Contributing Your Mustard

Idioms, or expressions whose meanings don’t relate to the actual words in the phrase, can be quite tricky for translators. Translating “it’s raining cats and dogs” literally into German, for example, could leave many German speakers staring perplexedly at the sky. To prevent such utter confusion, translators must have a thorough understanding of the target language’s common expressions and their meanings.

These expressions, however, can sound rather funny when translated word for word into English. Take a look at these German idioms below:

  1. Es ist nicht “das gelbe vom Ei.”
    Literal: It is not “the yolk of the egg.”
    Meaning: It is not the best.


So, next time someone asks if you like a new restaurant, feel free to say that while you think it’s an overall okay place, it is clearly not the yolk of the egg.

  1. Ich musste “ihm alles aus der Nase ziehen.”
    Literal: I had to pull everything out of his nose.
    Meaning: With him, it was like pulling teeth (an English idiom equivalent!).

When discussing distressingly quiet people, we pull teeth, Germans pull things out of their nose. To each his own.

  1. Ich “gebe meinen Senf dazu.”
    Literal: I contribute my mustard.
    Meaning: I add my two-cents.

If you like mustard more than pennies, make sure to take part in German conversations.

  1. Er “hat einen Vogel.”
    Literal: He has a bird.
    Meaning: He’s crazy.

In conclusion, in order to avoid sounding like “you have a bird” when conversing in another language, make sure to learn their idioms. Unless you really like birds.


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