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German Animal Expressions, Part I

German, like many languages, uses a lot of idioms referring to animals. You've probably heard the English expression "I'm hungry as a horse" or the term "snail mail." What these expressions have in common in all languages is that they refer to some quality that is associated in that culture with a specific animal: Horses eat a lot of food and snails move very slowly—always compared to humans, of course. Let's take a look today at some German animal expressions.

 

Wohl aufs falsche Pferd gesetzt, hm?

Probably bet on the wrong horse, hm?

Caption 19, Marga Engel schlägt zurück Der Engel von Leipzig

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This one is easy, because English has the same saying with the same meaning: "to make a wrong decision," or "to support something that failed." It comes from racetrack betting or investing in a racehorse.

 

Wisst ihr, was ich der blöden Kuh gesagt habe?

Do you know what I said to the stupid cow?

Caption 28, Weihnachtsfilm Ein Sack voll Geld

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Cows are always being accused of being stupid, but since it's usually male humans who call women "stupid cows," perhaps it's really such men who are stupidly sexist. Thankfully, this awful expression in English is mostly confined to Britain, an island just outside of Europe. Sadly, the Germans seem to have adopted it—though perhaps it was the Germanic Saxons who first introduced it to Britain after all!

 

Sind die dummen Esel die Menschen und die richtigen Esel die Tiere?

Are the dumb donkeys the people and the real donkeys the animals?

Caption 15, Piggeldy und Frederick Der Esel

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If you call somebody an Esel in German, it means you think they are stupid or stubborn, similar to the English phrase "as stubborn as a mule." Mules are half donkey and half horse, of course. Piggeldy is making the point that perhaps it's humans who are dumb, and not donkeys. But of course Piggeldy is only a cartoon pig. Speaking of which...

 

„Wir haben ganz schön Schwein gehabt", sagte Frederick,

"We were very lucky," said Frederick,

Caption 33, Piggeldy und Frederick Reise nach Schweinebrück

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The literal translation of Schwein haben is "to have a swine" (or "pig"), but it means "to be very lucky." The saying apparently comes from old German festivals of marksmanship, where the worst shot was given a piglet as a consolation prize. So despite Schwein being a common German insult, the pig was considered a valuable possession in earlier times and thus meant business income and luck.

 

„Gibt es viele arme Schweine?“, fragte Piggeldy.

"Are there lots of poor swine?" Piggeldy asked.

Caption 21, Piggeldy und Frederick Arm

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Piggeldy, a cartoon pig, is literally asking if there are a lot of "poor swine" in the world. The joke intended here is that armes Schwein, figuratively spoken, means a person who is worthy of sympathy, as something bad has happened to them. Thus, Piggeldy is also asking if there are a lot of unfortunate people. It's similar to the English expressions "poor bastard," "poor wretch," or "poor devil."

 

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. And remember, it's rude to call somebody a blöde Kuh, but it can show sympathy if you call somebody an armes Schwein. Funny isn’t it, how in German, calling somebody a pig can be a nice thing!

Comparative and Superlative Adjectives

Comparative adjectives express a higher degree of a particular quality, whereas superlative adjectives express the highest degree. In order to create comparative adjectives in English, we add "-er" to the end of shorter adjectives (such as "cheaper") or add “more” in front of longer adjectives (“more expensive”). In German, -er is added to all adjectives regardless of how many syllables they have. Mehr is never used for this purpose. 

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„Nichts leichter als das", antwortete Frederick.

"Nothing easier than that!" answered Frederick.

Caption 4, Piggeldy und Frederick - Arm

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Aber was noch viel wichtiger ist als der Saft zum Frühstück, ist natürlich der Kaffee.

But what's far more important for breakfast than juice is, of course, coffee.

Caption 14, Jenny beim Frühstück - Teil 1

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Superlative adjectives in English either have "-est" at the end or are preceded by the adjective “most” ("cheapest," "the most expensive"). In German, the suffix -ste or -sten is used, depending on the declension. Take note: Putting meist in front of an adjective will give it a fully different meaning (similar to "mostly"). 

 

Das ist das schönste Gefühl auf der Welt.

That is the most beautiful feeling in the world.

Caption 66, Kinotipp - Kokowääh

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Am einfachsten ist es bei Papier und Pappe.

It is easiest with paper and cardboard.

Caption 11, Eva erklärt - Mülltrennung

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Jeden Tag trug die Prinzessin die schönsten Gewänder und den teuersten Schmuck

Every day the Princess wore the most beautiful garments and the most expensive jewelry

Captions 7-8, Märchen - Sagenhaft - König Drosselbart

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Further Learning
When you learn a new adjective on Yabla German, take a moment to learn its comparative and superlative forms. Keep in mind that there are irregular forms where a slight spelling change (such as an umlaut) is required. Take a look at this table for some examples.

Trödel and Other Worthless Junk

I was riding on the Berlin U-Bahn (subway) recently and noticed an advertisement from a very well-known auction website on the wall of the subway car that read Trödel mehr als der M41. This use of the verb trödeln had me puzzled, though I knew it was related to the noun der Trödelmarkt:

 

Also, hier gibt es auch viele Secondhand- und Trödelläden.

So, there are also many secondhand and junk shops here.

Caption 26, Jonathan Johnson - Kreuzberg, Berlin

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The noun der Trödelladen has a similar meaning to der Trödelmarkt, just as der Laden has a similar meaning to der Markt. I knew that trödeln means "to sell things at a junk shop or flea market," but what does this have to do with the Berlin M41 bus line? It turns out the slang and most common usage of trödeln is "to go slowly" or "to waste time," but also "to move slowly without a fixed destination," thus "to wander," "to amble," or "to meander." The auction website ad translates approximately to "Wander around (alternately: go shopping for secondhand goods) more than the M41 bus," so it's a play on words on the fact that the M41 is a long, meandering bus line and that you can use the auction site to shop for good deals.

 

The noun der Trödel, which is also short for der Trödelmarkt, has taken on the slang meaning of "useless, worthless things, especially clothing, furniture and household articles," just as you expect to see in a junk shop or flea market, the latter of which translates directly to German as der Flohmarkt, by the way.

 

Junk shops and flea markets are numerous in Berlin and range from places filled literally to the ceiling with useless, broken junk to something much closer to fine antique shops. Those people who are too poor to shop anywhere but at Trödelläden and Flohmärkte can take comfort in the wise words of Piggeldy and Frederick: 

 

„Schätze kann man nicht essen, bloß verkaufen.

"You can't eat treasures, [you can] only sell [them].

Caption 13, Piggeldy und Frederick - Arm

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„Reich ist, wer was verkaufen kann."

"Rich are those who have something to sell."

Caption 16, Piggeldy und Frederick - Arm

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Further Learning
Go to the German Duden dictionary and see the various meanings of der Trödelmarkt, der Trödel, and trödeln, and then see if you can guess the meanings of this list of words relating related to trödeln. Then you can go to Yabla German to find other real-world examples of the words related to shopping in German.

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