German Lessons


Odd German Animal Names, Part II

In Part I of this series, we went through a lot of animals whose names end with -tier. In Part II, we'll continue to look at the root words of German animal names and see how they may—or may not—relate directly to descriptions of the animals. So let's further explore the wild and woolly world of odd German animal names!


Die Schildkröte steckt noch vollständig im Ölschiefer fest.

The turtle is still entirely stuck in the oil shale.

Caption 51, Ausgrabungen: Auf den Spuren der Dinosaurier

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Die Schildkröte combines the noun der Schild with the noun die Kröte, and literally means "shield toad." Imagine seeing a turtle for the first time: Its shell looks like a shield, and its face, with a bit of imagination, might resemble a toad—albeit a very large one!


Normalerweise gelten Waschbären als aggressive Wildtiere.

Normally, raccoons are considered aggressive wild animals.

Caption 2, Die Top Ten: Die unglaublichsten Tiererlebnisse

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You probably noticed already that der Waschbär, the German word for "raccoon," breaks down into "wash bear." That seems a pretty far-fetched description of the animal, which is known for washing food, but does not look much like a bear. In fact, it's possible that the raccoon shares ancestors with those of today's bears, although this is just one theory of several. An 18th century Swedish botanist was the first to make this connection, and since then a number of European languages contain the word "bear" as part of the raccoon's name. The French, however, were less kind—and less accurate—in naming the raccoon le raton laveur ("the washing rat")!


Wenn Fledermäuse so schlafen, dann bin ich froh, dass ich keine bin.

If bats sleep like this, then I am glad that I am not one.

Caption 41, Meine Freundin Conni: Conni schläft im Kindergarten

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Die Fledermaus seems to consist of the noun fledern ("to hurl something vigorously") and the noun die Maus. Thus you have a sort of "throw mouse" or "hurl mouse." But that's not where the word came from! Rather, it comes from the Old High German term Flattermaus, which is derived from the verb flattern, or "to flutter." Thus our root words search reveals the bat to be a "flutter mouse."


Etwa 20.000 Seehunde haben das Wattenmeer zu ihrer Heimat gemacht.

About 20,000 seals have made the Wadden Sea their home.

Caption 11, Abenteuer Nordsee: Unter Riesenhaien und Tintenfischen

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Der Seehund, clearly a "sea dog" by its root words, is of course a seal. Funny that in English, "sea dog" is an old slang term for a sailor! The more proper German name for the seal is die Robbe.


Selbst ausgewachsen werden diese Tintenfische gerade mal 20 Zentimeter groß.

Even fully grown, these squid will only become 20 centimeters long.

Caption 28, Abenteuer Nordsee: Unter Riesenhaien und Tintenfischen

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From the German word for "squid" we can derive, from die Tinte and der Fisch, an "ink fish." The term is slightly confusing, since many varieties of octopus also, like squid, are able to release a dark "ink" to help escape from potential predators. Octopus, in German, is der Oktopus, although the more scientific name is der Krake.


Further Learning
In an upcoming lesson, we'll discuss a number of animals whose names derive from das Schwein, but who are not actually related to the pig family. In the meantime, you can go to Yabla German and watch the videos listed above to find out more about these animals in context.

German Animal Expressions, Part II

German, like many languages, uses a lot of idioms referring to animals. You've probably heard some similar English expressions like "I'm in the dog house," or "to let the cat out of the bag."  Let's take a look today at some more German animal expressions, as continued from Part I.


Mann, du schläfst ja wie ein Bär!

Man, you sleep like a bear!

Caption 21, Meine Freundin Conni: Conni schläft im Kindergarten

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You occasionally see the idiom "to sleep like a bear" in English, but the far more common phrase is "to sleep like a log." Bears hibernate much of the winter, thus it means to sleep very deeply. Logs don't sleep at all, of course, but it suggests a person is sleeping so deeply and heavily that they resemble a log.


Sie will wissen, wie der Hase läuft.
She wants to be more experienced.


The literal translation is "to know how the hare runs." The expression has nothing to do with speed (hares being fast runners), but rather with the knowledge of knowing how they run so quickly. Thus the idiom means to have experience, knowledge, or wisdom. This is related to the next expression:


Du bist ein alter Hase.

You are very experienced.

Caption 33, Oskar: Gehen, wenn es am schönsten ist

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"To be an old hare" means you have a lot of experience, and is similar to the English expression "an old hand."


Judith hat doch hier mit ihrem Projekt fabulös die Kuh vom Eis geholt.

After all, Judith has, with her project here, saved the situation fabulously.

Captions 27-28, Lerchenberg: Sascha hautnah

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The literal translation is "to fetch the cow from the ice," meaning to have saved a precarious situation from disaster. Cows, as we saw in the previous lesson, are widely considered to be stupid animals, so it's no surprise that such sayings have them wandering out onto thin ice!


Ich bin tierisch reich.

I'm very rich.

Caption 15, Die Prinzen_ Alles nur geklaut

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Victorian English, at least judging from period films, made common use of the term "beastly" as an idiom meaning "very." So you'll have an Arctic explorer on the verge of freezing to death saying something like "I say, old chap, it's beastly cold up here!" The word sounds strange to modern ears, however, and is best translated with the simple "very."


Further Learning
Go to Yabla German and watch the above videos to get a better idea of the contexts in which they have been used. You can also search the Redensarten-Index for more animal expressions. It's a good site to bookmark if you come across a German idiom whose meaning isn't clear!

The Preposition "to" in German: Part 1 — nach

In German, there are a number of prepositions that can be translated as "to" to express movement from one place to another: nach, zu, in, an, and auf. Often it is difficult to know which one to use in what context and with what type of place, and you simply have to memorize certain patterns. This week, let's begin with the preposition nach


We use nach when the destination is a city, and also for most countries. However, there are some exceptions to this in which in is used with countries, for example, with die Türkei, die Schweiz, and die Vereinigten Staaten (As you may remember, some countries have genders in German). And keep in mind that the preposition in is used when the destination is die Stadt ("the city" or "the town") or das Dorf ("the village")


Ihre Nachkommen wanderten auch nach Italien und Österreich aus.

Their offspring also migrated  to Italy and Austria.

Caption 26, Alpenseen - Kühle Schönheiten

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Er will in die Schweiz reisen. Schön, was noch?

He wants to travel to Switzerland. Nice, what else?

Caption 37, Deutschkurs in Tübingen - Über jemanden sprechen

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Hi, ich bin Marie. Ich bin gerade mit Julia nach Berlin gezogen.

Hi, I'm Marie. I just moved to Berlin with Julia.

Caption 3, Die Wohngemeinschaft - Besuch

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Eines Tages machte sich der Kaufmann auf den Weg in die Stadt, um Geld zu verdienen.

One day, the Merchant set out for town in order to earn some money.

Caption 9, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Die Schöne und das Biest

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Nach is also used for cardinal directions and with "left," "right," "up," and "down."


Es drehte sich nach links... -Und du? -und dann nach rechts.

He turned to the left... -And you? -and then to the right.

Caption 18, Meine Freundin Conni - Conni schläft im Kindergarten

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Der Russe dreht mit starken Kräften westlich der Düna nach Norden ein.

The Russians are turning west of the Daugava River towards the north with strong forces.

Caption 25, Die Stunde der Offiziere - Dokudrama über den 20. Juli 1944 

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Another rule: while we say "go/drive/come home" in English, the equivalent phrase in German has a preposition: nach Hause + verb.


Und als der Bär nach Hause kam, machten sie sich einen gemütlichen Abend.

And when the bear came home, they had a cozy evening.

Captions 37-38, Janoschs Traumstunde - Post für den Tiger

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Further Learning
We will cover the other prepositions used to express movement from one place to another in coming newsletters. Pay attention to how "to" is translated with various places and directions on Yabla German and stay tuned!

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