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German word of the day: Die Blechlawine

You might hear this word when friends are running late and they want to explain why - or even on the radio during the travel news.

German word of the day: Die Blechlawine

We all know the feeling when you finish up work, get ready to leave, jump in your car and, well, you don’t go very far.

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Instead of cruising down the Autobahn listening to Taylor Swift, Helene Fischer or which ever music takes your fancy, you’re stuck, bumper to bumper, with a load of other cars, lorries and vans. You could call it a Stau (traffic jam) and you’d be absolutely right to. But you could also call it a Blechlawine if you wanted to portray a more vivid image.

So let's break it down: Blech means metal sheet, while Lawine is the word for an avalanche, something you might find in the Alps. But if you think about it, a large queue of cars filling up Autobahn lanes does kind of seem like an avalanche of metal. It's a very visual way of describing a packed road.

The most accurate translation in English is probably 'river of metal' or 'stream of cars'.

In a country that loves its cars as much as Germany there are even more ways to say traffic jam. One of those is the word Blechschlange, which means the same as Blechlawine.

Schlange is a super common German word that has a double meaning. It means snake but it's also the word for a queue. So there can be a long Schlange at the supermarket or a long Schlange of cars on the road.

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A Blechlawine or Blechschlange on the Autobahn near Hamburg last year. Photo: DPA

As The Local reported last week, a record 750,000 traffic jams were recorded on Germany's Autobahn system last year, the ADAC (General German Automobile Club) said. On average there were more than 2000 traffic jams per day.

Due to these Blechschlange, drivers were forced to a standstill for a whopping 459,000 hours – that's equal to about 52 years.

So although the Autobahn system is viewed as one of the best in the world, it's not plain sailing and there's certainly a lot of Blechlawine to wade through.

Examples:

Die Blechlawine rollt nicht, sie steht.

The Blechlawine isn't moving, it's standing still.

Bei dem Rennen mussten sich die Fahrer auf ihren Fahrrädern durch die Blechlawinen der Stadt schlängeln.

At the race the cyclists on their bikes had to wind through the traffic jams in the city.

Eine endlose Blechlawine wälzt sich die Straße entlang.

An endless Blechlawine is rolling down the street.

Tut mir leid, dass ich zu spät bin, es gab eine Blechschlange.

Sorry I'm late, there was a traffic jam.

In einer kilometerlangen Blechschlange, krochen 200 Taxen durch die Innenstadt.

In a mile long traffic queue, 200 taxi cabs slowly crept through the inner city.

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Do you have a favourite word you'd like to see us cover? If so, please email our editor Rachel Stern with your suggestion.

This article was produced independently with support from Lingoda.

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GERMAN WORD OF THE DAY

German phrase of the day: Lügen haben kurze Beine

This phrase tells you why you should try not to lie.

German phrase of the day: Lügen haben kurze Beine

Why do I need to know Lügen haben kurze Beine?

From the serpent in the Bible to the spectacular fall of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (see the Spiegel cover below with the title ‘one lie too many’), lying has always been morally and socially unacceptable.

Yet everyone lies. Anyone who says otherwise is probably telling fibs. Past research has suggested people lie once or twice per day on average. So, the Germans have found a unique way of tackling lies with this proverb.

What does it mean?

Lügen haben kurze Beine (which sounds like this) literally translates to ‘lies have short legs’. In English you might say: ‘the truth will out’ or ‘lies won’t get you far’.

This proverb was reportedly first found in a German dictionary as early as 1663. As you might expect, this saying is based on the idea that someone with shorter legs can’t run super fast – the metaphor being that a lie won’t escape, it will be found out.

The moral of the story is that honesty is the best policy because nothing can run away from the truth. This symbolic proverb is taught to many German children by their parents. 

But what about white lies? In German, they are pleasingly called Notlüge (emergency lies) and we all know that sometimes not telling the whole truth is appropriate or needed in certain social situations. We’ll look at this in more detail in a future word of the day. 

Use it like this:

Irgendwann wird er mein Geheimnis entdecken, denn Lügen haben kurze Beine.

At some point he will discover my secret, because the truth will out. 

Lügen haben kurze Beine, vor allem im Internet.

Lies can’t get far, especially on the internet.

Ich rate Ihnen, heute die Wahrheit zu sagen. Lügen haben kurze Beine.

I advise you to tell the truth today. Lies won’t travel far. 

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