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Photo: Spreng Ben

“It’s sausage to me,” and other extraordinarily useful German phrases.

MY FIRST TRIP TO GERMANY was courtesy of my law school, which gave me the opportunity to apply for a summer job in Hamburg. My undergraduate degrees were in Music and German, and I’d always thought I’d get a job singing in Germany. But I was in law school, so I took the law job. As it turns out, reading Schiller’s plays and singing Goethe’s poems doesn’t actually make you fluent in contemporary German. Here are a few of the useful words and phrases I didn’t learn in college.

1. das ist Bescheuert — “that’s ridiculous”

das ist beshoyert — /dɑs ɪst bɛʃɔʏɘɾt/

Bescheuert is usually translated as “crazy” or “stupid,” but it seems to be the catchall word for “bad.” Das ist bescheuert is the equivalent of “that sucks.” You got stood up? Das ist bescheuert. The U-Bahn was late? Das ist bescheuert. Whatever it is, if you don’t like it, it’s bescheuert.

2. na? — “so…?”

naa — /na:/

People who know each other well say na? to ask “how’re you doing?” It’s also used when the topic is understood and the speaker is inquiring how something turned out. For example, saying it to someone who had a big date the previous evening means, “So how’d it go? I want details!” This is not to be confused with na und? (“so and?”), which means “so what?” or “what’s your point?”

3. das ist mir Wurst — “what do I care?”

das ist meer voorsht — /das ɪst mir vurʃt/

A bit more emphatic than das ist mir egal (“I don’t care”), das ist mir Wurst (literally, “it’s sausage to me”) means, “I don’t care, it’s all the same to me,” or even, “I couldn’t care less.”

4. Ich besorge das Bier — “I’ll get the beer”

eeh bezorge das beer — /ɨx bɛzɔrgɘ das bir/

Besorgen means “to take care of,” and it’s used informally to mean “get something” or “pay for something.” Ich besorge das Bier is useful at Oktoberfest or any gathering with kiosks selling refreshments. After you say Ich besorge das Bier, your friend will probably offer to get the food. And when she asks whether you want Bratwurst or Knackwurst, you can answer, Das ist mir Wurst. You’re now punning in German!

5. kein Schwein war da — “nobody was there”

kayn shvayn var da — /kaɪn ʃvaɪn var da/

The word Schwein (“pig”) is possibly the most used word in the German language. You can attach it to almost anything. Sometimes it’s a noun by itself, as in kein Schwein war da (“nobody was there”), or kein Schwein hat mir geholfen (“not a single person helped me”), but it can also be added to nouns to make new words.

Eine Schweinearbeit is a tough job. Something that kostet ein Schweinegelt is ridiculously expensive. If you call someone a Schwein, that’s as insulting as it is in English. But if someone is an armes Schwein (“poor pig”), he is a person you feel sorry for. And most confusing of all, Schwein haben (“to have pig”) means to be lucky!

6. der spinnt — “he’s nuts”

dayr shpint — /der ʃpɪnt/

The verb spinnen originally meant (and can still mean) “to spin,” as in spinning yarn at a wheel. But in contemporary German, spinnen is more often used as “to be crazy.” This usage may have derived from the fact that in previous centuries inmates in mental asylums were taught to spin yarn. Saying der spinnt is often accompanied by the hand gesture of moving the palm side to side in front of the face. In fact, sometimes you’ll just see the hand gesture.

7. langsam langsam — “little by little”

langzam langzam — /laŋzam laŋzam/

Langsam means slow or slowly, so you might think that repeating it would mean “very slowly,” but langsam langsam is the expression for “little by little” or “step by step.” It’s a good noncommittal answer to, “How’s your German coming along?”

8. das kannst du deiner Oma erzählen — “tell it to your Grandmother”

das kanst doo dayner ohmah airtsaylen — /das kanst du daɪnər oma ertseːlɘn/

Das kannst du deiner Oma erzählen is the response to an unbelievable claim. For example, “I’m studying German three hours a day. I’ll be fluent in a week.” “Oh yeah? Das kannst du deiner Oma erzählen!”

9. nul acht funfzehn (0-8-15) — “standard issue / mediocre”

nool acht foonftsayn — /nul ɒxt fʊnftsen/

The standard issue issue rifle in WWI was a 0-8-15. The term caught on and is now used as a classy insult. I first heard this phrase from a friend describing a less than memorable sexual encounter. When she described it as nul-acht-funfzehn, I thought she was talking about some obscure sexual position. What she was actually saying was, “meh.”

10. Ich habe die Nase voll davon — “I’m sick of it”

eeh habe dee naze fol dafun — /ɨx habə di nazə fɔl dafɔn/

Ich habe die Nase voll davon literally means, “I have the nose full,” which really means to be sick of something or someone. As in, “enough already, Ich habe die Nase voll von German phrases.”

This post was originally published on December 21, 2011.

About The Author

Ellen Rabiner

Ellen Rabiner has been writing about travel since her teenage years on the road as a violist in a youth orchestra. After college her focus shifted to singing, although she did some creative writing as a lawyer. She returned to singing as a soloist at the Metropolitan Opera and is currently traveling and writing from her home in Antalya, Turkey. She blogs at Talking Turkey.

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  • Amanda Kendle

    Fantastic list – I didn’t learn any of these in my school/uni German days but have since learnt then all from my German husband. Only he has the “Schnauze” (snout) voll rather than the Nase!

  • Markus Rodlauer

    Especially enjoyed the part about the pig. But “langsam, langsam” is not a proper answer to any question (try “so la la” instead)

    • Chris

      I agree with the “langsam langsam” term. It rather means “easy boy” or something like that.

  • Erkan Alles

    for me as a german fun to read :)

  • Gast

    #9 should be either

    08/15 (auch: „Nullachtfünfzehn“, „Null-acht-fünfzehn“)

    • kristin

      Also, you would actually pronounce it „Nullachtfuffzehn“ (without Umlaut and „n“) – really enjoyed this post though!

      • Gast x

        That might depend on the region in Germany. In Hamburg you say “Nullachtfünfzehn”. Your version sounds like Berlinerisch.

    • Ellen Rabiner

      Yes. I missed the “null” in  my proofread. I sometimes forget I have to go back to add umlauts and things, and my spelling sucks in several languages. Oops. Thanks for the edit.

      • umpitumili

        and as we talk of it: 08/15 is not a classy insult, it is used to describe something as total standard. so, neither good, nor bad, nor meant to offend

  • Becky GlobalGrasshopper

    I really need to remember some of these for my next trip!

  • Reannon Muth

    I’d like to add “Was geht ab?” (“What’s up?) if that is still used…When I lived in Germany during college, I used to always say “Was ist oben?” which literally meant “What is upstairs”? until my German roommate corrected me.  Heehee.

    • Andreas

      It’s still used :-)

  • Michael J. Sieler Jr.

    Good article! All very useful phrases :)

  • Bettina Schneider

    7. langsam langsam is not really little by little, it just means slowly slowly.
    But I have another funny German expression for you:
    “er ist aus dem Häus-chen” (literally: he is out of the little house) means “he’s all excited”.

  • Laura Evers

    This is perfect for my trip to Berlin I will be making in a few weeks! I cannot wait to astound my friends with my newfound fluency. Thank you! 

    • TheTranslator

      For your trip to Bavaria (Southern Germany) or Austria you can add this: “So a Schmarrn” – Bullshit; “Gemma, gemma” – Let’s go!; “Moanst?” – Really? and you can order a Weissbier like that: “I hätt gerne a Woassbier bitte”….Should you need any other phrases just let me now ; )

  • FlyingSara

    Definitely missing: ‘ich verstehe nur Bahnhof!’ – ‘I only understand train station!’ – meaning, I don’t understand a word you are saying, I haven’t got a clue what you are talking about. Very useful phrase!

  • Björn

    And should you really get into problems with your German translation there is help around!

    English übersetzer

  • Ralph

    It’s hilarious
    to learn these new aspects of my mother’s tongue. Thank you so much. You might
    find this interesting: Literally, “bescheuert” means “abrased”, but it was
    never common before it became a euphemism for “beschissen” (like the fork in
    “what the fork”). What means “crappy”. But bescheuert has much more sides, e.g.
    “retarded”. “You missed my birthday. Bist du bescheuert?” Anyway, it’s a strong
    word and very offensive when talking to strangers.

    • Jan

      Much more stronger than “bescheuert” is to shout “Brennst Du?!?” (Are you burning?!?!). ( Its more like a second stage of “Are you nuts?” )

      “Bescheuert” is like to smoke a cigarette next to little children.

      “Brennst Du?” is like to smoke a cigarette next to a place which is flooded with gasoline and stuffed with high-reactive explosives..

      • Jan

        + But, and that is the advantage for english folks: You can literally yell it in english “Are you burning?”, too! 5/6 of Germans will still understand.

        • fis

          actually i’m a native german speaker and i never heard anybody saying the phrase “brennst du?” In my whole lifetime

          • Lukas

            neither have I

  • Urs Stähelin

    “nul acht funfzehn” = in german language: “Null-acht-fünfzehn”.
    Some “Denglisch-mistakes”: :-)

    • Jabo

      Nearly. German military speak ist somewhat different. To avoid misunderstandings over radio, fünf (5) has to be spoken as funef or in Landser’s terms: fuff . Being on the topic, the 08/15 isn’t the rifle but the standard german machine gun of WW I.

  • Marisa Buenzli Schupp

    Funny Germans!

  • zeek

    Yes, Bettina, but the author translated the phrases to their nearest English equivalent. We would most likely say “little by little” and not “slowly, slowly” in English. Direct translation is not always effective.

  • pat

    “langsam langsam” means that you want to take breaks on somebody. So it rather means “not so fast, let’s first think about it” or even “hold on, I did not agree to this yet”

  • Anita

    No one ever uses ‘das ist bescheuert’ in above mentioned context. Same with ‘langsam langsam’.

    • Ashley Yves Whitlow

      DU bist bescheuert!

    • Martin H.

      It’s exactly used as described. Your comment “ist bescheuert”.

  • GermanDork

    Nice list, however it’s Schweinegeld, with a ‘d’. “Gelt” is Yiddish.

  • Fred

    Schweinegeld not -gelt. Another nice proverb to look up for you: “Willst du gelten, mach dich selten.” Great composition of crazy phrases we use down here.

  • Ingo Pickhan

    But, wow, the “Schwein” phrases…youre absolutley right…and I never really noticed that pigs are used as much in our language. thats kind of distressing…and really bescheuert by us ;-)

  • Annina Nosei

    Sorry Ellen, I am afraid it’s »null­acht­fünf­zehn« (08/15) not »nul acht funfzehn (0-8-15). And though you will impress people by using »08/15« as non-native German speaker it is soooooooo 1980s. Fo’ shizzle.

    • Martin

      Use “Pipi von der Stange” instead. “Pee from bar.” Same meaning as 08/15.

  • Martin

    What about “mir nichts dir nichts”. Directly translated “me nothing you nothing”. It means not to care for others and onself if doing something.

    It fits perfect to “aus dem Staub machen”. Make yourself out of the dust. Means sneak away secretly or running fast from a place or situation.

    Together it makes the wonderful sentence “Ich mache mich mir nichts dir nichts aus dem Staub”. “I make myself me nothing you nothing out of the dust.” Means I am escaping a place or situation without caring for casualties.

  • NicoParco

    keine sau ist viel besser und villeicht noch haeufiger als kein schwein… kannst du mir ein bier spendieren, bitte??

  • NicoParco

    yes I always learned beascheuert to be retarded.

  • Carla Prince

    “Null-acht-fünfzehn” refers to the Maschinegewehr 08 (MG 08), which is a machine-gun, not a rifle.

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