Idioms are fantastic for presenting wise advice or transferring underlying principles in a culture, but they’re also the perfect tool to make me feel like an idiot, especially in a different country.
In English, we have fancy-sounding idioms such as, “Actions speak louder than words,” but we also have asinine sayings like, “Cool as a cucumber.” And, oh boy, does German have some aggravating, although clever, idioms to offer.
German has proven to be an enjoyable and challenging language to learn. For my feeble English mind, it’s like trying to solve a puzzle when they speak, but the puzzle is being thrown at my head from multiple directions at different speeds.
To increase my strain, I attempted to grasp some German idioms for the sake of avoiding sticking out like a sore thumb while living in Germany.
For example, if you want to say that a person is not seeing what everyone else can see, you would literally say, “You have tomatoes on your eyes,” in German. If you’re like me and have no clue what someone is talking about, you can say, “I only understand the train station.” And then maybe they’ll retort with a, “You’re missing cups in your cupboard,” to say you’re crazy.
Unique idioms aside, I want to mention some things I absolutely love about this language, such as how German has a word for almost everything. Sometimes they are so literal it’s comical, and words can be 42 letters long (actually, this characteristic makes me want to die inside).
Moving on from my figurative death, I want to focus on my first point. Do you seek a word to describe making something worse while trying to fix it? There’s a word for that: Verschlimmbessern. There’s even a word for feeling pressure to make a move when you would rather do nothing, which is Zugzwang. Oh, and there’s Kummerspeck, or weight gained via emotional overeating.
Words can be extremely literal. Sometimes if I don’t know a word, I try mashing two logical words together to see if they make the beautiful, Frankenstein one I’m looking for.
For example, Fernweh, or distance pain, is used to describe the feeling of wanting to be somewhere; Fremdschämen, or exterior shame, describes the feeling of secondhand embarrassmen; Brustwarze, breast wart, is a nipple; and Handschuhe, hand shoes, means gloves. I could go on, but you get the point.
It’s funny — all of these words and more exist, but there isn’t a definite one for boyfriend or girlfriend.
Peculiarities and complexities aside, German is amazing and worth learning, because who can hate a language that says, “Until we meet again,” more commonly than, “Goodbye.”