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German phrase of the day: keine Ahnung

Sarah Magill
Sarah Magill - [email protected]
German phrase of the day: keine Ahnung
Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

Asked a question and haven't a clue how to respond? Then use this phrase.

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Why do I need to know keine Ahnung?

This widely-used phrase is the German equivalent of the English "no idea" so it's a great expression to know in these very confusing times. The full expression is: Ich habe keine Ahnung! (I have no idea).

Where does it come from?

The feminine noun Ahnung comes from the verb ahnen, which means "to foresee" or "to guess" which can have a slightly sinister connotation and is often used to express an indistinct, dark sense of foreboding.

Put together with the pronoun keine, however, the noun Ahnung takes on a much more flippant meaning and is commonly used as a response to a question to convey complete cluelessness.

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The term keine Ahnung is also part of a popular German saying which comes from the middle ages: von Tuten und Blasen keine Ahnung haben which literally translates as "to have no idea about tooting and blowing".

The phrase has its origins in the fact that the work that was least respected in medieval cities was that of the night watchmen, who carried a horn as a warning. 

From the point of view of the townspeople, their only competence was to stay up at night, walk around and blow the horn in case of danger. If someone was not able to do even this, then they were good for nothing. 

How to use it:

Weißt du, wann er zurückkommt?
Keine Ahnung!

Do you know when he's coming back?
No idea!

Ich habe keine Ahnung was das bedeutet.

I have no idea what that means.

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