The first time a German said “equal goes it loose” to me, I had no idea what he was talking about and why he found it so hilarious. He explained and I managed a smile, but still didn’t find it that funny. Was this German humour?
Direct translations from German into “English” have exploded since then. They’re everywhere – on postcards, calendars, mugs … Everyone seems to have their personal favourites. And I’m no exception. So I thought I’d take a few as a starting point for looking at the actual English equivalents.
From blind chickens to dogs
Often the idea is expressed in a colourful way in English too, but using a different image. For example, instead of He doesn’t have all the cups in the cupboard, you could say He’s lost his marbles. Or He’s a sandwich (a few sandwiches) short of a picnic. This structure to be a (a few) … short of a … is great because you can vary it to come up with your own versions to fit the situation.
Here are some more where a completely different image is used:
|Also a blind chicken finds a corn.||Every dog has it’s day.|
|That is snow from yesterday.||That’s water under the bridge. (Or: That’s yesterday’s news.)|
|This is not the yellow from the egg.||It’s nothing to write home about.|
|Now I know how the bunny runs.||Now I know which way the wind is blowing. (Or: Now I know the score.)|
|Other mothers have also beautiful daughters.||There are plenty more fish in the sea.|
Picking bones instead of plucking chickens
Sometimes the idea is expressed in a similar way. As a German, if you need to talk to someone about something they’ve done which has annoyed you, you pluck a chicken with them, a Brit, on the other hand, picks a bone with them: I’ve got a bone to pick with you. Not such a big difference.
Here are a few more, where I see definite similarities:
|Better the sparrow in the hand than the dove on the roof.||A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.|
|Without sweat no prize.||No pain, no gain.|
|You are on the wood way.||You’re on the wrong track.|
|Hold the ears stiff.||Keep your chin up.|
|She was grinning like a honey-cake horse.||She was grinning like a Cheshire cat.|
Too close to be funny?
Sometimes the two phrases are almost the same. These are the ones where people are disappointed when I don’t laugh 😉
|The devil sticks in the detail.||The devil is / lies in the detail.|
|Don’t see the forest for louder trees.||Can’t see the wood for the trees.|
|End good, all good.||All’s well that ends well.|
And then there are the disappointing cases …
Unfortunately, there isn’t a great equivalent for one of my favourites Don’t play the offended liver sausage. In this case I’d just say Don’t get into a huff.
And you’d expect the Brits, of all people, to wait and drink tea. But they don’t. In English you’d just say Let’s wait and see. Which is pretty boring.