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.
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— DER SPIEGEL (@derspiegel) July 8, 2022
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.