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LEARNING GERMAN

The everyday German groceries that have a double meaning

The food that you put in your shopping basket at the German supermarket isn’t just the ingredients for a tasty dinner, it can also add some flavour to your spoken German.

The everyday German groceries that have a double meaning

Like in many languages, spoken German is peppered with colloquialisms that don’t seem to make much sense at first glance. For some reasons, Germans are particularly fond of spicing up their Umgangssprache by giving groceries new meanings.

Eier (eggs)

Eier are not just ovals that you crack into your frying pan in the morning, they are also the two ovals that hang between a man’s legs.

If you want to compliment a man on his bravery you can say that er hat dicke Eier (he’s got fat eggs).

Or, if you a football hits you in the wrong place you can say “Aua, das hat mich direkt in die Eier getroffen!” (that hit my eggs).

By the way, your Nudel (pasta) completes the trinity of the male genitalia.

Birne (pear)

More anatomy here: your head is sometimes referred to in everyday speech as either your Birne or your Rübe (turnip). This is somewhat equivalent to the word ‘noggin’ in English dialect.

Kartoffel (potato)

The German word for a potato is also used as an insult for people who are ethnically German. It could also be used ironically by Germans to describe typically German behaviour. Er ist eine richtige Kartoffel! is an insult you might reserve for someone who wears socks and sandals outdoors.

Kartoffel as a description for Germans has become controversial in recent years, with some conservative politicians warning that it is being used in school playgrounds to bully German children.

Wurst (sausage)

The Ahlenwurst (seen here) is a speciality from Hessen. Photo: dpa | Uwe Zucchi

Germans famously care about their sausages. Most regions have their own local delicacy and will proudly insist that it is the best in the country. But the word Wurst can also be used to mean that you don’t care.

So, if you want to tell someone you don’t give a toss, you can say: Das ist mir völlig Wurst! (That’s complete sausage to me).

Apparently, the phrase comes from the fact that butchers once used leftover meat in their sausages.

Bier (beer)

An expression using the German word for beer is similar. To say Das ist nicht mein Bier is to say that’s not my business (and is usually used just after you’ve poked you nose into someone else’s affairs).

The origins of this phrase seem obscure. One theory has it that the word Bier has come to replace Birne (pear), which is used to mean Sache (thing) in some dialects.

Salat (salad)

The word for lettuce or salad can be used in a couple of ways in everyday speech. If someone is talking gibberish then a Wortsalat is coming out of their mouth.

Additionally, if you have the salad (den Salat haben) then you are counting the cost for a misadventure.

Sahne (cream)

You might not be surprised to hear that the word for cream signifies exclusivity in German. Much like the expression crème de la crème, Germans call something erste Sahne to mean it is top notch.

SEE ALSO: These eight words show just how different German and Austrian Deutsch can be

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GERMAN LANGUAGE

10 ways to express surprise in German

From woodland fairies to whistling pigs, the German language has a colourful variety of phrases to express surprise.

10 ways to express surprise in German

1. Alter Schwede!

You may recognise this phrase from the cheese aisle at the supermarket, but it’s also a popular expression in Germany for communicating surprise. 

The phrase, which means “old Swede” comes from the 17th century when King Frederick William enlisted the help of experienced Swedish soldiers to fight in the Thirty Years’ War.

Because of their outstanding performance in battle, the Swedish soldiers became popular and respected among the Prussians, and they were respectfully addressed as “Old Swede”. Over the last three hundred years, the phrase developed into one to convey awed astonishment. 

READ ALSO: German word of the day – Alter Schwede

2. Holla, die Waldfee!

This curious expression literally means “Holla, the wood fairy”. It can be used both as an exclamation of astonishment and to insinuate that something is ridiculous.

Engraving of a fairy in the picnic park in Enfield in the UK.

Engraving of a fairy in the picnic park in Enfield in the UK. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Mareike Graepel

There are various explanations as to how the forest fairy made it into the German lexicon. Some say that it comes from the Grimm’s fairy tale “Frau Holle,” while others say it comes from an old song called “Shoo, shoo, the forest fairy!”

READ ALSO: 10 words and phrases that will make you sound like a true German

3. Das ist ja ein dicker Hund!

Literally meaning “that is indeed a fat dog!” this expression of surprise presumably originates from a time in the past when German dogs were generally on the thinner side.

4. Ich glaube, ich spinne!

The origin of this expression is questionable, because the word “Spinne” means “spider” and also “I spin”. Either way, it’s used all over Germany to mean “I think I’m going crazy” as an expression of surprise.

5. Ich glaube, mein Schwein pfeift!

The idea of a pig whistling is pretty ridiculous, and that’s where the phrase  – meaning “I think my pig whistles” – comes from. Germans use this expression when they can’t believe or grasp something, or to express that they are extremely surprised.

The pig Rosalie stands on a farm in a pasture.

The pig Rosalie stands on a farm in a pasture. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

6. Meine Güte!

This straightforward phrase simply means “my goodness” and is a commonly used expression of astonishment.

7. Oha!

More of a sound than a word, this short exclamation will let the world know that you are shocked by something.

READ ALSO: Denglisch: The English words that will make you sound German

8. heilige Blechle!

Often when surprised or outraged, we might let slip an exclamation that refers to something sacred. This phrase fits into that bracket, as it means “holy tin box”. 

The peculiar expression comes from the Swabian dialect and refers to the cash box from which the poor were paid by the Church in the Middle Ages.

The green house number nine which won an award for energy-efficient renovation and construction in Saxony-Anhalt.

The green house number nine which won an award for energy-efficient renovation and construction in Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert

9. ach du grüne Neune!

This slightly antiquated expression literally means “oh you green nine!”, or “oh, my goodness!” and is one you’re more likely to hear among the older generation of Germans.

The origin of the phrase is disputed. One explanation claims that it comes from the famous 19th century Berlin dance hall “Conventgarten” which, although it was located in Blumenstraße No. 9, had its main entrance in “Grüner Weg”. Therefore, the locals renamed it as “Grüne Neune” (Green Nine).

Another explanation is that the phrase comes from fairs where playing cards were used to read the future. In German card games, the “nine of spades” is called “green nine” – and pulling this card in a fortune telling is a bad omen.

10. Krass!

The word Krass in German is an adjective that means blatant or extreme, but when said on its own, it’s an expression of surprise. Popular among young Germans, it’s usually used in a positive way, to mean something like “awesome” or “badass”.  

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