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GERMAN LANGUAGE

7 ways to talk about money like a German

With many of us having to tighten our belts at the moment, here are some uniquely German ways to talk about the hot topic of money.

7 ways to talk about money like a German
Hands rummage through a box of two-euro coins at the Bavarian Central Mint in Munich, Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Sven Hoppe

1. Geld wie Heu haben

If you’re lucky enough to be extremely wealthy, you may be able to say “Ich habe Geld wie Heu”, though it won’t make you very popular.

The English translation of this widely used phrase is “to have money like hay” –  in other words, to have so much money that it’s barely countable.

As most people don’t have huge hay reserves these days, the phrase likely dates back to the Middle Ages, when the gap between rich and poor, namely between the rural population and the nobility, was particularly stark.

Example:

Seine Eltern haben Geld wie Heu!

His parents have got money to burn!

2. Wer den Pfennig nicht ehrt, ist den Talers nicht wert

This thrifty phrase translates as “he who does not honour the penny is not worth the taler” – taler being an old silver coin. It’s similar in meaning to the phrase “look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves” in that it reminds us to appreciate even the small things, and that many small coins add up to a large sum.

Piles of coins growing in size culminating in a jar filled with coins. Photo: pa/obs DEVK Versicherungen | Fotolia

The origin of this phrase goes all the way back to the time of Martin Luther in the 15th century, who is said to have written the older version of the phrase Wer den Pfennig nicht achtet, der wird keines Guldens Herr (“He who does not respect the penny will not be the master of a Gulden”) above his kitchen stove in chalk.

3. Geld zum Fenster hinaus werfen

This expression is about wastefulness, and means “throwing money out of the window”.

The phrase is said to have originated in the Middle Ages in Regensburg, where the ruler would stand at the town hall window and throw money to his subjects.

But, since it was their tax money he was throwing, the citizens coined the phrase: “Throwing our money out the window” to describe wastefulness.

Examples:

Du hast schon immer das Geld zum Fenster hinausgeworfen.

You have always thrown the money out the window.

Statt das Geld zum Fenster hinauszuwerfen, sollte er besser mal sparen.

Instead of throwing money down the drain, he’d be better off saving it.

READ ALSO: German word of the day – Kohle 

4. Geld auf die hohe Kante legen

This phrase goes back to a time when banks were seen as untrustworthy and people preferred to save their money in a hidden place in their homes.

A girl puts a coin into a piggy bank. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Silvia Marks

The phrase meaning, “to place money on the high ledge” is still widely used today, as a way of saying “put a bit of money aside” and to save.

Example:

Die Deutschen legen immer einen Teil ihrer Einkommen auf die hohe Kante.

Germans always put some of their income on the side.

5. Zeit ist Geld

Ok, so this one doesn’t originate from Germany, but it’s certainly widely-used in the German language.

The expression comes from Benjamin Franklin, the American scientist and politician who wrote it in his “Advice to Young Merchants” in 1748.

READ ALSO: 10 German words that English should adopt

It since found its way into the German language, which is hardly surprising. And Germans’ famous punctuality fits well with the idea that wasted time is costly.

Example:

In dieser Situation gilt: Zeit ist Geld.

In a situation like this, time is money.

6. das Geld aus der Tasche ziehen

This unpleasant phrase means “to pull something out of someone’s pocket” and is mostly used to refer to scamming, rather than theft.

A man takes another man’s wallet out of his back pocket. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Arno Burgi

It usually means to induce someone, in a cunning or fraudulent way, to spend money, or to take financial advantage of someone.

Examples:

Wolltest du mir das Geld aus der Tasche ziehen?

Were you trying to con me out of my money?

Trickbetrüger zeigen sich immer kreativer, wenn es darum geht, ihren Opfern Geld aus der Tasche zu ziehen.

Con artists are becoming increasingly creative when it comes to taking money out of their victims’ pockets.

7. Blank sein

Blank sein – meaning to “be broke”, is a situation most of us have probably found ourselves at one point or another.

The term blank originally meant “bright” or “shiny”, but later, the word came to mean “free of” or “stripped of”, eventually leading to this expression, meaning to be “free of money”.

Example:

Ich würde dir eins abkaufen, aber ich bin blank.

I would buy one from you, but I’m broke.

READ ALSO: 10 ways to express surprise in German

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GERMAN LANGUAGE

How German dialects are battling back against ‘Hochdeutsch’

Hochdeutsch (standard German) is what's taught in schools, and what you hear on mainstream TV. But a huge variety of dialects are alive and thriving - especially in Bavaria - says Augsburg local Nic Houghton.

How German dialects are battling back against 'Hochdeutsch'

Sometimes I wonder if German isn’t so much a language as it is an umbrella term for the thousand variations on a theme. When I speak to my Bavarian neighbours, what I hear is not the standard German or Hochdeutsch I was taught in so many hours of classes at the Volkshochschule (adult education centre). Most are self aware enough to realise when they’ve strayed too far into dialect, or they simply look at my confused countenance and adjust when necessary. Others, such as the Kartoffel Bauer who comes to sell potatoes at the end of the street every Tuesday evening, can’t. He only speaks dialect, Schwabisch to be precise, and if you don’t know what he’s saying, well, no potatoes for you I’m afraid.

When you read about the history of the German language, you quickly realise that much of it is a story of the search for a standardised way of communicating across the country. From medieval merchants trying to sell their wares, or Protestant reformer Martin Luther printing the first German language bible, to the Brothers Grimm compiling the shared fairytales from across the country, all have had a hand in creating a version of German that can be understood by everyone, even someone as remedial as me. The reason for this quest for standardisation was that for centuries Germany was not only divided politically, but also linguistically. There wasn’t just one German language, there were hundreds. 

READ ALSO: What to know about languages and dialects in Germany 

The process of change wasn’t easy, nor was it always welcome. Many Germans then, as today, were proud of their versions of German that identified them as coming from a particular area or group, and they didn’t welcome the change. Writing was codified, but often the spoken language remained in defiance. Of course, progress is rather more of a steamroller than a welcome mat, and soon even the holdouts had to learn to communicate, especially once Germany became a nation in 1871. Many dialect speakers would learn standard German as a foreign language, much as I did, but they would still retain their own particular dialect in spoken form, passing it down to the next generation. 

A woman holds mini German dialect dictionaries.

A woman holds mini German dialect dictionaries. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Peter Kneffel

My own experience of living in different parts of Bavaria has been a lesson in how stubbornly many protected their own dialects. In Nuremberg I was exposed to Fränkisch, which to my untrained ears sounded like whole sentences made up of only B, D and double G sounds. I then moved to Augsburg, where Swabisch is the dialect of choice and everything seems to have this sweeping ‘Schhhh’ sound or is legally required to end in the diminutive suffix ‘-le’; sometimes because the thing in question is small, sometimes because it is cute, and other times because it’s just fun to say words that end in ‘-le’. 

READ ALSO: From Moin to Tach – How to say hello around Germany

Hochdeutsch became the ‘goal’

With all this dialect flying around, it might be assumed that the many versions of German were in rude health, however on closer inspection, that isn’t the case. As the late Germanic linguist Ulrich Ammon pointed out in the 1970s, dialect suffered from post-war conceptions of the correct way to speak German. Dialect was not only frowned upon wherever it was found, but it became interlinked with perceptions of intelligence. Hochdeutsch or High German, was the goal, not dialect. No one wanted to employ some dialect speaking bumpkin, the orthodoxy ran, and so children across the country were taught standardised German, and still are today.

Books, most German TV and radio, and dubbed British or American TV shows all follow the standard version of German too, which has become a concern for those lovers of dialects. They see the creeping homogenisation of the language, and in somewhere like Bavaria, which prides itself on being different from the other 15 states, this is a real problem. It’s just another erosion of the native culture, another traditional value lost, so it comes as no surprise that there are those out there who fight to preserve it. 

For an English speaker, especially from Britain, the discussion of dialect vs standard pronunciation seems familiar. For decades British children were taught that Received Pronunciation or the more grand “Queen’s English” was the goal of all speakers. This rather haughty, clipped version of English is still considered the standard in German schools, even though more modern preferences have taken hold in the UK. Where once the BBC was the beacon of standard pronunciation, through my lifetime I’ve seen different dialects of English become more prevalent and accepted. Now BBC newsreaders or announcers can come from around the country, and a Scouse, Brummy or Geordie isn’t automatically disqualified because they don’t sound as regal as they should. In Germany however, it might be a very long time before we hear dialect on the evening Tagesschau.

A teacher scores out "Tschüss" and writes regional greeting "Grüß Gott" on a board.

A teacher scores out “Tschüss” and writes regional greeting “Grüß Gott” on a board. Photo: Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Armin Weigel

Not the end of dialects

So we may never see the varying dialect of German on the national news, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t interested in them. From my own experience I know that many local and national newspapers have monthly columns from linguists that promote dialects, while sharing the familiar and unfamiliar bits of dialect on Instagram can be a recipe for social media stardom. Others have been more focused on reopening education to dialect. In 2019, Bavaria’s Ministry for Education backed a project entitled “MundART WERTvoll” (dialect worth) which seeks to promote and reward schools, educators, and pupils for projects that focused on Bavarian dialects. This is not to say that dialect was suddenly spilling into standard classes, but that schools were now looking seriously at how to bring students both standard and dialect German.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s minority languages 

Of course, this wasn’t without criticism. The Bavarian Language Association was critical of the fact that many would still hide their dialects in situations where they wanted to be taken seriously, and by doing so they were only furthering the deterioration of Bavarian variations of German. Others went even further, Ludwig Zehetner, a writer famous for his articles about Bavarian dialects, declared that the efforts to preserve Bavarian dialects was commendable, but decades too late. The damage had already been done, all these projects were doing was caring “for a corpse”. 

Clearly at my level of German I’m no judge of the health of Bavarian dialects, but all I know is that I hear dialects far more than I hear standard German. If Bavaria’s dialects are dead, they’ve got a very funny way of showing it. Perhaps Germany has lost something from the drive for standardisation of language, but it doesn’t mean the end of dialects, I believe something so integral to people’s identities is harder to eradicate than that. Maybe some words fall out of favour, while others remain, but ultimately that’s how language works. 

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