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German-English Idioms

Redewendungen - Idioms • B

An annotated glossary of idioms,
sayings, and proverbs in German

> A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M... | W

Also see:
   > Introduction to this glossary
   > Idioms and Sayings: Contents

Glossary Guide: To find an idiom, saying, or proverb, look for it alphabetically by key word or key phrase. Example: To find "Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei," you could look under "A" for "alles," "E" for "Ende," or "W" for "Wurst" (when the glossary is complete). All idioms or sayings are listed in German with an English translation. English in parentheses ( ) indicates the literal translation of an expression or proverb.


B > See "Wer A sagt, muss auch B sagen" under A.

Bahnhof (train station) > nur Bahnhof verstehen
   Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof.
   It's clear as mud to me. It's Greek to me.

Banane (banana) > Das ist Banane! (youth slang)
   That's ridiculous! That's crazy!

Bank (bench) > etwas auf die lange Bank schieben
   to put something off, procrastinate (shove something onto the long bench)

Bart (beard) > einen langen Bart haben
   to be as old as the hills (have a long beard)

Bär (bear) > jemandem einen Bären aufbinden
   to put something over on someone, to fool someone (tie a bear on someone)

Bär (bear) > Man soll das Fell des Bären nicht verteilen, bevor man ihn erlegt hat.
   Don't count your chickens before they're hatched. (Don't divide up the bear skin before you've killed the bear.)

Bär (bear) > stark wie ein Bär
   strong as an ox (bear)

Bär (bear) > Wer Bären fangen will, muss sich mit Honig versehen.
   You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. (To catch bears you need honey.)

Variation: "Mit Speck fängt man Mäuse." (You catch mice with bacon.)

Baum (tree) > Es ist kein Baum, der nicht zuvor ein Sträuchlein gewesen.
   Mighty oaks from little acorns grow. Great things start with small beginnings. (Every tree was once a sprig.)

Bausch und Bogen > in Bausch und Bogen
   lock, stock, and barrel

begraben (buried) > Da liegt der Hund begraben.
   That's the crux/heart of the matter.

Origin: The expression really has nothing to do with a dog (Hund). It goes back to an old German word for "treasure": die hunde. So the phrase actually means "that's where the treasure's buried."

Bein (leg) > Hals und Beinbruch!
   Break a leg! (an ironic expression wishing good luck)

Bein (leg) > sich kein Bein ausreißen
   to not strain oneself (not tear out a leg)

Example: "Natürlich wirst du dir kein Bein ausreißen." (Of course, you won't strain yourself. [not make any extra effort])

Beine (legs) > (wieder) auf die Beine kommen
   to get back on one's feet (again)

Beine (legs) > (wieder) auf den Beinen sein
   to be back on one's feet (again)

bekannt wie ein bunter Hund
well known, known all over ("like a colorful/spotted dog")

Bellende Hunde beißen nicht.
Barking dogs don't bite.

Berg (mountain) > mit etwas hinterm Berg halten
   to keep something to oneself (stay/hide behind the mountain with something)

Examples: "Warum hältst du immer mit deiner Meinung hinterm Berg?" (Why do you always keep your opinion to yourself?) - "Er hält mit seinem Alter hinterm Berg." (He's cagey about his age.)

Berg (mountain) > über alle Berge sein
   to be long gone, be miles away

Note: Don't confuse this with "über den Berg sein" (see below)

Berg (mountain) > über den Berg sein
   to be out of the woods, to have turned the corner, be on the road to recovery (Note: "to be over the hill," in the sense of "old," is die besten Jahre hinter sich haben)

Berg (mountain) > Wenn der Berg nicht zum Propheten kommt, muss der Prophet zum Berg kommen.
   If the mountain won't come to Mohammed, then Mohammed must come to the mountain.

Besen (broom) > Ich fresse einen Besen, wenn...
   I'll eat my hat (a broom) if...

Besen (broom) > Neue Besen kehren gut.
   A new broom sweeps clean. (New brooms sweep well.)

Bett (bed) > das Bett hüten müssen
   to be confined to bed, have to stay in bed

biegen (bend) > auf Biegen oder Brechen/mag es biegen oder brechen
   come what may, by hook or crook, whatever it takes

Bier (beer) > Das ist mein Bier!/Das ist nicht dein Bier!
   That's my business./(That's/It's) None of your business!

blass (pale) >
blass vor Neid sein/werden
to be/turn green with envy
   jemanden vor Neid erblassen lassen
   to make someone green with envy

Blatt (leaf, sheet of paper) > Das steht auf einem anderen Blatt.
   That's another/different story. That's a horse of a different color.

Blatt (leaf, sheet of paper) > Er/Sie ist kein unbeschriebenes Blatt.
   He/She has been around. He/She has a (criminal) record.

Blatt (leaf, sheet of paper) > kein Blatt vor den Mund nehmen
   to not mince words, to speak frankly/plainly

blau machen
to skip work, play hooky, fake illness to avoid work/school

Bock (goat) > den Bock zum Gärtner machen
   to be asking for trouble, to invite disaster, have the fox guard the henhouse (make the goat the gardner)

Bock > keinen Bock/null Bock (auf etwas haben)
   not give a damn/couldn't care less (about something)

Variations: "Null Bock auf nichts" (be pissed off about everything) - "Hast du Bock/Böcke darauf?" (Do you fancy that?)

Bock > stur wie ein Bock sein
   be stubborn as a mule

Bock > wie ein Bock stinken
   stink to high heaven

der Bockmist bilge, bullsh** (lit., "goat dung")
   einen schönen Bockmist machen to make a holy mess, screw up royally
   einen ziemlichen Bockmist verzapfen to come out with a load of bilge/bull

böhmisch (Bohemian) > Das sind böhmische Dörfer für mich.
   It's all Greek to me.

Bohnenstroh (bean straw) > dumm wie Bohnenstroh
   dumb as a post, dense, thick as a brick (dumb as bean straw)

Variations: "dumm wie Brot" (dumb as bread) - "dumm wie eine Gans" (dumb as a goose)

Borgen macht Sorgen
Neither a borrower nor a lender be.

Böses im Schilde führen
to be up to no good, to have evil intentions

Variation: "nichts Gutes im Schilde führen"

Böse Gedanken zeugen böse Taten.
Bad thoughts lead to bad deeds.

Similar: "Male nicht den Teufel an die Wand!" (Don't speak of the devil/bad things, or they may happen.)

Brot (bread) > Wes Brot ich ess, des Lied ich sing.
   He who pays the piper, calls the tune. (Whose bread I eat, his song I sing.)

Buch (book) > wie es im Buch steht
   the way it's supposed to be; as written; a textbook example
   Sie war ein Schreikind wie es im Buch steht.
   She was a textbook example of the crying baby/child.

Büchse (rifle, shotgun) > jemandem vor die Büchse kommen
   to come into someone's sights; become the focus of someone's attention; become a target (of someone)

Büchse der Pandora (Pandora's box) > die Büchse der Pandora öffnen
   to open Pandora's box, open a (whole new) can of worms

Example: “Jegliches Bestreben, irgendwelche Grenzänderungen wie auch die deutsche Wiedervereinigung zu diskutieren, werde Gorbatschows Autorität untergraben und zudem in ganz Mitteleuropa im Hinblick auf Grenzstreitigkeiten eine wahre Büchse der Pandora öffnen.“ - Margaret Thatcher, 1989


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START > Introduction to this glossary

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