Abfuhr (f), „jemanden eine Abfuhr erteilen"

correct meaning: reject, keep off (literal translation: to give sb. a carry-away)

(fencing) In case, when a duellist is so wounded, that the helper takes him away from the duel.

Anbieter (m), „Abtrittanbieter"

(literal translation: the one who offers a private service)

(Middle Ages) There were people with large coats who offered other people the service of letting them relieve themselves without being seen by other people. There were no pay toilets in the Middle Ages.

„anzetteln etw."

correct meaning: to instigate sth. (literal translation: to warp sth.)

(weaving): Zettel—warp.

arm „arm wie eine Kirchenmaus"

correct meaning: very poor (literal translation: as poor as a church mouse)

(Middle Ages) There were no pantries in churches.

Arsch (m) „Bleiarsch"

(literal translation: lead ass)

(engineering) A lead plate sewn into a fabric. If a glider plane is too light, the glider pilot gets such a lead plate "under his ass."

Ast (m) "sich einen Ast lachen"

correct meaning: to laugh oneself to death (literal translation: to laugh oneself a hunch)

Ast (Buckel) (in old meaning) = hunch.

Aufheben (n), „viel Aufhebens machen um etwas"

correct meaning: to make a big fuss about s.th. (literal translation: to make a lot of lifting about nothing)

(Middle Ages) During the jostling match the weapons were laid on the ground. The knights theatrically lifted their weapons while bragging about their skills.


Bank (f) „etwas auf die lange Bank schieben"

correct meaning: to put something off, procrastinate (literal translation: shove something onto the long bench)

(the ancient world). Roman law was the first written law. Cases were written down, and the files were laid on a bench if the cases were too difficult. The files of the longest cases were shoved to the end of the bench.

Bär (m) „Vibrationsbär"

(engineering) (literal translation: vibratory bear) A machine that drives stakes into the earth. It is not as loud as a drop hammer.

Bein (n) „Eisbein"

correct meaning: a dish—salted pork's leg (literal translation: ice leg)

(Middle Ages) The people in old Germany made skates from pig's knuckle bones.

Bissen (m) „da bleibt einem der Bissen im Halse stecken"

correct meaning: to be afraid, to be guilty (literal translation:a lump lodged in his throat)

(Middle Ages) In order to find out if a person was guilty or not, he was given a piece of stale bread; if he was able to swallow it he was assumed to be not guilty.

blau, „blau machen"

correct meaning: to skip work, play hookie, fake illness to avoid work/school (literal translation: to make it blue)

(Middle Ages). Dyers hung out the blue dyed farbics for air drying. This took one day. On this day the dyers did not have to work.

Bohrer (m) „Zuwachsbohrer"

correct meaning: a drill (literal translation: a growing drill)

(engineering) Coreless drill for testing a tree without cutting it down.

Bremse (f) „Darmbremse"

correct meaning: a brake (literal translation: intestine brake)

(engineering) A part of a sausage machine for evenly filling an intestine with sausage.

Brett (n) „Damenbrett"

(literal translation: a lady board)

(zoology) A butterfly with black-and-white wings.

Brett (n) „Fummelbrett"

(literal translation: a puddle board)

(engineering ) bricklayer's tool.

Bulle (m) „Rucksackbulle"

(literal translation: a rucksack bull)

inseminator (veterinary medicine).

Büffel (m) „Spritzbüffel"

(literal translation: sprinkle buffalo)

(engineering) During the drilling of a tunnel, this machine firms the walls and prevents them from crumbling.




correct meaning: 80x80cm big carpenter's kerchief. With it young German carpenters go on a pilgrimage.

„Cicisbeo" (n)

An institution of male "house guests" for married women was legalized in Germany in the 16th century.



Dachdecker (m) "Das kannst du halten wie ein Dachdecker!"

correct meaning: You can do it any way you want! (literal translation: You can keep it as a roofer!)

(Middle Ages) Roofers were practically uncheckable, because nobody was courageous enough to go to the roof and check their work.

Dalli, Dalli!

correct meaning: Be quickly! Man alive!

From Polish "dalej" = "forward".

Das „D" in D-Zug

D for „Durchgang-Zug"

„Durchgang-Zug" is a passing-through train, wich is walkable from the first wagon until the last one. The first „Durchgang-Zug"was used in Prussia in 1892.

Dach (n) „jemanden auf's Dach steigen"

correct meaning: to lean on sb. (literal translation: to climb on sb's roof)

To make a point about sth.

Dackel (m) „Trümmerdackel"

(literal translation: wreckage dachshund)

(legal language) Employee of an insurance company who interrogates the eyewitnesses of an accident.

Decke (f) „Spritzdecke"

(literal translation: sprinkle blanket)

A piece of fabric in a canoe for protection from splashing water.

Deckung (f) „wilde Deckung"

(literal translation: wild cover)

(trade) Covering a roof with nature slates of individual forms.

Diele (f) „Eisdiele"

correct meaning: ice cream parlor (literal translation: ice cream board)

At the beginning of 20th century mobile ice cream freezers in German were forbidden. Ice cream makers sold ice cream through the ground level windows. To show what ice cream they had they placed a big board under the window to help children see the ice cream.

Ding (n) „alle guten Dinge sind drei"

(literal translation: All good things come in threes) Ding = Thing (old German) Thing = court procedure. Court proceedings took place in old Germany only three times a year. When the accused came to the third session, he couldn't count with the best deal (in the majority of cases he was convicted).

Das sind ja Böhmische Dörfer!

correct meaning: It is all Greek to me! (literal translation: It is all the villages of Bohemia to me!)

(Middle Age) This figure of speech came from the time of Thirty-Year War. During this war a lot of villages in Bohemia were destroyed. So "Böhmisches Dorf" (a village of Böhmen) meant something which was no longer.

"Duckdalben" (f)

Pilings in harbor for tying up ships.



Ecke (f) „Faulecken"

(literal translation: foul corners) (medical language) Inflammation of the corners of the mouth.

Effeff, „etwas aus dem Effeff beherrschen/ verstehen "

correct meaning: to be able to do smth. blindfolded (literal translation: to do/to understand something as FF )

(Middle Ages) Quotations from the Pandectae (writings of old Roman legal scholars) were identified with Greek letter π (pi). Through repeated transcribings the letter was transformed into the German letters ff.

„Eingericht" (n)

correct meaning: everything in a bottle (wine, beer etc.).

Eis (m) „Bauernglatteis"

(literal translation: farmer's clear ice) In the summer tractors drop some of the crop on the road. If it rains, this turns into liquid manure and cars slip in summer like on clear ice in winter.

Eule (f) „Eulen nach Athen tragen"

correct meaning: to do smth. which doesn't make sense (literal translation: to bring owls to Athens—to carry coal to Newcastle)

Owl was the symbol of Athens. There were a lot of owls in ornaments, on coins etc., so it made no sense to bring more.



Falte (f) „Bananenfalte"

(literal translation: banana wrinkle)

(medical language) A banana wrinkle is situated between the lower back and the thigh.

„Fräulein" (n)

Miss (In Germany the form of address for a lady teacher in schools regardless of her married status)

Until 1953 the female public servants were not alowed to be married.

Fenster (n) „Spritzfenster"

(literal translation: sprinkle window)

(farming) A part of a field wich was not sprayed or fertilized to see the result of a measure by comparison.

Ferkel (n) „Spanferkel"

correct meaning: suckling piglet (literal translation: shaving piglet) While "spänen" means to "shave" or "cut" in modern German, in old German it also meant "to suck."

Fieber (n) "Bockfieber"

(literal translation:buck fever)

(hunting) German hunters call so the agitated state of a hunter, when he sees a buck in front of himself.

Fisch (m) „Backfisch"

correct meaning: young girl (literal translation: back fish)

Fishermen throw fish that are too little to eat back into the water.

Frosch (m) „Frosch im Hals haben"

correct meaning: to speak in a coarse voice (literal translation: to have a frog in one's throat)

This figure of speech comes from the Latin words "ranula" (blastoma in the throat, literally "little frog") and "rana" (frog).

Fuchtel (f) „unter der Fuchtel stehen"

correct meaning: to be supervised by sb.

German soliders in 16th century were punished by beating with a stick (Fuchtel = a stick).



Gabel (f) „Marschgabel"

correct meaning: holder for sheet music (literal translation: march fork)

It is attached to wind instruments.

Geld (n) "Fersengeld geben"

correct meaning: to turn tail and run (literal translation: to give heels money)

(Middle Age) Upon divorce, the former husband paid money to the former wife as alimony. The old German word "Faerse" means "young cow" and was later transformed into "Ferse" (heels).

Geld (n) „Schmiergeld"

correct meaning: bribe money (literal translation: money for oiling)

(Middle Age) People paid the coach driver more to oil the wheels, which enabled the carriage to go faster.

Gesicht (n) „Analgesicht"

(literal translation: anal face)

(zoology) When two dogs meed for the first time, they sniff at each other's hind quarters. There are special glands which identify each dog—each dog has an "anal face" of its own.

Getriebe (n) „Malteserkreuzgetriebe"

(literal translation: Maltese cross gear)

(engineering) Special gear in a motion picture projector wich helps to run films backwards.

Glöcke (f) „etwas an die grosse Glocke hängen"

correct meaning: to shout sth. from the rooftops, to let know smth. (literal translation: to hang up smth. on the big bell)

(Middle Age) The church bell announced the town meeting of the village or town. During the meeting people's private problems and family secrets were discussed by the the entire town.

Gras (n)ins Gras beissen"

correct meaning: to bite the dust, to die (literal translation: to bite the grass)

(Middle Age) After the battle wounded knights died on the battlefield. If the mouth of the knight was full of grass (or of dust) the people sayed, that he died in terrible agonies, because he bit the grass/dust with pain.

Griff (m) „Schwiegervater-Griff"

(literal translation: father-in-law's handshake)

Gripping above the elbow during the handshake to feel if the lymph nodes are swollen—the sign of syphilis.

Grün (n) „das ist dasselbe in Grün"

correct meaning: It is the same (literal translation: the same in green)

In the 1925 the Opel factory in Germany produced a car in green all but identical with a French car Citroёn 5 CV. People said: „It is the same but in green."



Hacke (f) „eine Piephacke"

(literal translation: peep heel)

(zoology) Disease of horses: swollen ankle behind the hoof.

„Hasenzieher" (m)

(literal translation: hare drawer)

(dog race) Person who starts a mechanical hare for a dog race.

Hand (f) „die Hand ins Feuer legen"

correct meaning: to swear, (literal translation: to put a hand into the fire)

(Middle Ages) To confirm his innocence, the accused had to put his hand into the fire. Fast-healing wounds were signs of innocence.

Haube (f) "ein Mädchen unter die Haube bringen"

correct meaning: to marry so.off (literal translation: to bring sb. under the hood)

(Middle Ages) Only married women were allowed to wear hoods.

Haut (f) „das geht auf keine Kuhhaut"

correct meaning: It defies discription (literal translation: you cannot put it on the cowhide)

In the Middle Age there were small pergaments made of sheephide and large ones of cowhide. If a text was too long, it wouldn't fit on the cowhide.

das Heft in der Hand haben

correct meaning: to have power (literal translation: to have notebook in hand)

This figure of speech comes from interchanging two meanings of the German word "Heft." The old meaning is "handle of a sword".

Hering (m) „rote Heringe"

correct meaning: faked traces of a crime (literal translation: red herrings)

(criminal language) In the past in America criminals would leave a herring in tomato sauce on the site of the crime. They thought it would confuse the police dogs.

Hieb (m) „Besamungshieb"

(literal translation: insemination slash)

(foresty) Cutting off tree-tops for better lighting of low-lying plants.

„Hohlhippe" (f)

(literal translation: hollow gardener's knife)

In this case: Hippe—waffle tube for ice-cream)

„Hugo" (n)

Hugo = HUman remains carGO

Hund (m) „auf den Hund gekommen sein"

correct meaning: to be reduced to indigence (literal translation: to come to the dog)

(Middle Ages) Germans used to keep their money in a chest with a dog drawn on the bottom to scare away thieves. If there was no more money in the chest, everybody coud see the dog on the bottom, so the owner was "coming to the dog."

Hund (m) „Passivhund"

(literal translation: passive dog)

(criminal language) Special sniffer dogs used in airports for detection of drugs and explosives. When such a dog finds something, it will not bark but lie quietly down. It prevents the criminal from being alerted and able to escape.

Hutschnur (f) „Das geht mir über die Hutschnur!"

correct meaning: It is too much! (literal translation: Its more than a hat string!)

(Middle Ages) In 14th century Germany, hat string was a measure for the thickness of the jet of water from the water tap.

Hütte (f) „Luderhütte"

(literal translation: bait cabin)

(hunters' language) Luder = dead animal, bait. Luderhütte = hunter's shed.


Jagd (f) „Fuchsjagd"

(literal translation:fox hunting) hot-air balloon sport.

O Jemine!

This interjection meaning surprise comes from the Latin "O Jesu Domine!" (O Lord Jesus).



Kaffee (m) „Blümchenkaffee"

correct meaning: weak coffee (literal translation: flower coffee)

If the coffe is weak, you can see the ornament of the coffee cup through the coffee.

Kamelle (f) "das sind doch olle Kamellen"

correct meaning: old stories (literal translation: It is old chamomils)

"olle Kamellen" is a transformation from "alte Kamillen"

Kante (f)etwas auf die Hohe Kante legen"

correct meaning: to save up for the rainy day (literal translation: to put smth on the high ledge)

(Middle Age) The latter expression goes back to a time before paper money when coins were wrapped in rolls and placed on a high ledge ("hohe Kante") for safekeeping.

Kartoffel (f) „rin in die Kartoffeln, raus aus die Kartoffel"

correct meaning: Indecision (literal translation: into the potato field, out of the potato field)

(military) There was a long dispute in 19th century Europe about the best attack strategy. Some military commanders thought the best attack is in the open field (rin in die Kartoffel); others insisted on the attack from a hiding place (raus aus die Kartoffeln).

Katze (f) „der/die geht ab wie Schmidts Katze"

correct meaning: very quickly (literal translation: He/she acts as a blacksmith's cat)

Schmidt = blacksmith. There were mice in blacksmiths' shops, which destroyed the leather equipment; therefore blacksmiths had to have cats. When the blacksmith began to hit the iron to forge it, all cats scurried away from the shop because of the noise.

Kerbholz (n) „etwas auf dem Kerbholz haben"

correct meaning: to have a lot to answer for (literal translation: to have something on the tally stick)

(Middle Age) The people in old Germany who were illiterate had tally sticks for noting of their debts. Debts were recorded as notches on two tally sticks. One tally stick was for debtors, the other one for creditors.

Kipper (m) „einachsiger Dreiseitenkipper"

correct meaning: wheelbarrow (literal translation:single-axis three-side tipper)

(officialese in German Army).

"Kipptester" (m)

(literal translation: tilting tester)

(engineering) Equipment for testing the stability of gravestones in a graveyard.

Kopulation (f) „englische Kopulation mit Gegenzunge"

(literal translation: English copulation with countertongue)

(botany) A special cut for the betterment of plants. First used in England.

Krankheit (f) „die Schweizer Krankheit"

correct meaning: homesickness, nostalgia (literal translation: the Swiss disease)

(17th—18th centuries) German young people went to Switzerland to study. If a student was homesick, he called it a sickness from Switzerland.

König (m), „sich freuen wie ein Schneekönig"

correct meaning: to be happy (literal translation: to be jolly like a snow king)

„Schneekönig" (snow king) is the former name of „Zaunkönig"—wren. Wrens like to play in the snow.

Kuh (f)Da stehste, wie die Kuh vorm neuen Tor!"

correct meaning: to wait (literal translation: to stand as a cow in front of a new gate)

In old Berlin the tramways had no numbers but letters. The Q (pron. „ku:" like German word for „cow")line to the "New Gate" station was single-track, so passangers had to wait for a tram for a very long time.

„Kuhbrenner" (m)

correct meaning: valve (literal translation: cow burner)

(engineering) A special valve in the burner of hot air balloons to make the burner less noisy, in order not to scare the cows.



Lappen (n) „durch die Lappen gehen"

correct meaning: to run away, to clear off (literal translation: to go through the rags)

(hounting) The hunting grounds are surrounded by red rags. Some animals are not afraid of the rags and go through them, away from the hounting grounds.

„Lattenrichter" (m)

correct meaning: measuring instrument (literal translation: slat judge)

(engineering) This instrument will be laid on slats to check if the slats are at a right angle.

Leier (f) „Brustleier"

correct meaning: gimlet (literal translation: a breast lyre).

Loch (n) „das Loch vom Dienst"

(literal translation: service hole)

(military) The first hole in the clouds, which is searched by a pilot to fly through.

„Lochschnüffler" (m)

correct meaning: an instrument (literal translation: a hole snooper)

(engineering) An instrument for detecting holes in bicycle tires (plastic case with styrofoam balls).

Löffel (m) „den Löffel abgeben"

correct meaning: to die (literal translation: to give up a spoon)

In the Middle Age spoons were very valuable. If the grandfather died, his spoon was handed down to the youngest member of the family.



Mann (m) „ein Alter Mann"

(mining) (literal translation: old man)
closed mine shaft.

Männchen (n) „Ladenmännchen"

(literal translation: shutter little man)

Device for window shutters, which protects the shutter from slammimg.

Maus (m) „Hanauer Maus"

correct meaning: a valve (literal translation: mouse from Hanau)

(engineering ) A valve on a tractor's tires for filling with water for more stability.

Meister (m) „Rüttelmeister"

(literal translation: shake master)

A person who shakes the bottles of champagne to get the yeast to the bottom.

Miene (f) „eine Leichenbittermiene machen"

correct meaning: to keep a straight face (literal translation: to keep a face like a "leichenbitter")

„Leichenbitter"—in old Germany a person who invited the relatives to the funeral.

Moos (n) „Moos haben"

correct meaning: to have money, to be rich (literal translation: to have moss)

(former German students' language) The meaning came from the Hebrew „ma'oth"—coin.

Möbel (n) „Erdmöbel"

(literal translation: earth furniture)

a coffin—offcialese in the former GDR.



Nase (f) „Buchhalternase"

(literal translation: bookkeeper's nose)

A zigzag sign in bookkeeping documents. When the calculation is finished, the bookkeeper puts a zigzag sign in the free space of a document as protection against changes which could be made later.

Nase (f) „Pechnase"

correct meaning: Unlucky fellow (literal translation: pitch nose)

(Middle Ages ) "Pechnase" (tar nose) was a hole in castle wall used during the siege to pour boiling tar on the attackers.

„Nebukadnezar" (m)

Big bottle for red wine (15 Liter) (from Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylonia).

Niedertreter (m)

correct meaning: Slippers (literal translation: the one who steps down)

Slippers with little cap around the heel wich can be trodden down.

Niere (f) „Das geht mir an die Nieren!"

correct meaning: I've had it! (literal translation: It comes to my kidney!)

(Middle Ages) People thought that the kidney was the cause of adultery. That is why the penalty for adultery was the removal of one kidney.

Nippel (m) „Angstnippel"

correct meaning: Nipple (literal translation: fear nipple)

(engineering) A motorbike can have such fear nipple on the footrest. When the motorbike is tilted too far while cornering, the nipple contacts the ground. That is a signal for the driver to right the motorbike.

Nippel (m) „Würgenippel"

(literal translation: retch nipple)

(engineering) connector for electrical cable.

Nudel (f) „Poolnudel"

(literal translation: swimming pool noodle)

Inflatable or polystyrene buoy which helps beginners learn to swim.

„Nudelpumpen-mechanismus" (m)

(literal translation: noodle pump mechanism)

(botanics) Mechanism in flowers which makes sure that insects coming to the flower are dusted with pollen (important for the reproduction of flower).



„Oberflasche" (f)

(literal translation: upper bottle)

(engineering) The upper wheel of a chain block (die Unterflasche = the lower wheel).

Ohr (n) „Schlitzohr"

correct meaning: chiseler, bilker (literal translation:slit in the ear)

(Middle Ages) Journeymen of diffrent trade guilds in old Germany had earrings. When a journeyman broke a rule of the trade guild, his earring was ripped off.

Ohr (n) „sich etwas hinter die Ohren schreiben"

correct meaning: memorize, understand smth well (literal translation: to write smth. behind the ears)

(Middle Ages) Scribes had the habit of holding their writing feathers behind the ear. So the ink spots behind the ear were a sign that this person was literate.



„Paternoster" (n)

correct meaning: a model of elevator: The cabins of this elevator look like prayer beads (from the Latin Pater Noster = Our Father).

Peter „blaue Peter"

correct meaning: Flag (literal translation: blue Peter)

(navy) Blue quad on white field — „All hands on deck!"

Pfanne (f) „etwas auf der Pfanne haben"

correct meaning: to be at a advantage (literal translation: to have smth. on the frying pan)

(Middle Ages) While using a flintlock musket, the gunpowder was lying on a pan. The one who had gunpowder on the pan was at an advantage.

Pferd (n) „man hat schon Pferde kotzen sehen"

correct meaning: Smth. Impossible (literal translation: they have seen the horse vomit)

Horses cannot vomit.

Pflaster (n) „das ist ein teures Pflaster"

correct meaning: smth. very expensive (literal translation:expensive band-aid)


„Pissreifen" (n)

correct meaning: special dog litter pan (literal translation: piss tire)

Invented in Vienna.

Professor (m) „Spagatprofessor"

(literal translation: leg-split professor)

(officialese) A professor who teaches in different universities at the same time.

Prüfer (m) „Zungenprüfer"

(literal translation: tongue checker)

(engineering) Mechanism in a shunting switch for checking if the shunting switch is in the correct position.

Prüfung (f) „BH-Prüfung"

It looks like bra examination (BH in German—bra), but the correct meaning is Begleit-Hundeführung-Prüfung—guide dog test.

Pudelnass sein

correct meaning: to be very soppy, to be like a drowned rat (literal translation: to be wet like a poodle)

Poodles wree bred as hunting dogs for water fowl, so that is why they were often wet after hunting.

Punkt (m) "springenden Punkt"

correct meaning: crucial point, key point (literal translation: jumping point)

(ancient) Aristotle looked at the open sky and saw a moving point (Latin: quod punctum salet).

Punkt (m) „Nockpunkt"

(literal translation: knob point)

(archery) A checkmark on a bow.

„Punsch" (m)


(Hindi: Pantch = 5) Five ingredients: (rum, tee, water, lemon, sugar).

Puppe (f) „bis in die Puppen gehen/haben"

correct meaning: very lengthy, very long (literal translation: to go (to have) to the dolls)

There are statues in a park named Tiergarten in Berlin (people called these statues „Puppen"—dolls) The park was situated outside of the city. Therefore, a walk to the dolls means a long walk.



"Quacksalber" (m)

correct meaning: questionable salesperson (literal translation: quack salver)

(Middle Ages) Quack = shouting. The quacksalvers sold their wares on the market shouting in a loud voice



Rat (m) „Jemanden mit Rat und Tat unterstützen"

correct meaning: to support smb., to help (literal translation: to support smb. with advice and deed)

The old German word "Rat" used to mean „household and personal effects." The meaning of this word later changed to "advice."

Rechnung (f) „Milchmädchen-rechnung"

correct meaning: a calculation which is incorrect from the start (literal translation: a milkmaid's bill)

From a French fable (Lafontaine) A milkmaid calculates her income carrying milk to the market place. But if she stumbles, the milk spills, and the milkmaid's calculation is no longer correct.

Recht (n) „Hammerschlagsrecht"

correct meaning: A special right (literal translation: a hammer blow right)

(law) A right to cross the neighbor's land to modify smt. on one's own land.

Recht (n) „Schwengelrecht"

correct meaning: A special right (literal translation: a handle right)

(law) A right to cross the neighbor's land to have access to one's own land while farming.

Regal (n) „Schatzregal"

correct meaning: A special law (literal translation: treasure shelf)

(law) This act regulates ownership of a treasure when the actual owner is unknown.

Ring (m) „Fischerring"

(literal translation: fisherman's ring)

(church language) Pope's ring. From St. Peter, „the fisherman."

Rille (f) „Kreuzbruchrille"

(literal translation: cross break groove or back break groove)

Groove on a tablet for easy breaking.

Rolle (f) „heiße Rolle"

correct meaning: Paper towel (literal translation: hot roll)

(medicine) A towel dipped in hot water for physical therapy.

Rutsch (m) „Einen guten Rutsch zum Neujahr!"

correct meaning: Happy New Year! (literal translation: A good slide into the New Year!) From the Hebrew: „Rosh" = head, beginning.



Sack (m) „Brüllsack"

(literal translation: bawling bag)

(zoology) Bloated soft palate of a male camel.

Sack (m) „Wechselsack"

(literal translation: changing bag)

(photography) A light-tight bag for changing films in the photo camera.

Salat (m) „Eisbergsalat"

Iceberg lettuce

This lettuce was delivered in ice („on the mountain of ice" - iceberg) to keep it fresh.

Sand (m) „j-m Sand in die Augen streuen"

correct meaning: to mislead so. (literal translation: to scatter sand into so.'s eyes)

(Middle Ages) In fencing it was unfair to throw sand into the opponent's eyes.

Sau (f) „Ofensau"

(literal translation: oven sow)

(engineering) During the removal of hot metal from the blast furnace, some residue remains. This dirty residue is called „Ofensau" (oven sow).

Sau (f) „Du besoffene Sau!"

(literal translation: „You drunken pig!")

In Germany during the Middle Ages, beer was too valuable to throw out the leftovers. So the beer leftovers were given to pigs. It was actually possible in those times to see a drunken pig occasionally.

Schere (f) „Freudenschere"

(literal translation: pleasure scissors)

(Middle Ages) A particular position of windmill vanes as a sign of good news.

schick „todschick"

Extemely chic or fancy (literal translation: death chic)

French: tout = all, altogether.

Schindluder treiben mit jemandem

correct meaning: to play fast and loose with sb.

Schindluder = old domestic animals. So Schindluder treiben means to treat sb. as a useless animal.

Schieber (m) „ein Zapfenschieber"

correct meaning: A stick (literal translation: cone pusher)

(engineering) A stick to push curtains.

Schlüpfer (m), „Spaltschlüpfer"

(zoology) The fly that hatches from the cocoon through a gap "Deckelschlüpfer" - the fly that forces the cocoon open.

Schneider (m) „Altschneider"

correct meaning: a male pig (literal translation: old cutter)

A young male pig old enough to be caponized.

Das ist mir schnuppe!

correct meaning: I don't care about it! (literal translation: It is a snuff for me!)

In the Middle Ages, the most useless work was considered to be extinguishing the candles in a church (to snuff them out).

"Schorle" (f)

A drink: wine mixed with water 50 / 50.

In the 19th century the French toast "Toujour l'amour" (Love always) was very popular in Germany. But Germans pronounced it sloppily "Schorlemorle" and then shorter "Schorle."

Schraube (f) „Schwanzschraube"

A catch (literal translation: tail screw)

(engineering) A catch on a muzzle-loader gun.

Schrot (m) „aus echtem Schrot und Korn sein"

correct meaning: to be the real thing (literal translation: to be made from real grist and grain)

(coinage) „Schrot" an old German word for rough weight of a coin ."Korn" - is the weight (grain) of precious metals in a coin. If the „Schrot" and the "Korn" of a coin were known, this coin was more valuable, because there were many counterfeit coins in middle-age Germany.

Schule (f) „aus der Schule plaudern"

correct meaning: to give away a secret (literal translation: to blab from school)

In the ancient world the students of each philosopher's school were bound to professional discretion (students were not allowed to tell their knowledge to others).

Schwede (m) „Eckschwede"

Special pipe pliers (literal translation: angle Swede).

Schwede (m) „flacher Schwede"

Acrobatic figure in rock n' roll.

„Schwiegermutterstuhl» (m)

(bothanic) a cactus (literal translation: chair for mother-in-law)

Round cactus with yellow thorns.

spanisch, „Das kommt mir spanisch vor!"

correct meaning: to find smth. funny or strange (literal translation: It is Spanish for me!)

(Middle Ages) Karl V (1500-1558) was first a German Emperor and later also King of Spain. When he introduced new customs to the German royal court, people thought they came from Spain.

Spanner (m) „Nippelspanner"

Tool (literal translation: nipple tightener)

(engineering) Instrument for tightening bicycle wheel spokes.

Er spinnt!

correct meaning: He is nuts! (literal translation: he spins!)

The "spinnen" expression may go back to a time when mentally ill inmates in prison were given spinning work to calm them down and occupy their time.

Stecher (m) „französischer Stecher"

Special trigger mechanism of a hunting rifle (literal translation: French pricker)

(engineering) This special mechanism was designed in France. It allows to shoot a gun with only a light pressure on the trigger.

Stein (m) «Stein des Anstoßes»

correct meaning: Stone of contention (literal translation: the stone of abutment)

(Middle Ages) Coachmen damaged corners of buildings with the coach wheels during tight turns. House owners protected the corners of their houses with big stones. These stones made streets narrower, which gave rise to arguments between the coachmen and the houseowners.

Stein (m) „Hungersteine"

Stones (literal translation: hunger stones)

The stones on the bottom of a dried-out river

Stellung (f) „Apothekenstellung"

Special door stop mechanism (literal translation: apothecary position)

(Middle Ages) In the middle of the night, a pharmacist opened the door only wide enough to give out the medication. The special door-stop mechanism protected him from thieves, who were unable to open the door wider.

Stellung (f) „Viertel-vor-drei Stellung"

Right position of hands on the steering wheel (literal translation: a quarter to three position)

Stich (m) „Sackstich"

A bend (literal translation:a bag prick)

Stich (m) „jemanden im Stich lassen"

correct meaning: to abandon, to leave smb. in the lurch (literal translation: to let smb. under the blow)

(Middle Ages) During a tournament, the valet had little time to help the knight leave the battlefield if he fell off his horse. If the valet didn't help the knight (let him under the blow), the opponent had the right to attack again.

Stock (m)über Stock und Stein"

correct meaning: rough and tumble (literal translation: to go over stick and stone)

The borders of communities in old Germany were marked with sticks, and the borders of states with stones.

Stunde (f) "goldene Stunden"

correct meaning: the golden hours

(photography) The time shortly after sunrise and shortly before sunset. During this time photos will have a very nice lighting ("golden light").

Suppe (f) „es zieht wie Hechtsuppe"

correct meaning: There is a draft (literal translation: there is a draft like a pike soup)

(Yiddisch) Hech = like; suffa = wind, hech suffa = like a wind—transformed into the German word Hechtsuppe—pike soup.

Syndrom (n) „Kippfenstersyndrom"

(literal translation: bottom hung window syndrom)

(animal health) domestic animal (usually cat) injured when caught in a bottom-hung window.



Tagung (f) die Hühnertagung"

A meeting of detectives from Schleswig-Holstein with collegues form bordering federal states. (literal translation: chicken meeting)

The term comes from the time when there was a lot of thievery of chicken in Schleswig-Holstein. Meetings with collegues from bordering federal states helped authorities exchange information about the thieves.

Tapet (n) „etwas auf 's Tapet bringen"

correct meaning: to rise an issue, to rise an topic (literal translation: to bring smth. on wallpapers)

Old French: Tapet = carpet. Formerly tables of the courtroom were carpeted.

„Teufelslappen" (m)

correct meaning: a flag (literal translation:the devil's cloth)

(French: flamme rouge) During the Tour de France and other cycle races, this triangular flag shows the last one thousand meters.

„Trockensteher" (m)

correct meaning: a pregnant cow (literal translation: dry stayer)

A pregnant cow should not be milked (it is let stay dry) for four weeks before calving.

«Trockenanschlag» (m)

correct meaning: a sport shooting exercise (literal translation: dry swing)

(sport) An exercise when a shooter practices shooting positions with an unloaded gun.

Tuch (n) „Verzögerungstuch"

correct meaning: a cloth (literal translation: a delay cloth) A cloth wich prevents a parachute from suddenly opening.

Tuten (n) „von Tuten und Blasen keine Ahnung haben"

correct meaning: To be ignorant of smth (literal translation: to have no idea about to hoot and toot)

To toot and to hoot were the duties of a night watchman. This profession was the least popular in the Middle Ages in Germany. Someone who was not able to performe the duties of this profession had to be extraordinarily stupid.



„Überständer" (m)

correct meaning: a tree (literal translation: the one, who is taller than the rest)

(forestry) Very tall trees in a forest, wich are higher than the rest.

Urteil (n) „Stuhlurteil"

correct meaning: Very quick judgement (literal translation: a chair judgement)

When a judge makes a judgement on the first day of the trial (whithout leaving his chair).

Unterdrückung (f), „Kleintierunterdrückung"

correct meaning: Adjustment of a motion detector (literal translation: small animal suppression)

(engineering) A special adjustment of a motion detector for preventing the response to the motion of small animals (mice, cats etc.).



„verfranzen sich"

correct meaning: off course, to get lost (literal translation: to make it like Franz)

During World War 1, there was a famous German pilot, Emil, and his navigator Franz. When Franz gave the wrong navigation data, Emil flew their plane in the wrong direction, so he made it like Franz.

„Vergeilung" (f)

correct meaning: Etiolation (literal translation: to make smth. sweet, attractive)

(biology) The stems of plants raised in the dark grow taller than normal, a phenomenon called etiolation.

„verhaspeln sich"

correct meaning: to get muddled, to splutter

(Middle Ages). During work with the spinning wheel, the thread can get entangled.

Verkehr (m) „aktiver Veredlungsverkehr"

correct meaning: active processing trade

(commerce) The purchase of almost completely processed products from abroad for finishing and selling domestically. Passiver Veredlungsverkehr (passive processing trade) The sale of almost completely processed products from one's own country to a foreign country for finishing and selling.

Verknüpfung (f) „Kopf-Schwanz-Verknüpfung"

correct meaning: bonding (literal translation: head-to-tail bonding)

(chemistry) bonding of molecules.

Verlängerer (m) „Halsverlängerer"

(literal translation: neck-lengthener)

(horseracing) special reins.

Vogel (m) „Pechvogel"

correct meaning: unlucky man, misadventurer (literal translation: tar bird)

(Middle Ages) The hunters tarred branches of trees for catching birds (the bird got stuck in the tar and was unable to fly away).

Vollstreicher (m)

(literal translation: somebody, who will to be crossed out)

(horse-racing) A horse, which has no prospect to win the race, so it can be crossed out from the list of potential winners.

Vordermann (m), „auf Vordermann" bringen"

correct meaning: to whip smth. into shape (literal translation:to bring it to the man in front)

(military) To make smth. orderly like in the army (to dress like the man in front).

"Vorkoster" (m)

correct meaning: someone who tastes dishes

(ancient) Rich people had special slaves who tasted their food prior to consumption to protecte them against poisoning.



Wagen (m) "Besenwagen"

correct meaning: a special bus (literal translation: a broom wagon)

(marathon) A bus that collects marathon runners on the road who are exhausted and unable to run on.

Wasser (n) „Oberwasser haben"

correct meaning: to have /to get/ the bulge on smb. (literal translation: to have headwater)

(engineering) A water mill that is driven by water flowing top to bottom has more power than one driven by horizontally flowing water.

Wächter (m) „Milchwächter"

correct meaning: A gadget (literal translation: milk guard)

A gadget attached to a pot in which milk is boiled and which gives a signal when the milk is too hot and can be overcooked.

Weg (m) „auf dem Holzweg sein"

correct meaning: to be on the wrong track / to bark up the wrong tree (literal translation: to be on the wood track)

(forestry) The wood track is the lumber trail in a forest, so it is the road to nowhere.

Weinprobe (f), „horizontale Weinprobe"

correct meaning: A special wine-tasting

horizontal wine-tasting is the tasting of different wines of the same year;

vertikale Weinprobe (vertical wine-testing) is the tasting of the same wine of different vintages.

Wiege (f) „Weiselwiege"

(literal translation: queen cradle)

(zoology) Weisel = queen bee, Weiselwiege is the comb of the queen bee in a beehive

Wild (n) „Hochwild" „Niederwild"

(literal translation: high game and low game)

(Middle Ages, hunting) Hochwild—big game—game allowed to be hunted only by higher nobility.

Niederwild—game for lower nobility or for peasants.

Wirtschaft (f) „Lotterwirtschaft"

correct meaning: disorder, misgovernment (literal translation: the economy of Lotter)

Lotter was an architect who build the city hall in Leipzig in 1556. After 115 years, the city hall was very decrepit, so people accused Lotter of poor workmanship.

Witwerschaft (f) „trockene Witwerschaft"

(literal translation: dry widowerhood)

(zoology) Breeders of carrier pigeons separate male pigeons from female. This way the male pigeons deliver messages faster because they want to come home faster to the female pigeons



X, "jemanden ein X für ein U vormachen"

correct meaning: to try to defraud so. (literal translation: to put X instead U)

(Roman numerals) V=5; X=10;

(Middle Ages) Moneylenders tried to write an X instead of a V into loan documents to receive higher repayments.



Zahn (m) "einen Zahn zulegen"

correct meaning: to do smth. faster, to hurry up (literal translation: to move smth. up a cog)

In the Middle Ages, food was cooked on the fireplace. The pot was hung up on a frame with cogs. If they wanted to cook faster, they moved the pot closer to the fire using the cog mechanism.

Zapfen (m) „Königszapfen"

(literal translation: king pin)

(tracking) A little bolt in the connecting system between the towing and towed vehicle.

Zehner (m) „ungerader Zehner"

correct meaning: deer antlers (literal translation: an uneven ten)

(hunting language) Deer antlers with five points on one side and four points on the other side.

Zettel (m) „einen Denkzettel bekommen"

correct meaning: to receive a spanking (literal translation: to get a memory ticket)

In the old German school, a student who was failing received a ticket around the neck showing the failures. The student had to carry this ticket around his neck until its content was memorized.

Ziffer (f) „Verkehrsausscheidungsziffer"

correct meaning: digit (literal translation: traffic exclusion digit)

(digital communication) A digit in long distance telephone communication which excludes local telecomm service providers (in the U.S. and Canada 011).

„Zitzendippen" (n)

(literal translation: teat dipping)

(farming) After milking, farmers dip teats in a desinfecting fluid as protection against mastitis (udder inflammation).

Zone (f) „Fummelzone"

correct meaning: An area or a room (literal translation: twiddle area)

(shooting sport) Area or room for unpacking of guns.

Zunge (f) „Stoßzunge"

special mechanism (literal translation: kick tongue)

(technical language) A part of the piano mechanism.

Zweig (m) auf keinen grünen Zweig kommen"

correct meaning: not to be getting ahead (literal translation:not to get on a green twig)

(Middle Ages) A green twig (branch) received by the heir from the testator symbolized a piece of real estate.

zwitschern "sich einen zwitschern"

correct meaning: to drink wine (literal translation: to make it squeak)

When the cork comes out of the bottle it squeaks.