German phrase of the day: keine Ahnung

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

German phrase of the day: keine Ahnung
Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

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.

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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German word of the day: Blindgänger

Every once in a while, German emergency crews will have to evacuate entire neighbourhoods after finding one of these.

German word of the day: Blindgänger

What does it mean?

A Blindgänger, which sounds like this, is an unexploded shell, bomb, or grenade. It is a masculine noun and uses the article der.

How do you use it or where might you see it?

Every few months in Germany, someone will stumble across an old explosive –  typically from WWII – that has failed to detonate and simply stood idle where it fell around 70 years ago when Allied planes were bombing German cities, military installations, and industrial targets.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about WWII unexploded bomb disposals in Germany 

In the last month or so, Blindgänger have been either investigated or found in Dortmund, Göttingen, Leipzig, Hanover, Magdeburg, and Berlin. 

If the bomb is particularly big – such as the 250 kg ones sometimes found – some news crews may use the simpler Weltkreigsbombe – or ‘World War bomb,’ to give a better idea of its size.

This was the case on Thursday October 6th, when around 3,300 people had to be evacuated from Friedrichstadt in Dresden as emergency teams prepared to defuse a huge bomb dating back to the Second World War. 

The unexploded bomb had been found on Wednesday morning during construction work, prompting police to organise shuttle buses to evacuate nearby residents. 

Blindgänger is commonly used in news reports though, to describe any type of size of explosive that hasn’t gone off.

After a Blindgänger is sighted, emergency crews will typically evacuate and block off any neighbourhood caught within the explosive’s potential blast zone, while they defuse the bomb.

You might, for example, see a news report like this.

Die Polizei haben die Straße gesperrt und der Blindgänger entschärft

The police blocked off the street and defused the unexploded ordnance.