German, Language

German Idioms Using Body Parts

I could write pages and pages about German idioms that I learn. There are so many wonderful words and phrases out there. Then again, that’s the same for any language – English included, of course. But because of this, I always find it difficult to narrow down idioms for blog posts. Mostly I just go for a list of random ones I’ve recently learnt, but I think I need to start considering putting idioms into categories more – similar to what I did with the post about animal idioms.

For this post, I’ve collected some German idioms that use parts of the body. I learnt one recently that was only slightly different to the English equivalent, so I thought it would be a good start. If you’re looking for some fun words to actually describe certain parts of the body in German, check out another post I wrote about fun ways to say stuff about the body in German.

So here we go – vocab books at the ready!

Hand und Fuß haben

literally: to have hand and foot

English: to make sense

If something has hand and foot in German, it means it makes sense and is understandable. It suggests that somebody has thought something through. So, for example, if somebody is in a debate and gives a very clear and thought-out point, then the Germans would say that his argument has hand and foot. This is one I hear quite a lot, such as at university when a lecturer talks about how to make your coursework make sense or something like that.

sich ins Knie schießen

literally: to shoot oneself in the knee

English: to shoot oneself in the foot

Very similar! I said this the other day to some friends, but, in German, said the English equivalent “sich in den Fuß schießen”. That’s apparently not a thing in German, but it was clear what was meant – thankfully! We then had a discussion as to which actually is worse and concluded that one should not shoot oneself in either the foot nor the knee. Probably best to be on the safe side, after all.

Brett vor dem Kopf haben

literally: to have a board in front of one’s head

English: to be slow on the uptake / to be a bit dumb

The first English translation there was given to me by, which is equally a nice English idiom! This phrase is basically used about somebody who is, well, a bit slow when it comes to understanding something. So you know those moments when, say, you’re faced with a really simple maths problem but you can’t somehow seem to work it out quickly? Germans might ask you if you have a board in front of your head. I feel like us English people would just say “Are you thick?!”. Meanies.

jemandem die Haare vom Kopf fressen

literally: to eat the hair from somebody’s head

English: to eat somebody out of house and home

This is one of the idioms where I actually prefer the English version. We literally eat somebody out of house and home when we go to theirs and eat all their food. The Germans, on the other hand, would complain that guests have eaten all of their hair off. Ew.

viel um die Ohren haben

literally: to have lots around one’s ears

English: to be up to one’s ears

A nice example of the English and German idiom being pretty much identical. Both the English and the German complain that, when they have a lot to do, it piles up up to their ears!

die Nase voll haben

literally: to have one’s nose full

English: to be sick of/to have had enough of

No, this isn’t about having a cold or hayfever. Whilst the English say they are sick of something, have had enough of something, are fed up with something, the Germans like to say that they have their nose full with something. To be fair that’s also not a pleasant though if you think about it literally.

*Bonus fun fact: claims that the phrase “gründlich die Nase voll haben”, literally “thoroughly have one’s nose full”, translates into British English as “to be jolly well fed up”. Oh, I do say!

einen grünen Daumen haben

literally: to have a green thumb

English: to have green fingers

This is one of the idioms that is so similar to English that I end up forgetting which language refers to thumbs and which to fingers. Many a time I’ve said “he has a green thumb” or “Er hat grüne Finger”. But, to be fair, everyone always understands me. I think. So, yeah, if you’re a good gardener, you have a green thumb in German, but you have green fingers in English!

I maybe don’t have the greenest fingers/thumbs ever, but my tomato seeds are showing life!

kalte Füße bekommen

literally: to get cold feet

Another idiom that literally, word for word this time, translates to its equivalent in English. Just like we get cold feet in English when we’re about to do something big and important, the Germans get kalte Füße. So that’s a nice and easy one to learn for English speakers out there!

jemandem auf der Zunge liegen

literally: to lay on somebody’s tongue

English: to be on the tip of one’s tongue

So very similar! In English, if there’s a word in our heads or a name that we know but we just can’t quite remember, it’s right on the tip of your tongue – ready to jump out when you’ve remembered it. In German, it’s just plain laying on your tongue!


Do you know any other German idioms that use body parts? Or any English ones? It would be interesting to see their equivalents in the other language to see if they also use body parts in the other language!


2 thoughts on “German Idioms Using Body Parts”

  1. “Er redet mir ein Loch in den Bauch”
    literally: “He talks a hole into my stomach.”

    I believe the English equivalent is to talk someone’s head off. Ie the person talks too much. (The hole in the stomach is likely from getting hungry after listening for hours….)

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