I am fond of proverbs and idioms as they can reveal so much about a culture and its people. Being a translator, I am particularly interested to see whether they can or cannot be translated, since it provides a glimpse into the differences and similarities of two cultures – in my case the English and the German. Here is another helping of wonderful idioms from both sides of the channel.
With the Christmas holidays and the festive season approaching fast, and following on from the pudding theme of my previous post, I couldn’t help thinking of some delicious food related idioms.
We consider an easy task or activity to be a piece of cake in English, but in German you would simply call it a Kinderspiel (child’s play). Culinary points for the English language here. On the other hand, if someone is really annoying, he or she steps on the biscuit in German (auf den Keks gehen), whereas in English we would say that this person is getting on our nerves (which also translates literally into the German auf die Nerven gehen). Scores on the culinary scale: 1–1.
If you have to do something you really don’t fancy doing, you are biting into a sour apple in German (in den sauren Apfel beißen), whereas in English you will have to bite the bullet. This expression stems from the days before anaesthetics were invented, when wounded soldiers were given a bullet to bite on whilst they were being operated on. Not so tasty. And while we take something with a pinch of salt in English when we feel that someone is exaggerating, Germans prefer not to consider it as cash (nicht für bare Münze nehmen). The comparison of someone’s word with a coin or a metal has a long tradition in German. The German proverb Reden ist Silber, Schweigen ist Gold directly translates into the English [speech is silver,] silence is golden. However, that’s a bit hard on the palate as well, so it looks like a 2–2 draw after all.
Moving on to a more heavenly subject, in English we are on cloud nine if we are really happy, whereas in German you settle for cloud number seven (auf Wolke sieben), which must be roughly in the same area, considering they are both in seventh heaven (im siebten Himmel).
On that note I wish you a high-spirited and very merry festive season!
If you have any favourites among the weird and wonderful idioms in English or German, please get in touch. I love to hear about them.