German phrase of the day: Nicht die Bohne

Learning this colloquial expression will help you emphasise how much you don't care about something.

German phrase of the day: Nicht die Bohne
Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

Why do I need to know nicht die Bohne?

Because everyone needs another German food-related idiom to add to their vocabulary, and it can also be used in a few different ways.

What does it mean?

Nicht die Bohne (pronounced like this) literally translates to ‘not the bean’ but it has nothing to do with what you’re eating. This phrase actually means something like: ‘not at all’ or ‘not a jot’ and is used to convey when you really don’t care about something. 

The origins of this phrase are said to come from way back in the Middle Ages when the humble bean was one of the most important food staples. But you need a lot of beans to make a proper dish; no-one is interested in a single bean. 

According to researchers, the saying has been documented in Minnesang, a tradition of lyric and song writing in Germany and Austria in the Middle High German period, by performers like Walther von der Vogelweide (1170-1230) and Gottfried von Strassburg (1170-1215).

In von Strassburg’s work Tristan, an adaptation of the classical saga of Tristan and Isolde, a passage about the lovers says: “Sie hätten um ein besser Leben, nicht eine Bohne hergegeben” or  ‘they would not have given a bean for a better life’.

The reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546) is also said to have used Bohne as a synonym for worthlessness.

A cafe worker holds coffee beans in Kaffee9, Berlin.

A cafe worker holds coffee beans in Kaffee9, Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Britta Pedersen

Use it like this:

Das interessiert mich nicht die Bohne.

I couldn’t care less (about that).

Es interessiert mich nicht die Bohne, warum du gestern nicht im Kino warst. Du hattest versprochen zu kommen!

I don’t give a damn why you didn’t go to the cinema yesterday. You promised to come!

Sie konnte nicht die Bohne singen.

She couldn’t sing at all. 

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German word of the day: Umgangssprache

This is a good word to be aware of when you're looking out for phrases to add to your everyday vocabulary in Germany.

German word of the day: Umgangssprache

Why do I need to know Umgangssprache?

We may be getting a little meta here, but we think it’s worth knowing this word so you can listen out for the words around it (or know when not to use this type of language).

What does it mean?

Umgangssprache, which sounds like this, means ‘colloquial language’ or ‘slang’. These are the kinds of words and phrases you might not find in a textbook, but they are heard in everyday life.

By using slang vocabulary, you’ll be able to bring your sentences to life and sound like a true local.

The term is said to have been introduced into the German language by the writer and linguist Joachim Heinrich Campe at the beginning of the 19th century.

Umgangssprache is shaped by the world around it, whether its regional factors or social circumstances of the time. 

Here are a few examples of colloquial phrases and words:

Geil means horny in German, but it is also used colloquially to describe anything you think is cool. In English, you might use the word ‘sick’ or ‘awesome’ in the same context.

Krass is another colloquial word that can mean lots of things. It is usually used to intensify the meaning of something very bad or something very good depending on the tone and context. So something disgusting is krass, and something amazing can also be krass

Das ist mir Wurst translates to ‘that’s sausage to me’, and means you don’t give a toss. 

Das ist doch Käse translates to ‘that’s cheese’ and expresses that you mean something is absolute nonsense. 

And a ruder one is: Das ist am Arsch der Welt. It means ‘that’s the arse of the world’ and refers to a place that is far away or very difficult to reach. In English you might say ‘back of beyond’. 

You would hear these kinds of phrases in relaxed conversations in cafes and bars, but they aren’t so common in formal situations. 

Use it like this:

Ist das Umgangssprache oder kann ich das bei meinem Chef benutzen?

Is that colloquial language or can I use it with my boss?

Mir gefällt die umgangssprachliche Floskel: auf dein Nacken!

I really like the colloquial phrase ‘this is on you!’