German Proverbs Translation

Translated by Alex Herzog

Joachim, Rev. Solomon. "Toward An Understanding of the Russia Germans." Concordia College Occasional Papers 1, (1939): 1-33.


Translator’s Notes:

A caveat -- as with poetry and dialects, it is very much a challenge to render proverbs, adages, and other sayings –  idiomatic by nature – faithfully in the translation target language. In fact, other translators may render these in a different way. So, as we say in an American English expression, please take the results “with a grain of salt …”

Furthermore, I generally do not translate ethnic slurs, therefore I will leave some of these sayings untranslated and unlisted. The same goes for sayings that appear to be misquoted or are generally meaningless. I have no access to the source the author had typed up. I am afraid that the reader may also discover that some of these sayings are not all that wise.

The original sayings (here actually in High German) will be in Italics and in bold, and the translations in a straight-up font.  The German β is here rendered as ss,and although the original did not use umlauts, they are used here.

Mit dem ist nicht gut Kirschen essen, der spuckt einem die Steine ins Gesicht.

You can’t eat cherries with this guy very well; he spits them back in your face. [Kirschen essen” means “to deal with someone” about pretty much anything, or simply to get along.]

Nichts haben ist ein ruhiges Leben.

If you have nothing, you’ll have a quiet life.

Bettelleute haben es gut. Es bricht ihnen kein Ochs kein Horn, und frisst auch keine Maus kein Korn. Bettelleute haben es gut.

Beggars have it good. No steer will break any of their horns, and no mouse will eat any of their corn. Beggars have it good.

Wer den Kopf gewaschen haben will, der muss selber dabei sein.

If you want to have your hair washed, you must be present.

Wenn es auf die Grösse ankäme, dann könnte man mit den Kühen auch Hasen fangen.

If all it took were size, you could catch rabbits even with a cow.

Der hat lieber einen leeren Darm als einen müden Arm.

He would rather have an empty intestine [stomach] than a tired arm [in other words, this is a very lazy person].

Der schlägt ja rein wie der Blinde in den Käs’.

He goes at everything like a blind man attacks cheese.

Lieber eine Laus im Kraut als gar kein Fleisch.

Better to have a louse in your cabbage than no meat at all.

Der pfeift aus dem letzten Loch.

He is blowing out of the very last hole [is at the end of his energy, so to speak].

Gekauft und gemessen ist bald gefressen.

Once it is measured and bought, it is soon eaten [here “eaten” is the German expression for how animals eat.]

[…] possibly misquoted

[…] contains an ethnic slur

Schulden sind keine Hasen, die laufen nicht fort.

Debts are not like rabbits – they won’t just get up and go away.

[…] possibly misquoted

Was nützt es mich, wenn diesen der Teufel holt und ich muss den Fuhrlohn bezahlen.

What good is it to me if the devil gets him, but I still have to pay for his fare.

Der hat den Laufpass bekommen.

He has been given his marching orders [or has been freed from some obligation, etc.]

Hier gibt es kein Maulspitzen, hier muss gepfiffen warden.

Here you can’t just pucker your lips, here you must whistle.

Es gibt kein Fleisch ohne Knochen.

There is no meat without bones.

Lügen ist leichter als Garben dreschen.

Lying is easier than threshing.

[…] a sexist AND age-ist saying …

Ein Esel nennt den anderen Langohr.

A donkey calls another long-eared.

Wenn es auf den Kuhhirten ankäme, dann gäbe es keine Kühe mehr.

If it were for the cowherd, there would no longer be any cows.

[…] possibly misquoted

Mit der Gabel essen ist eine Ehr’, aber mit der Hand kriegt man mehr.

To eat with a fork is polite, but if you use your hand you get more.

Der verdreht die Augen wie ein geschossener Stier.

He is turning his eyes like a bull that has just been shot.

Tritt den Hund nicht auf den Schwanz, er beisst dich.

Don’t step on the dog’s tail, he’ll bite you.

Mühl’ warm und Ofen warm macht den reichsten Bauern arm.

A warm mill and a warm stove makes the richest famer poor. [No idea what this means.]

Morgenstund hat Gold im Mund, aber auch Blei im Rücken.

Morning hours are golden, but may also carry some lead …  [???]

Einem geschenkten Gaul guckt man nicht ins Maul.

Don’t inspect the maw of a horse that’s been given to you; or, as we say, “Do not look a gift horse in the mouth.”

[…] possibly misquoted … unintelligible

Wer sich nicht nach der Decke streckt, dem bleiben die Füsse unbedeckt.

He who does not stretch toward the ceiling may be left barefoot. [???]

[…] another undecipherable meaning

Weiber sterben macht dem Bauer kein Verderben, aber Pferde verrecken macht ihm Schrecken.

[Another typically crude one:] Women dying doesn’t cause the famer a huge problem, but horses croaking causes him real horror. 

Bei dem ist Schmalhans Küchenmeister.

For this one, a bare cupboard is the rule.

[…] an unintelligible one

Wem der Mantel passt, der ziehe ihn an.

If the coat fits him, let him wear it. [We say, “If the shoe fits, wear it.”]

Wer kein Knoblauch gefressen hat, der stinkt nicht.

He who hasn’t eaten garlic will not smell.

Einerlei in welchem Finger du dich schneidest, es blutet und schmerzt.

It doesn’t matter which finger you have a cut on, it’ll bleed and hurt either way.

Vor Hunger fängt die Katze keine Maus, sondern weil es ihre Natur ist.

A cat doesn’t catch mice out of hunger, it’s just its nature.

Wenn man den Hund auf die Jagd tragen muss, fängt er keine Hasen.

A dog that is carried to the hunt will not catch any rabbits.

Appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.


Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller