For members


German phrase of the day: Ich glaub’ mein Schwein pfeift

When somebody is telling you a tall tale, you'll be pleased to have this quirky German phrase to fall back on.

German word of the day
Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

Why do I need to know “mein Schwein pfeift”?

Because it’s not only an amusing way to express your disbelief in something, but will also help you impress your German friends with your knowledge of folksy idioms. 

What does it mean?

Quite literally, “Ich glaub’ mein Schwein pfeift” means “I believe my pig is piping”. As you might imagine, a piping pig is a rather unlikely scenario – and that’s exactly what the phrase implies.

You can use it if someone tells you an unbelievable anecdote or does something that really surprises you. For example, if your fitness-averse friend tells you they have signed up to compete in a marathon, you could say: “You’re running a marathon? I think my pig is piping!” (“Du läufst einen Marathon? Ich glaub’ mein Schwein pfeift!”)

There isn’t a direct English equivalent for the phrase, but “when pigs fly” is a fairly similar way to show your scepticism about something. Otherwise, an expression like “I can’t believe my ears!” would have the same effect. 

Where does it come from?

The phrase is believed to date back to Berlin slang in the 1920s. Rather than being a farming metaphor, the Schwein in this case refers to the bulbous, round kettles that look a bit like a piggy bank and whistle when the water boils.

To interrupt unpleasant conversations or show that they were astonished by something, people would claim that their pig was whistling (or piping). This was a jokey way of expressing their desire to remove themselves from the conversation, go into the kitchen and have a sit down. 

Over time, the phrase has taken hold as a common way to express surprise.  

Use it like this:

Bist du wirklich schon mit deinen Hausaufgaben fertig? Ich glaub’, mein Schwein pfeift!

Have your really finished your homework already? I think my pig is piping!

Ich glaube, mein Schwein pfeift. Hat er das wirklich zu dir gesagt?

I think my pig is whistling. Did he really say that to you? 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


German word of the day: Rücksicht

Here's how to take this thoughtful word into consideration.

German word of the day: Rücksicht

Why do I need to know Rücksicht?

Because it’s a commonly used word and knowing what it means – and practising it – will make you a better person.

What does Rücksicht mean?

Rücksicht is a feminine noun which means “consideration” or “regard”. It’s made up of the shortened form of the word zurück meaning “back” and Sicht – which means view. So literally, it means, back view, or looking back.

This literal meaning tells you something about how the word is used in German – if you look back to see what’s happened to your friend, you are taking them into consideration.

If you want to really make sure you don’t forget what Rücksicht means – you can watch the following video of Germany’s 1983 Eurovision song contest entry. The catchy ballad – called “Rücksicht” – came in place 5 of the competition that year. 

How to use Rücksicht

When using Rücksicht, bear in mind that it is usually paired with specific verbs and prepositions.

The most commonly used set phrase is Rücksicht auf etwas/jemand nehmen, which is used to mean “to be considerate of” or “to take care of” someone or something. For example:

Radfahrer müssen auf Fußgänger Rücksicht nehmen.

Cyclists must be considerate of pedestrians.

Er nimmt Rücksicht auf die Bedürfnisse seiner schwangeren Frau.

He takes care of his pregnant wife’s needs.

Rücksicht is usually followed by the preposition auf, but it can be preceded by a number of prepositions to compose different phrases. 

Mit Rücksicht auf for example, means “in view of” and ohne Rücksicht auf means “without consideration for”, while aus Rücksicht auf means “out of consideration for.” 

Here are some examples:

Führungen dürfen aus Rücksicht auf die Teilnehmer nicht aufgenommen werden.
Out of consideration of the participants, tours may not be recorded.
Er will tun, was er möchte, ohne Rücksicht auf die Anderen.
He wants to do what he wants, without considering other people.