Incredible German Idioms

by Amanda Wilson

All the languages in this world bring their salt and paper to the communication game, creating misunderstandings, confusion, and hilarity with expressions that cannot be translated word by word into another language. Each culture has its precious idioms, which are used when you want to say something in a quick and humorous way.

When you use idioms you are prepared to take a high risk: the conversation partner may either understanding precisely what you mean, and the conversation will run smoothly, or he/she may be totally puzzled and think that you are either crazy or want to insult them.

German, just like English, has lots of idioms. Although they are both Germanic languages, and many would think that they are somehow similar, German and English have not that much in common. So next time you want to use German idioms in your essay writing be careful how you use them and which ones you pick.

Let's see which are some of the idioms that cannot be translated into English and which would be best for you to avoid if you do not have a firm grasp of the German language.

1. Das ist mir Wurst

Literally translated “This is like sausage to me” this idiom means that I do not care or I could not care less. Its correlation in English could be “Frankly, my dear; I don’t give a damn,” which are the words of the fictional character Rhett Butler in the famous book 'Gone with the Wind.' Where did this idiom come from? Well, if you look at a sausage you will see that its ends are the same. So if you are asked if you want black tea or green tea, and it does not matter which one you get, you can say “Das ist mir Wurst.”

2. Tomaten auf den Augen haben

The literal translation of this idiom is “You have tomatoes on your eyes.” What it means is that you cannot see what everyone else sees or that you are completely unaware of a situation and it refers to real objects, not abstract things. For example, if you are driving and another driver makes a sudden move in front of you and you almost hit him/her, you would say that that person "hat Tomaten auf den Augen" (it also insinuates that the person is a little stupid).

3. Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof

The literal translation would be “I only understand the train station,” which does not make sense. What in fact means is that someone does not understand a conversation or what it is being said to him/her. It seems that this idiom has its origins in the World War I when the soldiers were tired of fighting and only wanted to go home. That is why they associated the train station (Bahnhof) with home, and since they were thinking about this a lot, they would not follow a conversation because they "only understood train station" (nur Bahnhof verstehen).

4. Torschlusspanik

Torschlusspanik can be translated as fear as the gate is closing, time is running out, and important opportunities are missed. It is usually used as one gets older and cannot change anything. For example when you are 30 years old, still living with the parents, having an underpaid job, while your best friends are doing fabulous in life. You feel that you missed your chance. This type of desperation is 'Torschlusspanik.'

5. Backpfeifengesicht

Backpfeifengesicht is translated as a face that asks to be punched, such as a disrespectful boss, a teenager who gets a car as a Christmas gift and complains about how horrible it is, or a person who makes jokes that make other people cry, etc.

6. Erklärungsnot

Erklärungsnot or the need to quickly explain yourself is that moment when you are caught doing something you shouldn't, and you feel like explaining yourself very fast. If you are not a very good liar, an erklarungsnot will make you look silly and nobody will believe you.

7. Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung

The translation of this idiom is the struggle to make peace with the past or embarrassing moments that you would like to change, such as sneezing on your girlfriend, slipping and falling in a puddle in front of everyone, farting in a public space, etc. The word also refers to Germany trying to come to terms with the past years of the Holocaust and the National Socialism.

8. Handschuhschneeballwerfer

Handschuhschneeballwerfer is a coward who criticizes and abuses others from a safe distance. It refers to a person who talks behind someone’s back, being afraid to say it to the person's face or someone who wears gloves to throw snowballs.

9. Kein Schwein war da

The word Schwein, meaning pig, is one of the most used words in German. But the idiom 'Kein Schwein war da' is translated as nobody was there.

10. Ich habe die Nase voll davon

This idiom is translated as 'I have the nose full,' but it means 'I am sick of someone or something.' This idiom is colloquial so you should not use it in formal situations. Because the speaker would express that he/she is angry or irritated about something, this expression should be used with caution.

Idioms add flavor and humor, and they help you sound like a native if you use them the right way. They can help you find your distinctive and unique style of German, but they can also make you look stupid and embarrass yourself. If you plan to use these expressions in your paper, it would be best to get some essay writing help. Knowing when to use idioms is crucial, as you can see many of them can hurt or insult someone without you even knowing it.

Information about German | Fraktur script | Useful phrases | Silly phrases | Numbers | Colours | Family words | Time | Weather | Tongue twisters | Tower of Babel | Articles | Links | Learning materials

About the writer

Amanda Wilson is freelance writer at PaperWritten and a college mentor-student. Which means she spends most of her time helping other students to find a solution. Foreign languages help to expand mind and become more open-minded person. Due to this Amanda loves learn it and


Writing systems | Language and languages | Language learning | Pronunciation | Learning vocabulary | Language acquisition | Motivation and reasons to learn languages | Arabic | Basque | Celtic languages | Chinese | English | Esperanto | French | German | Greek | Hebrew | Indonesian | Italian | Japanese | Korean | Latin | Portuguese | Russian | Sign Languages | Spanish | Swedish | Other languages | Minority and endangered languages | Constructed languages (conlangs) | Reviews of language courses and books | Language learning apps | Teaching languages | Languages and careers | Being and becoming bilingual | Language and culture | Language development and disorders | Translation and interpreting | Multilingual websites, databases and coding | History | Travel | Food | Other topics | Spoof articles | How to submit an article


Green Web Hosting - Kualo

Why not share this page:


Learn a Language with gymglish

If you like this site and find it useful, you can support it by making a donation via PayPal or Patreon, or by contributing in other ways. Omniglot is how I make my living.


Note: all links on this site to, and are affiliate links. This means I earn a commission if you click on any of them and buy something. So by clicking on these links you can help to support this site.

Get a 30-day Free Trial of Amazon Prime (UK)