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.



Porträt Nicola Bartlett
Nicola Bartlett
I’ve been an English trainer for over 25 years, helping adults to get their message across in English – clearly and appropriately. Successful communication in English requires more than just a good knowledge of the language. An understanding of different mentalities and a feeling for the best approach are vital, too. » more