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LEARNING GERMAN

German phrase of the day: Das Blaue vom Himmel versprechen

Many parts of Germany have been blessed with seemingly unending clear skies over the last few weeks. This useful German phrase wards you off getting too comfortable with this kind of weather.

German phrase of the day: Das Blaue vom Himmel versprechen
A plane flew over a perfectly blue sky in Cologne on Monday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Rolf Vennenbernd

Das Blaue vom Himmel versprechen means ‘to promise the blue of the sky’, or in other words to sell an unreachable dream. We have a number of variations on this sentiment in English, if you are setting unrealistic expectations you may be said to be promising heaven and earth, or even the moon and the stars.

Though the idioms in English are generally celestial, the sky is clearly the limit in Germany. Ever the realists, the Germans believe it is even too far-fetched to try to guarantee good weather. 

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Das Kaiserwetter

The idiom comes from the idea that it is never a good choice to try and assure someone of factors that are out of your control. As much as you may be confident that the skies will remain cloudless for the foreseeable future, sometimes even top weather forecasters can’t predict a storm. 

A company may be said to be promising blue skies if they make fanciful claims about a product or service, usually without a lot of evidence. If a company suggests they can change your life, in return for vast amounts of money of course, you will probably be left disappointed. 

This idiom can also be applied to an individual who rarely delivers on their promises. It can become quite tiresome to be let down over and over again by a friend who talks a good game, but rarely follows through. Whether you constantly arrive late, forget key events, or can’t be trusted with important tasks, despite your best assurances, you may leave your German friends disappointed. 

Examples: 

Geschäftsleute versprechen das Blaue vom Himmel wenn sie ihre Produkte anpreisen.

Business people will promise the moon and the stars when advertising their products. 

Politiker versprechen einem das Blaue vom Himmel, auch eine Politik, die in die sichere Katastrophe führt.

Politicians will promise almost anything, even policies that are bound to end in disaster.

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GERMAN WORD OF THE DAY

German word of the day: Witzfigur

You may like to think your jokes are "witzig" - but beware of getting labelled with this German word. It's not nearly as funny as it sounds.

German word of the day: Witzfigur

Witz, the German word for “joke”, is one of the first words a lot of foreigners come to learn when they start learning German. But it may be a little longer until you encounter what’s known as a Witzfigur.

Combine the word der Witz (joke) with the word die Figur (figure or character) and you get die Witzfigur (wits·fii·guur) – someone who may well be (unintentionally) funny, but is more likely to be the butt of somebody else’s joke. 

Think of it a little bit like the English expression “figure of fun”, or – more commonly used – a laughing stock. 

A Witzfigur may pop up in jokes, stories and songs as a clownish sidekick who offers some light relief.

In some cases, these Witzfiguren are there to act as the wise fool and reveal some deeper insight into what’s going on. In many cases, though, they’re just there to get a cream pie chucked in their face. 

It’s worth remembering that not every character in a joke is the butt of it – that is to say, not every Witzfigur is a Witzfigur.

In German, there’s a tradition of jokes involving Klein Fritzchen (little Fritz) – a fictional boy who pops up time and time again in various comedic scenarios, usually in order to say something insulting to someone. 

READ ALSO: German words you need to know: Der Zappelphilipp

Little Fritz is not so much a figure of fun as a literal Witzfigur: a character in a joke. And in fact, his role in the jokes often involve delivering the punchline that makes someone else the laughing stock. 

That said, if you hear someone described as a Witzfigur in real life, it usually doesn’t mean anything good.

In fact, it often means they’ve done something pretty peinlich (embarrassing) or deserving of public mockery. And yes, it can often be applied to politicians.

By way of example, the term was recently used by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) to describe Gerhard Schröder, the former chancellor of Germany who has recently been stripped of many of his perks for insisting on taking Kremlin-linked jobs.

When asked about Schröder, Lauterbach said: “He has succeeded in being a former chancellor (who is) now on the verge of being a laughing stock.”

So, by all means, make a “Witz” or two, and definitely don’t be afraid of doing anything “witzig” (witty or funny), but if you ever find yourself on the verge of become a Witzfigur, it could be time for a change of course.

Examples 

Er ist nur eine Witzfigur. Vergiss ihn. 

He’s just a joke. Forget about him. 

Ich habe angst davor, eine Witzfigur zu werden.

I’m afraid of becoming a laughing stock. 

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