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The Ultimate List of Funny German Idioms

german idioms

“My English is not the yellow of the egg.” 

If you ever happen to hear this from a German native speaker, their English is either really bad, or they are pulling your leg. 

Literal translations of German idioms can be great fun as they often make absolutely no sense in English. 

Are you still wondering why your German friends are laughing their heads off about that stupid joke?

Then it’s “high train” for you to read this article and find out!

50 Funny and Curious German Idioms:

I’ve asked my friends to help me find the funniest, the craziest, and the most interesting examples for this collection of German idioms.

Here’s what we’ve come up with:

German idiomLiteral translationEquivalent / Meaning
Nicht das Gelbe vom Ei sein.To not be the yellow of the egg.To not be the greatest thing since sliced bread. 
Es ist höchste Eisenbahn!It’s high train.It’s high time!
Den Löffel abgeben.To hand back one’s spoon.To kick the bucket.
Die Radieschen von unten sehen.To see the radishes from underneath. To be six feet under.
Sich einen Ast ablachen.To laugh a branch off.To laugh one’s head off.
Etwas durch die Blume sagen.To say sth. through the flower.To drop a veiled hint about sth.
Geh dahin, wo der Pfeffer wächst!Go where the pepper grows.Jump in a lake!
Jemandem nicht das Wasser reichen können.Not to be able to hand sb. the water.Not to be able to hold a candle to sb.
Nur Bahnhof verstehen.To only understand train station.It’s all Greek to me.
Wurst sein.To be sausage.To be all the same.
Bleib auf dem Teppich!Stay on the carpet!Keep your feet on the ground!
Auf der Leitung stehen.To stand on the pipe.To be slow on the uptake.
Bei dir ist Hopfen und Malz verloren.Malt and hops are lost on you. You’re a lost cause.
Jemanden durch den Kakao ziehen.To pull sb. through cocoa. To roast sb.

Aren’t they awesome? I especially like the last two. 

If you’re now thinking about getting yourself a cocoa or another hot beverage in a German coffee shop, you should take a look at our article on ordering a coffee or a tea in German

But if reading about malt and hops has rather put you in the mood for some tasty German beer, you can also learn how to order a beer in German on our website. 

Humorous German idioms with body parts 

Have you ever told someone to “break a leg” without actually wanting them to get hurt? 

As in English, body parts are a popular source for idioms in the German language. 

This list of humorous German idioms and their literal translations will definitely make you crack up:

German idiomLiteral translationEnglish equivalent
Haare auf den Zähnen haben.To have hair on your teeth.To be a tough customer.
Jemandem auf der Nase herumtanzen. To dance on sb’s nose. To walk all over sb.
Hals und Beinbruch!Break your neck and leg! Break a leg!
Für jemanden die Hand ins Feuer legen.To hold one’s hand into the fire for sb.To go to the stake for sb.
Die Ohren steif halten.To keep one’s ears stiff.To keep one’s chin up.
Jemandem die Daumen halten.To press one’s thumbs for sb.To keep one’s fingers crossed for sb.
Jemandem ein Dorn im Auge sein.To be a thorn in sb’s eye.To be a thorn in sb’s side.
Mit dem falschen Fuß aufstehen.To get up with the wrong foot.To get up on the wrong side of bed.
Nägel mit Köpfen machen.To make nails with heads.To go the whole hog.
Sich etwas hinter die Ohren schreiben.To write sth. behind one’s ears.To have better remember sth.
Jemandem Honig ums Maul schmieren.To smear honey around sb’s mouth.To butter sb up.
Jemandem etwas auf die Nase binden.To tie sth. onto sb’s noseTo let sb. in on sth.
Kein Blatt vor den Mund nehmen.To not cover your mouth with a leaf.To not mince one’s words.
Etwas übers Knie brechen.To break sth. over one’s knee.To rush one’s fences.
Sich etwas aus den Fingern saugen.To suck sth. out of one’s fingers.To fudge a story.
Ein Brett vor dem Kopf haben.To have a plank in front of your head.To be a blockhead.
Aus der Hauf fahren.To drive out of your skin.To freak out.
Jemandem etwas aus der Nase ziehen.To pull sth. out of sb’s nose.To force words out of sb.

Yuck! That sounds disgusting… 

Animal-Related German Idioms

The look or behaviour of animals also make up great material for idioms in different languages. 

Believe it or not, this also goes for the German language:

German idiomLiteral translationEquivalent / Meaning
Einen Vogel haben.To have a bird.To be nuts.
Den Vogel abschießen.To shoot the bird.To take the cake.
Augen wie ein Luchs haben.To have eyes like a lynx. To have an eagle eye.
Stur wie ein Bock sein.To be as stubborn as a billy goat.To be as stubborn as a mule.
Flink wie ein Wiesel sein.To be speedy like a weasel.To be as quick as a flash.
Sei kein Frosch!Don’t be a frog!Be a sport!
Jemanden zur Schnecke machen.To make a snail of sb. To make mincemeat of sb.
Aus einer Mücke einen Elefanten machen.To make an elephant out of a fly.To make a mountain out of a molehill. 
Katzenwäsche machen.To wash like a cat.To wash yourself very quickly with a wet cloth.
Wie ein Elefant im Porzellanladen sein. To be like an elephant in a china shop.To be like a bull in a china shop. 
Ins Wespennest stechen.To pierce a wasps’ nest.To stir up a hornet’s nest.
Die Katze im Sack kaufen.To buy the cat in a sack.To buy a pig in a poke.
Einen Kater haben.To have a tomcat.To be hung over.
Eine Rabenmutter sein.To be a raven’s mother.To be a cruel/bad mother.
Da lachen ja die Hühner.You’re making the chickens laugh.Pull the other one, you must be joking!
Das kann kein Schwein lesen.Not even a pig can read that.That’s impossible to read!
Wie der Hahn am Misthaufen schreiben.To write like a rooster on a dung heap.To have a handwriting like chicken scratch.
Ich glaub, mich laust der Affe.I think I’m getting groomed by a monkey.I’ll be damned!
Dem Affen Zucker geben.To give the monkey some sugar.To ride one’s hobby horse.
Wie ein Schlosshund heulen.To howl like a dog in a castle. To cry like a baby.
Sich in die Höhle des Löwen wagen.To enter a lion’s cave.To beard the lion in his den.
Danach kräht kein Hahn.Not even a rooster crows about that.Nobody cares two hoots about that.
Der Hahn im Korb sein.To be the rooster in the basket.To be cock of the walk.
Mit Kanonen auf Spatzen schießen.To fire cannons at sparrows.To take a sledgehammer to crack the nut.
Mit ihm/ihr kann man Pferde stehlen.You can steal horses with him/her.He/she’s a good sport. 
Da steppt der Bär.That’s where the bear is tap-dancing.That’s where the fun is.

Since you probably won’t see a tap-dancing bear at a German club, but maybe your girl or boy of your dreams, you should consider learning how to successfully flirt in German

How to use German idioms like a native

To give you an idea of what these German idioms look like in an actual sentence, I’ll provide you with some real-life examples:

🇩🇪
A: Geht es dir gut?
B: Nicht so richtig. Ich habe einen fiesen Kater. 
🇺🇸
A: Are you okay?
B: Not really. I’m completely hung over.

🇩🇪
A: Ich habe die ganze Woche fleißig gelernt.
B: Da lachen ja die Hühner!
🇺🇸
A: I’ve been studying really hard all week.
B: Pull the other one, you must be joking!

🇩🇪
A: Was hast du in deinem Bericht geschrieben?
B: Ich habe mir etwas aus den Fingern gesaugt.
🇺🇸
A: What did you write in your report?
B: I made something up.

🇩🇪
A: Wir haben heute schon wieder verloren.
B: Halt die Ohren steif! Das nächste Mal gewinnt ihr sicher.
🇺🇸
A: We lost another game today.
B: Keep your chin up. You’re definitely going to win next time.

🇩🇪 Er ist mein bester Freund. Ich würde für ihn die Hand ins Feuer legen.
🇺🇸 He’s my best friend. I’d go to the stake for him.

🇩🇪
A: Was möchtest du heute Abend essen?
B: Ist mir Wurst. Such etwas aus.
🇺🇸
A: What do you want for dinner tonight?
B: I don’t care. Choose whatever you want.

🇩🇪 Kannst du das bitte nochmal erklären? Ich stehe heute voll auf der Leitung.
🇺🇸 Can you please explain that again? I’m a bit slow today. 

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Sandra Foessl

Sandra Foessl

Language lover and bookworm. Lives in Austria and has been teaching English, French and German for more than a decade.

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