Colorful Expressions

Outside there is a bit of blue sky, it is the first in about a week and it suggested the idea of doing a post on idiomatic expressions that use color words. And in honor of that bit of sky, I’ll start with expressions involving blue or blau.

The expression “blue sky” can refer to something creative but perhaps a touch impractical. Pons.eu translate the impractical version rather literally as nicht ausführbar – “not feasible/workable” – but the creative version, when combined with the word “thinking,” is translated as Schönwetterdenken – “nice weather thinking.”

The expression “once in a blue moon” refers to a rare event. Dict.cc offers several translations from the very literal ganz selten to the more poetic alle Jubeljahr (einmal)  – “(once) every Jubilee Year.” The English phrase “blue moon” has another meaning, the second full moon in a calendar month, which is indeed something quite rare, occurring only once every two or three years.

The expression “out of the blue” indicates something that takes you by surprise, something unexpected and thus is literally translated by pons.eu as völlig unerwartet. The figurative option given is aus heiterem Himmel – literally “out of a bright sky” which I expect comes from the idea that seeing rain, or snow or lightning when the sky is blue is unexpected. And then there is a lovely phrase that literally means “the snow is coming in” – herein|schneien – which can be used to say that someone has “turned up out of the blue.”

Let’s turn now to German expression using blau that I discovered in this collection. The first is das Blaue vom Himmel [herunter]lügen – “to charm the birds out of the trees” or “to lie one’s head off” – and the second is related expression das Blaue vom Himmel versprechen – “to promise someone the earth/moon/everything under the sun.”

I found myself a little challenged by these phrases. Google translate puts das Blaue vom Himmel together to get “the moon” but the separate pieces mean “the blue” and “”from the sky/heavens.” I then went to dwds.de to see if I could find sample sentences using these phrases as sometimes the context clarifies the dictionary entry. Although it didn’t help me to parse das Blaue vom Himmel, I did get a better idea of how these phrases are used.

• Here is a pair featuring “to lie one’s head off” or das Blaue vom Himmel runterlügen:
Die verarschen die Leute und halten keine ihrer Wahlversprechungen. Die lügen doch das Blaue vom Himmel runter.
“They are taking the piss out of the people and keeping none of their campaign promises. They are lying their heads off.” (Or perhaps “They are a bunch of lying bastards” if you want to take it up a notch in vulgarity.)

• Here is one that features “to promise someone the moon” or das Blaue vom Himmel versprechen:
Den bedrängten Auto-Arbeitern in Michigan hatte Mitt Romney das Blaue vom Himmel, zumal Protektionismus, versprochen.
” Mitt Romney has promised the beleaguered Michigan auto workers the moon in the form of protectionist trade barriers.”
(This is a great example of the importance of noticing the case marker – Den tells you that while they come at the beginning of the sentence, the auto workers are not the subject of the sentence – and of needing to wait until the end to know what verb is being used.)

A final phrase is sein blaues Wunder erleben – “to be in for a nasty surprise” or “to get the shock of one’s life.” While this is something that may happen if one chances to use a word or phrase incorrectly in a new language, it seems that just as often something wonderful happens!

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2 thoughts on “Colorful Expressions

  1. crissa says:

    I’m enjoying your writings!

    • kwhirsh says:

      Thanks, Chris! I just found another interesting expression using blauins Blaue – which can mean “to go somewhere without a particular plan” – Fahrt ins Blaue – and when combined with hinein to make ins Blaue hinein it means “haphazardly.” This feels as though it is a bit related to the English expression “out of the blue” – a surprise – as well as the German expression I discussed in my post sein Blaues Wunder erleben both without the negative connotations of this latter phrase (which this site http://www.farbenundleben.de/kultur/redewendungen_blau.htm says comes from color changes as particular dye stuffs were exposed to more oxygen – causing the dyers a big surprise as something turned from yellow to green to blue).

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