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LEARNING GERMAN

How to use the unusual German phrase ’08/15′

Today’s phrase of the day might seem like an arbitrary number – but it is far more than that.

How to use the unusual German phrase '08/15'
Photo: Depositphotos

08/15 is pronounced Nullachtfünfzehn.

When used in a colloquial way, the expression describes something in a derogatory way. It means something is so normal and boring that it’s basically not worth mentioning.

There is no literal English translation for the word as it consists of numbers, but maybe “cookie-cutter” or “plain and ordinary” would be a good way to start.

World War I origins

The origin of 08/15 is a rather weird one – it dates back to the First World War. Back then, the German soldiers had to practice shooting with a certain type of machine gun every morning, for hours on end.

With that machine gun, the MG 08/15, soldiers repeatedly carried out the same routine. That routine quickly got boring and started seeming meaningless to them.

Another origin theory is that the 08/15 guns had a low quality due to their mass production in World War I – therefore nowadays, 08/15 can also be used to describe something that is lacking in quality or substance.

Reich president Friedrich Ebert with soldiers at the end of World War I. Archive photo: DPA

Picked up by popular culture

The term was first widely used in popular culture following the novel trilogy 08/15 by Hans Hellmut Kirst, which spotlighted the lives and struggles of soldiers during World War II. Published in 1954 and filmed the same year, it was one of the first bestsellers of the newly formed Federal Republic of Germany.

While the origin of the notion seems to be a dark one, the word itself isn’t usually connected with the war anymore. Nowadays, people just use the word in any context where it may fit.

The Vobis Microcomputer firm used the name for a series of PCs they released in 1993 under the name of the Highscreen 08/15-Series, with a horse serving as the logo.

Today the term is widely used in the working world. Within the civil service, “08/15” stands for less popular colleagues with high payment, or “Zero idea, 8 hours presence, A 15 salary”.

Computer programmers also praise 0815 as a magic number, in addition to the classic 42 and 4711.

Examples:

Die Einrichtung hier ist mir zu nullachtfünfzehn.

The interior design in here is too boring for me.

Sein Outfit war nullachtfünfzehn.

His outfit was dull.

Mein Job ist momemtan ziemlich nullachtfünfzehn.

At the moment, my job is very repetitive.

For more distinctly German words and phrases, read here.

With additional reporting by Nele Schröder.

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GERMAN WORD OF THE DAY

German phrase of the day: Es ist noch kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen

Anyone struggling with learning German (or any big skill) could use this popular piece of reassurance.

German phrase of the day: Es ist noch kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen

Why do I need to know this?

If you’re getting down on yourself for not doing something you are still learning just right – be it playing the piano or speaking German – you can gently comfort yourself with this phrase. Or you can confidently cite it to reassure your perfectionist friend or family member that they are indeed making great strides towards their goal.

What does it mean?

Literally translated as “There is still no master which has fallen from the sky,” the expression gets the idea across that no one is born – or comes pummeling down from the heavens – as an expert at something.

Rather they become a Meister (or at least halfway decent) through continuous hard work and discipline. 

READ ALSO: 12 colourful German expressions that will add swagger to your language skills

The saying is similar to the also widely used “Übung macht den Meister” (Practice makes the master) or the English version: Practice makes perfect. 

Not surprisingly, Germans – who pride themselves on industriously reaching their goals – have several other equivalent sayings. They include “Ohne Fleiß kein Preis” (There’s no prize without hard work) and “Von nichts kommt nichts” (Nothing comes out of nothing).

Where does it come from?

The popular phrase can be traced back to the Latin “Nemo magister natus”, or no one is born a master. Another version is “Nemo nascitur artifex” or no one is born an artist. This explains why so many languages have similar expressions.

What are some examples of how it’s used?

Sei nicht so streng mit dir selbst. Es ist noch kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen.

Don’t be so hard on yourself. No one is born perfect. 

Mein Trainer sagte, es sei noch kein perfekter Schwimmer vom Himmel gefallen.

My coach said that no one is born a perfect swimmer.

READ ALSO: Six German expressions to entice your Wanderlust

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