German Idioms Decoded (plus potatoes)

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When I was a little kid my grandmother (or as we called her “Oma”) taught me my first German word: Kartoffel, which means “potato”. At the time, I had no idea how extremely beloved these tubers were to Germans, so in hindsight it makes sense that would be the first word I learned.

After living in Germany for six and a half years as a grownup, I discovered that the only things Germans love more than potatoes are puzzling figures of speech. One such example goes: Die dümmsten Bauern haben die dicksten Kartoffeln! which literally translates to: “The dumbest farmers have the fattest potatoes”.

Over the years, my love of strange German idioms also grew strong and deep like a potato. Here’s a list of some of my (non-potato themed) favourites along with some examples of how to properly use them in English.

  • Lass die Kirche im Dorf!
    Literally: Leave the church in the village!
    In other words: Don’t get carried away.
    Example: You don’t want to eat your weight in potatoes? Leave the church in the village!
  • Die Arschkarte ziehen
    Literally: Pulling the ass card
    In other words: Having bad luck
    Example: We’re out of potatoes?! We really pulled the ass card today!
  • Ich hau mich auf’s Ohr!
    Literally: I’m going to throw myself on my ear!
    In other words: I’m going to bed.
    Example: I’m exhausted from all the potato eating. I think I’ll throw myself on my ear!
  • Dumm wie Dosenbrot!
    Literally: Dumb as tinned bread!
    In other words: Really really dumb.
    Example: That guy hates potatoes? He’s dumb as canned bread!
  • Eier in der Hose haben
    Literally: Having eggs in the pants
    In other words: Being brave
    Example: Some people like a man with eggs in his pants. Personally, I love a man with potatoes in his pockets!
  • Das passt wie die Faust aufs Auge!
    Literally: It fits like a fist fits an eye!
    In other words: Perfect
    Example: A potato in the pot is like a fist fits an eye!
  • Pi mal Daumen
    Literally: Pi times thumb
    In other words: Approximately
    Example: Pi times thumb is how much I need potatoes in my life.
  • Da haben wir den Salat!
    Literally: There we have the salad!
    In other words: It’s all fucked up
    Example: No potato salad? Now we have the salad there!
  • Seinen Senf zu etwas abgeben 
    Literally: Give your mustard to something
    In other words: Give your (unsolicited) two cents
    Example: I’ll give my mustard to your potato salad recipe: It’s potatastic!
  • Im falschen Film sein
    Literally: Being in the wrong movie
    In other words: Finding yourself in a strange or confusing situation
    Example: Carrots for dinner? I feel like I’m in the wrong movie.
  • Die beleidigte Leberwurst spielen
    Literally: Playing the offended liverwurst
    In other words: Being adorably offended
    Example: You act like an offended liverwurst when you go into potato withdrawal.
  • Den Löffel abgeben
    Literally: Giving up the spoon
    In other words: To die
    Example: He gave up the spoon! And the potato, too!

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