German words you need to know: Die Gurkentruppe

In the long list of German insults, this is a personal favourite of ours. Here's why you may need to bring a 'troop of cucumbers' with you to the next second-league football match you watch.

German words you need to know: Die Gurkentruppe
The people who helped collect this gorgeous crop of cucumbers were certainly no "Gurkentruppe"! Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Patrick Pleul

Gurkentruppe, made up of the German terms for ‘cucumber’ (die Gurke) and ‘troop’ (die Truppe), is generally used to refer to a group of amateurs or incompetents attempting to carry out a task. 

Perhaps the most common translation into English of this word would be ‘a bunch of amateurs’. It can be used in a number of contexts, but is most commonly used to refer to situations in the workplace, sports or in politics where people with little sense or experience get in over their heads on a task. 

In a country famed for its productivity, you wouldn’t expect this to be a popular addition to the roster of oddly specific and accurate German words, but it seems like even Germans have their workplace woes. 

And in fact, this word has a certain efficiency and cleverness of its own. Cucumbers are the only vegetable enjoyed whilst still unripe – similarly, the football team or cabinet of politicians that this term may be used to refer to are likely not experienced or mature enough to do their job correctly. 

Particularly for sportspeople, the prospect of your team being described as a Gurkentruppe is a truly horrifying one. It is one of the many amusing sport-related pieces of slang terminology used in German.

READ ALSO: German words you need to know: die Streicheleinheit

Another example is the haunting spectre of ‘Oma’ (grandma): if your team is performing particularly badly, Germans are wont to remark that their grandma could have done better than you. If a player fails to score what looked like an easy goal, you’ll hear resentful mutters of ‘den hätte sogar meine Oma gemacht’ (‘even my grandma could have done that’) across the pitch. 

“Oi, ref! Get that troop of cucumbers under control!” Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

So although describing your least favourite players as cucumbers and comparing them to your gran might not seem like the most devastating of put-downs, in Germany they’re quite cutting insults. But the beauty of this particular misanthropic word is that it’s so versatile – slip it into your conversations about politics, sports, work, study and more to look like a real German pro. 

READ ALSO: Borders to cucumbers: Five German words that come from Polish


Der Kommentator bezeichnete die Fußballmannschaft als Gurkentruppe.

The commentator described the football team as a bunch of amateurs.

Der Trainer hätte seine Gurkentruppe auf die Niederlage vorbereiten müssen.

The coach should have prepared the bunch of amateurs for defeat

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German phrase of the day: Lügen haben kurze Beine

This phrase tells you why you should try not to lie.

German phrase of the day: Lügen haben kurze Beine

Why do I need to know Lügen haben kurze Beine?

From the serpent in the Bible to the spectacular fall of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (see the Spiegel cover below with the title ‘one lie too many’), lying has always been morally and socially unacceptable.

Yet everyone lies. Anyone who says otherwise is probably telling fibs. Past research has suggested people lie once or twice per day on average. So, the Germans have found a unique way of tackling lies with this proverb.

What does it mean?

Lügen haben kurze Beine (which sounds like this) literally translates to ‘lies have short legs’. In English you might say: ‘the truth will out’ or ‘lies won’t get you far’.

This proverb was reportedly first found in a German dictionary as early as 1663. As you might expect, this saying is based on the idea that someone with shorter legs can’t run super fast – the metaphor being that a lie won’t escape, it will be found out.

The moral of the story is that honesty is the best policy because nothing can run away from the truth. This symbolic proverb is taught to many German children by their parents. 

But what about white lies? In German, they are pleasingly called Notlüge (emergency lies) and we all know that sometimes not telling the whole truth is appropriate or needed in certain social situations. We’ll look at this in more detail in a future word of the day. 

Use it like this:

Irgendwann wird er mein Geheimnis entdecken, denn Lügen haben kurze Beine.

At some point he will discover my secret, because the truth will out. 

Lügen haben kurze Beine, vor allem im Internet.

Lies can’t get far, especially on the internet.

Ich rate Ihnen, heute die Wahrheit zu sagen. Lügen haben kurze Beine.

I advise you to tell the truth today. Lies won’t travel far.