These difficult times have brought the German expression Hamsterkauf to the attention of Brits. Whether hamster buying makes them think of the little animals going shopping or people stocking up on the pets, I’m not sure. Either way people are delighted by it.

Not quite the same maybe, but certainly related are the very funny Denglish expressions that arise when German sayings and idioms are translated directly into English. I’ve written about these and what the actual English equivalents are before: Again what learned. Now seems like a good time to have a look at some more.  

Ponies and roses

As we’re all  well aware at the moment, life is no pony farm. And it’s not a wish concert either. Or a sugar-licking. The English equivalent would be life isn’t a bed of roses.

Here are a few other examples where a different image is used to express the same sort of idea:

I must have tomatoes on the eyes. I can’t see the nose in front of my face.
That’s not my building site. Not my circus, not my monkeys.
I have much around the ears. I’ve got a lot on my plate at the moment. (But if what’s on your plate is work, you can also say: I’m up to my ears in work at the moment.)
It is time to make nails with heads. It’s time to put your money where your mouth is.

Bumblebees and ants

If you ask an English speaker if they have bumblebees in their bum you will get some very funny looks (at best). Yet just changing the insect gets you much closer to the English equivalent: Have you got ants in your pants? Other idioms where the English equivalent is similar:

Neck over head. Head over heels. (To fall head over heels in love. But I wouldn’t use the expression for doing anything else suddenly, without warning.)
Neck and leg break. Break a leg. (In English you get off a little lighter.)
There stands me the hairs to mountains. It makes my hair stand on end.
He is a better knower. He’s such a know-all (or know-it-all).

Praise where praise is due

In some cases German has a wonderfully colourful expression which can only be translated rather mundanely into English. That is me so what from sausage, only translates as I couldn’t care less or It’s all the same to me. The same is true in these cases, too.

With him is not good cherry eating. It’s best not to tangle with him. / You wouldn’t want him as your enemy.
I have the nose full. I’m fed up. / I’ve had enough of …  / I’m sick to death of …
Say something through the flower. Say something in a roundabout way.
Fall into the house with the door. To spring something on someone.
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