taken my response so seriously, being that it was composed in iambic pentameter, and using Elizabethan English.

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