5 interesting German idioms

The Oxford English Dictionary defines an idiom as “a group of words whose meaning is different from the meanings of the individual words: ‘Let the cat out of the bag’ is an idiom meaning to tell a secret by mistake.”

Every language has them and knowing a few will help to become closer to being a native-level speaker. Some are pretty easy to remember as they are quite similar across two or more languages: Whilst you ‘kill two birds with one stone’ in English, you ‘kill two flies with one fly swatter’ in German. The animals and murder weapons differ, but the sentiment is the same. The same behaviour or characteristics of a man and his offspring might be described as ‘like father, like son’ in English, German and French. And whilst it Germany, ‘it’s difficult to press oil out of a rock’, it’s a matter of trying to ‘milk a bull’ in English.

Although languages share a few idioms, whether that’s literally or in their figurative meaning, there are some which are unique to one language or another. Here are five of my favourite German examples.

Fünfe gerade sein lassen
(Literally “to let five be an even number”)
Not concerning oneself with details too much

Den Wald vor lauter Bäumen nicht sehen
(Literally “to not see the forest because of all the trees”)
Not being able to see an easy solution clearly; also the feeling of being so overwhelmed with details that you fail to see the bigger picture

Man hat schon Pferde vor der Apotheke kotzen sehen!
(Literally “One has seen horses vomit in front of pharmacies!”)
An exclamation to illustrate that unusual or almost impossible things have happened, even though no one expected them

Eine Extrawurst verlangen
(Literally “to ask for an extra sausage”)
A negative connotation for someone who always asks for special treatment

Die Kirche im Dorf lassen
(Literally “to leave the church in the village”)
Said when someone gets carried away with something, e.g. talking about something or someone overly positive or negative