Why do I need to know ‘etwas aus dem Ärmel schütteln’?
Because this versatile phrase can come in handy in a range of situations, from having pulled off a great presentation at short notice to coming up with a spontaneous solution to a problem.
What does it mean?
Etwas aus dem Ärmel schütteln is similar to the English phrase “to pull something out of a hat” or “to have something up your sleeve”. Literally, the German phrase means to shake something out of your sleeve, but in a figurative sense it describes coming up with a bright idea or pulling something off without planning or effort.
Generally, shaking something out of your sleeve is what’s required when you’re faced with a tricky situation and you need to quickly think up a solution. It might be that you have to stand in for a colleague in an important meeting at short notice, or rustle up a meal from the scraps in your cupboard after forgetting that supermarkets are closed on Sunday.
In a similar sleeve-related vein, the English phrase “off the cuff” shares the same sense of executing a difficult task spontaneously.
So, why are sleeves so important for getting out of a sticky situation? Well, there are a few theories about that.
The first relates to a cheat in card games: if you’re dealt a bad hand, you can always improve your chances by pulling out a few better cards that may have found their way into your sleeve earlier on.
Another theory dates back to the times when people would wear long robes or other garments with wide sleeves. This would allow people not only to warm their hands, but also to store small objects they may need up their sleeves, to be “shaken out” when the time was right.
Use it like this:
Was kann er jeztz aus dem Ärmel shütteln?
What has he got up his sleeve now?
Wenn Marina denkt, den Abschluss aus dem Ärmel schütteln zu können, dann hat sie sich aber gründlich vertan.
If Marina thinks she can just pull the degree out of her sleeve, then she is very much mistaken.