German phrase of the day: Asche auf mein Haupt

Asche auf mein Haupt, which literally translates to ‘Ashes on my head’, is a phrase used by someone to express remorse for having made a mistake.

German phrase of the day: Asche auf mein Haupt

You could use this phrase as a way of saying “I’m sorry”, or “my bad”. If you forgot to pick something up for a friend or upset someone unintentionally this is a way of saying that you recognise your mistake, and are sorry for it. 

The origin of Asche auf mein Haupt can be traced all the way back to Biblical times. Ash Wednesday, a Christian Holy Day, marks the start of the Lent period leading up to Easter, the day on which Christians believe Jesus was resurrected. 

The ashes symbolize both death and repentance. During this period, Christians show contrition and mourning for their sins, because they believe Christ died for them.

READ ALSO: 12 eccentric German idioms to get your head around

In these times, there was also a tradition of throwing ashes on people’s heads and clothes on sad occasions. This was considered to be an expression of one’s own grief. 

The Latin phrase Mea Culpa, which means “through my fault” and comes from a prayer of confession in the Catholic Church, is also understood to be an accurate translation for Asche auf mein Haupt.

If you choose to use this phrase in place of “Entschuldigung” or “Tut mir leid”, which are common ways to say sorry, be careful of your tone because Asche auf mein Haupt is sometimes also used ironically!

The phrase is most commonly used in southern Germany, due to its Catholic roots and traditions.


Ich habe vergessen, dir deinen Buch mitzubringen. Asche auf mein Haupt.

I forgot to bring your book. I'm sorry.

Ich habe einen Fehler gemacht. Asche auf mein Haupt!

I made a mistake. My bad! 

Member comments

  1. I truly hate the phrase “My bad” as it is the worst possible idiotic use of the English language and has only been around 20 years or so. I´d prefer to speak German than say it.

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German word of the day: Umstritten

Not everyone agrees on everything - and there are some things almost nobody can agree on. If you find yourself dealing with the latter, you may need to make use of this German word.

German word of the day: Umstritten

Why do I need to know umstritten?

Because umstritten is a handy word that can be applied to multiple situations, but is especially useful when chatting about current affairs or the big social issues of our day. 

You’ll likely come across it while reading articles in German newspapers, or hear your German friends use it while setting the world to rights in the pub. 

What does it mean?

Umstritten is best translated as “controversial” or “disputed” in English. As usual in German, you can easily work out – and remember – what it means by breaking it down into smaller components. 

The first is the prefix um, which tends to mean “around”. Think of German words like umkehren, which means to turn around or reverse, or umarmen, which means to put your arms around someone (or hug them in other words!). 

The second component is the verb streiten, which means to argue. So something that’s umstritten is something that there are lots of arguments around, like a controversial new law, a social debate or a public figure. 

Use it like this: 

Die Pläne der Regierung waren hoch umstritten.

The government’s plans were highly controversial. 

Sein Erbe als Fußballtrainer ist immer noch umstritten.

His legacy as football manager is still disputed today.