German word of the day: Der Haken

German word of the day: Der Haken
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Though you might come across this in a hardware store, the word Haken also has a useful colloquial meaning.

Literally meaning a hook, der Haken can also denote a catch or a snag. 

If a deal seems almost perfect, but then you find out there is a catch, in German you would call this der Haken. This is when there is a hidden disadvantage to what appeared at first to be an ideal situation. 

Things are rarely as simple as they appear, but it can still be frustrating to discover the inevitable catch of a decision you thought would be easy.

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If you find a train ticket for half the price of a normal journey and immediately book it before properly checking the trip, only to discover you have to change trains three times and will arrive three hours late, therein lies the der Haken

This use of the term is Umgangssprachlich, or colloquial, and draws upon the literal meaning of the word, likening the drawback of a situation to something you can easily be caught on, i.e. a hook.  

READ ALSO: 10 ways of speaking German you’ll only ever pick up on the street

The idiom ‘einen Haken haben’ (to have a catch) has its origins in angling and figuratively refers to the hook of a fishing rod, which can catch a fish unaware. The colloquialism dates back to Middle High German, which was spoken in the 11th-14th centuries. 

Just like a fish caught off-guard by a fisherman’s hook, we can sometimes be lulled into a false sense of security by what seems to be a straightforward situation, only to get caught on der Haken at the last moment. 

Examples:

Unser Plan ist fast perfekt, doch es gibt einen Haken.

Our plan is almost perfect, but there is a catch. 

Es ist einfach zu gut, wahr zu sein. Wo ist der Haken?

It is simply too good to be true, where’s the catch?


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