Tag Archives: idioms

Um Humor aufsuchen

Das Thema war Medizin. Eine Teilnehmerin sagte, dass ein Hautarzt die Haut behandelt. Eine Andere sagte, dass ein Augenarzt die Augen behandelt. Die Nächste, dass ein Frauenarzt Frauen behandelt. Ich wollte einen Witz machen und sagte „Besuchen Häuser denn einen Hausarzt?“

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Let’s Meet That Decision Head On

When I first moved the UK I needed to learn that one can “make” or “take” a decision and today I learned that in German one can “meet” – eine Entscheidung treffen – or  “chop down/fell” (okay probably “reach” is the more reasonable translation) – eine Entscheidung fällen – a decision; or zu einer Entscheidung kommen – “to make up one’s mind” or “come to a decision.” The term “decision-making” can be rendered as die Entscheidungsfindung – more literally a combination of “decision” and “finding.” There is even a way to discuss more formal decisions such as the decrees or resolutions made by a government body or a court – einen Beschlüsse fassen. Moreover, there are a number of collocations using the word der Entschluss*:

plötzlicher Entschluss – “sudden resolve”
spontaner Entschluss –
 “off the cuff, spur of the moment or snap decision” (the last one can also be schneller)
ein vorschneller Entschluss – “a hasty decision”
Mein Entschluss steht (fest/bombenfest) – “My mind is made up”
seinem Entschluss treu bleiben – “to stick/remain true to one’s decision”

So, no “taking” or “making” for us here in Germany, although we can still be “coming” to our decisions which is perhaps another way of saying that we are “meeting” them!?

* Like die Entscheidung, der Entschluss begins with the prefix ent- – and no, it isn’t “Ear, Nose, Throat,” that’s HNO, Hals, Nase, Ohren. See the following page for more info on this prefix: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~german/Grammatik/Wortbildung/Inseparables.html#ent)

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Muffy the Survivalist

Monday night I had dinner with friends. Normally we would speak German, but for a change we were using English. At some point, one of my companions mentioned “preppies” and then in the next breath mentioned hoarding food and keeping a small arsenal and I began to suspect a cross-language mix-up was taking place. I asked him what was meant by “preppie” and he said something to the effect that it was someone who believed in “prepping” for the coming showdown with the US government. I did all I could not to laugh out loud at the confusion between “preppies” and “survivalists.” I was further surprised by his initial unwillingness to accept my statement that “preppies” were not  likely preparing for an apocalypse, but if they were, it would have been the fixings for G&Ts and Brooks Brothers button downs that they would have been hoarding (moreover hunting would be involved only through the ownership of some L.L. Bean duck boots).

Dict.cc does offer a couple of translations for the adjective “preppy,” namely adrett and popperhaft and mentions that it can refer to a style of dress or to someone who was a student at a preparatory school. It would appear, however, that “The Preppy Handbook” has not been translated (dict.cc will often mention book, film and song titles when a translation exists), depriving German speakers of the chance to appreciate idioms like “parallel parking,” “fruit loop” or “blow donuts” and nicknames like the eponymous Muffy and her pals Kiki, Skip and Missy.

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What a difference a “d” makes

I’ve just noticed that “bedside” and “beside” are only one letter different…which led me to some interesting German phrases expressing the notion of being “beside ourselves.”

verworren sein –”to be beside oneself” or “to be discombobulated”
wirr sein – “to be beside oneself” or “to be muddled/confused”
Sie ist außer sich – “She is beside herself”
Sie war ganz außer Fassung – “She was completely beside herself” – Fassung is “composure” and “equanimity” and also “socket” which feels like it might somehow fit here, too…
Sie gerieten außer Rand und Band – “They were beside themselves” or “They were delirious”
außer sich vor Wut  – “beside onself with anger/rage”
außer sich vor Angst – “beside onself with fear”
außer sich vor Freude – “beside onself with joy” or “giddy with pleasure”
völlig/ganz aus dem Häuschen sein – “to be beside one’s self with joy” – Häuschen is “cottage”

Now, if only we could ensure that “bedside manner” always left patients “beside themselves” with joy rather than fear or rage…

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Elbow room

Today’s post is inspired by comments on Facebook by Herr Doktor Language Maven David Dunning whose use of the word Ellbogen prompted me to wonder about “bow” words in English and Bogen words in German.

In English we have “elbow,” “rainbow,” “crossbow” and the proper name “Strongbow” for a brand of alcoholic cider, as well as “bow-legged” and “bow-hunting.” There are also phrases with the word “bow” such as “hair bow” or “Cupid’s Bow.” These all derive from the “arc” or “arch” or “curve” meaning of “bow” – whose pronunciation /boʊ/ – rhymes with “glow” – rather than from its homographic sibling “bow” /baʊ/ which rhymes with “cow” (given it’s shape, it is a bit of a surprise that the front of a ship is a /baʊ/ instead of a  /boʊ/ but according to http://www.etymonline.com/ it comes from the “Old Norse bogr or Middle Dutch boech ‘bow of a ship,’ literally ‘shoulder (of an animal),’ the connecting notion being ‘the shoulders of the ship.’ ”

In German we have der Regenbogen – “rainbow” – and the aforementioned der Ellbogen – “elbow” – and we also have der Augenbrauenbogen – “the curve of the eyebrow” and other words that fit the English model. There is another, non-parallel, meaning for Bogen – “sheet” – as in the word der Ausschneidebogen – “the sheet of cardboard cutouts” – or der Briefmarkenbogen – “sheet of postage stamps.” Most intriguing to me, though, are a family of idioms using Bogen, namely:

den Bogen raushaben – “to know the ropes” [I couldn’t find an independent meaning for raushaben]
den Bogen überspannen – “to overdo things” or “to overstep the mark” [to straddle]
bei etwas den Bogen herausbekommen” – “to get the hang of something” [from something, to glean]
jemanden in hohem Bogen hinauswerfen – “to throw someone out on her/his ear” [someone, high arc, to throw out]
um jemanden/etwas einen [weiten/großen] Bogen machen “to steer clear of someone/something” or “to give someone or something a wide berth” [around someone/thing, wide/large arc, to make]
plötzliches Erbrechen in hohem Bogen – “projectile vomiting”
etwas in Bausch und Bogen ablehnen/zurückweisen – “to reject something completely” [wad, to refuse/to reject]

Finally, the title of this post, “Elbow Room,” can be translated in three ways. Pons.eu tells me that the first translation means “space to move” – die Ellbogenfreheit (literally “elbow freedom/liberty/privilege”). The second and third are figurative uses meaning “freedom of action” – die Bewegungsfreiheit (literally “movement freedom/liberty/privilege”) and der Spielraum (literally play + room/space, and properly translated as “leeway” or “scope” or “latitude” or “flexibility” ). Perhaps their lack of a Bogen is a signal for this more abstract meaning, although I must say that on reflection, room for one’s elbow(s) doesn’t offer all that much room…

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A newly minted error

I amused my conversational partner recently by referring to a person as frisch rather than frech. In English if we want to talk about food or weather we can refer to them as “fresh” and we can do the same with people if they are “getting fresh with us.” In German, however, there are different words to express the two ideas. A person can be referred to as frech meaning “fresh” or “cheeky” or “bold” or “sassy” and “to make a sassy reply” is frech antworten. Interestingly, rather than referring to a “cheeky monkey,” you suggest someone is like a sparrow – wie ein Spatz sein. It also appears that certain things other than people can be frech – dict.cc gives the example of “a hat worn at a rakish angle” – ein Hut frech aufgesetzt – and pons.eu offers “a peppy haircut” – eine freche Frisur.

To refer to the freshness of weather or food, however, you want to use frisch: frisches Brot, frisch gefallener Schnee, frisch gepresster Orangensaft, Frisch also means “recent.” Hence when there is “wet paint,” you will see signs saying frisch gestrichen and to say something is “hot off the press” you can say it is frisch gedruckt. Frisch also can be used in reference to making up a bed with fresh linen – die Betten frisch beziehen. And in checking dict.cc, I learned that there are situations where frisch can be part of a phrase that applies to a person: “clean-shaven” – frisch rasiert; “just married” – frisch verheiratet; and “to be fresh as a daisy” – frisch und munter sein.

With the help of Collins online, I now know how to say “we’re fresh out of cheese” – uns ist gerade der Käse ausgegangen and “they are fresh out of ideas” – ihnen sind die Ideen ausgegangen. Which I am, and so, until next time, my friends!

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A word to take you further

That word is weiter and it not only means “further” but also “wider,” “broader,” “farther” and “continuing” and it appears in a number of idiomatic expressions and phrasal verbs.

Mach weiter! – “Get on with it!”
Träum weiter! – “Dream on!”
Weiter so! – “Keep it up!” or “Way to go!” or “Right on!”
weiter nichts? – “is that it?”
Weiter im Programm! – “On with the show!”
sich weiter verschlechtern – “to go from bad to worse”
allein auf weiter Flur – “out on a limb”
an jemanden das Wort weiter geben – “turn the floor over to someone”

etwas weiter tun – “to keep doing something”
weiter ansteigen – “to continue to rise”
weiter geben – “to hand down”
weiter gelten – “to hold true”
weiter [nach XX] fahren – “to continue going/driving [in the direction]”

Das Leben geht weiter – “life goes on!”

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Eine Schlange am Busen nähren

Heute habe ich viele interessante Information über wie man isst Schlangen gelernt. Da ich gerade “isst” geschrieben ist mir aufgefallen, dass das Wort “isst” sehr ähnlich wie die Stimme der Schlange auf Englisch klingt. Nämlich, hissssss. Natürlich will ich wissen, wie klingt eine Schlange auf Deutsch? Wie eine englischsprachige Schlange oder nicht? Und auch hat die deutschsprachige Schlange aus der Schweiz einen Akzent?

Also, suche ich im Internet. Mit den Schlüsselwörter “welche Stimme hat die Schlange.”

Erstmal ist eine biblische Geschichte, ich denke “nein.” Die zweite hat den Titel “Schlange stehen für warmes ein Essen.” Perfekt! habe ich gedacht, Stimme und Essen zusammen! Knapp daneben ist auch vorbei! Hier sind die Deutsche lauthals lachen. Warum? Das Wort “die Schlange” bedeutet beides snake und queue (oder line). “Schlange stehen” ist nicht Snake is, sondern stand in line. Der ganze Satz meint Stand in line for a hot meal.

Endlich habe ich die Stimme der Schlange gefunden: “sss.” Und in Schweizerdeutsch? Ich weiss nicht, aber vielleicht kann ich in Basel überprüfen, weil diese Stadt den Basilisk wie Symbol hat. Ich muss offensichtlich viele warmes ein Essen zu essen bevor ich kann sagen: “I’ve translated more German than you’ve had hot (snake) dinners!”

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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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Week 5 Anniversary

It’s an anniversary post and thus the theme once again is loosely related to earthquakes. The most active areas for earthquakes are at the join between two tectonic plates (die tektonische Platten), each of which is in motion either toward to away from the other. As it turns out, the plate is an apt metaphor for language learning in several ways.

First of all, satisfaction with progress in learning a new language is also something where things can feel as though they are coming together or that they are getting further and further apart. It can even feel that both things are happening at the same time, you suddenly have new vocabulary that you can use rather naturally and directly (rather taking an indirect route through your native tongue), and, at the same time, perhaps you struggle with a sentence structure about which you once felt similarly confident.

Perhaps a better metaphor for language learning than the tectonic sort of plate is to imagine the circus act where someone is keeping lots of plates (die Teller) spinning (I managed to find one source with something close to this phrase and there it was translated as viele Teller in der Luft zu halten – “to keep many plates in the air.”) Like this performance, speaking a foreign language requires you to do many things at once and give all of them at least a bit of your attention to prevent the whole thing crashing down around you.

Alternatively, one might say that when learning a new language, you “have a lot on your plate,” a phrase which dict.cc translates as both viel/genug am Hals haben and eine Menge/genug um die Ohren haben. Both of these have parallels in English in terms of being “up to your neck” or “up to your ears” in work (note that dict.cc also gives the first phrase, with the reference to Hals, as a translation for “to have many balls in the air”).

One thing is for certain, though, unless you are a child or a very unusual person, a new language is not something handed to you on a plate or auf den silbernen Tablett servieren!

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