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German Body Idioms

Like English, German has many idioms that involve parts of the body. If you read our past newsletter about idioms that relate to feet, you can see the German idiom von Kopf bis Fuß — from head to foot — and note right away that there is a similar idiom in English. Like its German counterpart, "from head to toe" also means "completely" or "thoroughly."

Often, idioms with the same meaning in both languages will be similar, but not identical. Have a look:

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Kopf hoch! Wie heißt es doch so schön?

Head up! What is it indeed that they say?

Caption 34, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Die Prinzessin auf der Erbse

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In English, we say "chin up" when we are encouraging someone to remain optimistic. Another expression for this in German is halt die Ohren steif.

 

Wir drücken die Daumen.

We'll press the thumbs.

Caption 40, Die Pfefferkörner - Eigentor

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In English, we "keep our fingers crossed" when we are wishing for a positive outcome.

 

Essen kann er auch in Ruh'. Vater drückt ein Auge zu.

He can eat in peace. Father turns a blind eye.

Caption 4, Der Struwwelpeter - Ausschnitte

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"To turn a blind eye" is the equivalent expression in English.

 

Und jetzt willst du für ihn den Kopf hinhalten?

And now you want to hold your head out for him?

Caption 24, Die Pfefferkörner - Endspurt

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English-speakers wouldn't "hold their head out" for someone and take the blame for them. Instead, they would "stick their neck out."

 

Eine Hand wäscht die andere“ bedeutet,

"One hand washes the other" means

dass Hilfsbereitschaft auf Gegenseitigkeit beruht.

that helpfulness is based on reciprocity.

Captions 50-51, Cettina erklärt - Sitten und Bräuche

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In English, there is an expression with a similar meaning, which is "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours."

 

Further Learning
You will find more idioms on Yabla German (for example, in this video) and on the Yabla German lessons page. Look up the following German idioms and see if you can figure out their English equivalents: sich ins Knie schießenjemandem auf die Füße tretensich Hals über Kopf verliebenjemandem ein Dorn im Auge seindas Herz auf der Zunge tragen, and viel um die Ohren haben. 

Sayings with Scriptural Backgrounds

When the Old Testament was translated from clerical Latin into the common spoken languages in the 16th century, it had a profound effect on European spoken languages and literature. Many of the phrases derived from this work are so common that people are often not even aware of the source. Here are some examples of phrases with a scriptural background that German and English languages use in everyday speech.

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Und neunzehnhundertfünfundneunzig hatte ich dann die erste Ausstellung zu diesem Thema ... „Es werde Licht“.

And in nineteen ninety-five I then had the first exhibition on this theme ... "Let there be light."

Captions 17-18, Malerei - Benno Treiber - Part 1

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Essen kann er auch in Ruh'. Vater drückt ein Auge zu.

He can eat in peace. Father turns a blind eye.

Caption 4, Der Struwwelpeter - Ausschnitte

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Selbstverständlich, wie auf meinen eigenen Augapfel.

Of course, like the apple of my eye.

Caption 11, Abenteuer und Sport - Fallschirmspringen

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Hochmut kommt vor dem Fall.

Pride comes before the fall. [Pride goes before a fall.]

Caption 24, Eva erklärt - Sprichwörter - Part 1

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Worte zu Asche und Staub zu Staub

Words to ashes and dust to dust

Caption 46, Luxuslärm - Interview - Part 3

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The above is a play on the usual saying "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust."

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Further Learning
Be sure and see the latest Yabla video Eva erklärt: Sprichwörter for a selection of more German phrases on Yabla German

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