“To make an elephant out of a mosquito”: German Idioms Part V

It’s time for another German Idioms post, after having collected quite a few good ones over the past few months. I’ve filtered down to some of the best ones, and will perhaps use the rest for another post some time.

Enjoy these fun German idioms!

etwas in petto haben

Literally: “to have something in petto”

Translation: “to have something up one’s sleeves”

After having looked this phrase up online, I have learnt that ‘in petto’ is actually a word in English, too, meaning something along the lines of ‘secret’. It comes from the Italian word ‘petto’ meaning chest, so I guess if you have something secret, it’s ‘in your chest’ because you don’t tell anybody about that. Anyway, there was a nice little etymology story for you! Moving swiftly on…

auf jemanden abgesehen

Literally: “to aim at someone”

Translation: “to have it in for someone”

I can’t quite remember the context in which I heard this phrase, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t about me. I think. But still a nice little phrase for those of you out there who might have it in for someone. You can also replace the “jemanden” (someone) and put an object in its place, meaning you’re after something.

aus einer Mücke einen Elefanten machen

Literally: “to make an elephant out of a mosquito”

Translation: “to make a mountain out of a molehill”
(literally in German: “aus einem Maulwurfshügel einen Berg machen”)

What a wonderful phrase! In English we make mountains out of molehills, but the Germans get a bit more biological and go for making elephants out of mosquitos. I think it’s quite clear that elephants are bigger than mosquitos, so I managed to understand this phrase straight away. Clever German!

“Stop making elephants out of mosquitos!”. Poor elephants! Image credit: — Eva Funderburgh (https://www.flickr.com/photos/genkigecko/) – Subject to CC 2.0 License.

auf Wolke sieben sein

Literally: “to be on cloud seven”

Translation: “to be on cloud nine”

This is a nice little example of how difficult learning a language really can be. In German, you’re on cloud seven if you’re really happy. In English, you’re on cloud nine. Why? I’m not sure – just learn it! (Though if anybody does know, do let me know in the comments!)

eins und eins zusammenzählen

Literally: “to count one and one together”

Translation: “to put two and two together”

You can tell I’m a bit of a number geek. Here’s another example of number-changing through translation. In English, when we work something out or something clicks in our mind, we put two and two together. In German, they count together one and one to get the solution.

Hätte, hätte, Fahrradkette.

Literally: “Would have, would have, bike chain.” (Ha!)

Translation: “Shoulda, coulda, woulda.”
(Just for fun – literally in German: “Hätte sollen, hätte können, hätte.”)

Though I did get what the person meant when they said this to me (the two “hätte” gave it away), I was still shocked and quite amused of the use of “bike chain” at the end. I’m not sure on the etymology of the phrase, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was literally purely due to the fact that it rhymes and flows easily off the tongue. A very cool phrase indeed!


“It’s too late now! Woulda, woulda, bike chain!” — Image credit: Joerg (planet-fahrrad.de) – Subject to CC 2.0 License.




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