German Expression: Am Hungertuch nagen
Meaning: To be very poor -
As poor as a church mouse.
To be on the breadline.
Literal Meaning: To nibble at the hunger cloth
Examples: Ich bin froh, mein Sohn, dass du endlich für eine Karriere dich entschieden hast. Aber vergiss nicht, dass viele Künstler am Hungertuch nagen und ein hartes Leben verbringen.
I am happy my son, that you have finally decided on a career. But don’t forget that artists are usually poor and they have a hard life.
Use it when: You want to express that someone is very poor.
History: This expression stems from the Middle Ages, when faithful observers of Christianity would hang a cloth over their church altar, shielding the altar room from view as they began the fasting period of Lent. Later on these cloths became more intricate and decorated and women would get together to sew these cloths. Hence the precursor of the expression Am Hungertuch nagen was Am Hungertuch nähen (to sew on the hunger cloth).
sich sehr einschränken müssen; an Not leiden; in Armut leben