German word of the day: Der Fehlkauf

This useful word literally means a faulty purchase, and describes something you have bought in good faith that has gone on to disappoint you.

German word of the day: Der Fehlkauf
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

If you have ever come home from the shops, only to realise that you have bought something completely different to what you wanted, there’s of course a word for it in German: a Fehlkauf. 

This disappointment comes in a number of forms. You would not only describe something as a Fehlkauf if it turns out to be different to what you hoped, but also if it was overly expensive or not fit for its designated purpose. 

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This post shows the greatest ‘Fehlkäufe’ for 2020, with the number one not surprisingly being a ‘Terminplaner’, or schedule.

The Fehlkauf is becoming more and more common with the rise of online shopping. When you cannot see a product in person before you buy it, you may be disappointed when what arrives on your doorstep is not quite what you expected.

READ ALSO: 11 German words and phrases we’ve learned during the coronavirus outbreak

If the new shoes you splashed out on and eagerly waited days to arrive turn out to be incredibly uncomfortable and leave you with painful blisters, they would definitely be a Fehlkauf. You would just have to cross your fingers that there was still time to return them. 

Sometimes you may not realise something is a Fehlkauf until months after purchasing it, and it may have initially been bought with good intentions.

For example, think of the droves of people who decided to spend their cash on home gym equipment during the pandemic, with the intention of using their extra time to finally improve their health and fitness.

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Der Muskelkater

It is easy to imagine that, months later, many of these dumbbells and yoga mats are gathering dust in corners, not touched since the early weeks of the first lockdown. What was originally intended as a healthy, sensible purchase has slowly morphed into a Fehlkauf


Mit dieser Kaffeemaschine habe ich bestimmt einen Fehlkauf getätigt.

I definitely made a mistake in buying this coffee machine. 

Das Risiko eines Fehlkaufs ist wegen Onlineshopping deutlich höher als in vergangenen Jahren.

The risk of a bad purchase is much higher than it was in previous years because of online shopping. 

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German phrase of the day: Etwas aus dem Ärmel schütteln

Anyone who has ever had to come up with a great idea on the fly can probably relate to this German phrase.

German phrase of the day: Etwas aus dem Ärmel schütteln

Why do I need to know ‘etwas aus dem Ärmel schütteln’? 

Because this versatile phrase can come in handy in a range of situations, from having pulled off a great presentation at short notice to coming up with a spontaneous solution to a problem. 

What does it mean?

Etwas aus dem Ärmel schütteln is similar to the English phrase “to pull something out of a hat” or “to have something up your sleeve”. Literally, the German phrase means to shake something out of your sleeve, but in a figurative sense it describes coming up with a bright idea or pulling something off without planning or effort. 

Generally, shaking something out of your sleeve is what’s required when you’re faced with a tricky situation and you need to quickly think up a solution. It might be that you have to stand in for a colleague in an important meeting at short notice, or rustle up a meal from the scraps in your cupboard after forgetting that supermarkets are closed on Sunday. 

READ ALSO: German phrase of the day: Ich glaub’ mein Schwein pfeift

In a similar sleeve-related vein, the English phrase “off the cuff” shares the same sense of executing a difficult task spontaneously. 

So, why are sleeves so important for getting out of a sticky situation? Well, there are a few theories about that.

The first relates to a cheat in card games: if you’re dealt a bad hand, you can always improve your chances by pulling out a few better cards that may have found their way into your sleeve earlier on. 

Another theory dates back to the times when people would wear long robes or other garments with wide sleeves. This would allow people not only to warm their hands, but also to store small objects they may need up their sleeves, to be “shaken out” when the time was right. 

Use it like this: 

Was kann er jeztz aus dem Ärmel shütteln? 

What has he got up his sleeve now? 

Wenn Marina denkt, den Abschluss aus dem Ärmel schütteln zu können, dann hat sie sich aber gründlich vertan.

If Marina thinks she can just pull the degree out of her sleeve, then she is very much mistaken.