Advent Calendar 13 – “The Proverbening”

 

Hey Deutschlerner around the world,

door number 13 of the Advent calendar and today, it’s time for a few proverbs. Because it wouldn’t be a proper Advent Calendar without them.
I’ll introduce you to three of my favorite ones. Neither is super common but I really really like them, both for their message and for their wording.

Here’s the first one:

“Was Hänschen nicht lernt, 
lernt Hans nimmermehr.”

 

The literal translation is something like this

What little Hans doesn’t learn,
grown Hans won’t learn in a million years. 

Now, this sounds like an idiom about the fact that young people learn quicker than older folk.  But the actual idea is a bit different. Or let’s say, it’s limited: to manners and good behavior. Like… a practical example would be, if someone just doesn’t learn certain office rules as an intern, they certainly won’t learn it when they’re line manager.
So if I had to translate it, it would be something like this:

“Once a brat, always a brat”.  or
“It’s hard to un-spoil.”

When would you use it? Well, I can’t really think of a use example, actually. I think I haven’t used it in quite a while, in fact. But I still like it, so I wanted to share.

The next one is a bit more useful.

“Pack schlägt sich, Pack verträgt sich.”

 

The key is the word Pack. It is related to the English noun pack as in a pack of wolves. But das Pack in German is actually a quite derogatory term for a group of people you think are way below your standards… dumb, ill-mannered, ignorant, violent. A bit like knucklehead maybe. Yeah, let’s use that. Then, the saying translated to

“Knuckleheads fight, knuckleheads unite.”

The message is that their fighting doesn’t really mean anything and will be forgotten after the next beer. So you shouldn’t even bother.
Again, let me give you a work example… two people, who you think are idiots, are getting in an argument, with yelling and crying and whatnot. Then you could say the proverb, because you know that two days later they’ll be best friends again.  It is a rather strong and negative expression though. Calling someone Pack is quite a strong insult, even among friends. So don’t use it too often :)
Cool.
The last one is even shorter than this one, and it’s also the one I use most often. AND it’s the one that will make the least sense to you.

“Aussen hui, innen pfui.”

 

The thing is… hui and pfui aren’t really words. They’re exclamations. Hui (or the variation ui) is an exclamation of astonishment (good, bad, surprised).. kind of like a short whistle in English. Like… just imagine you enter the kitchen where someone is cooking. Then you’d say this:

And pfui on the other hand is an exclamation of disgust. It’s not really used to express that you’re disgusted in the moment. That would be “Ihhhhh”. But you can find it in context of disgust quite a bit.

And it’s like THE word to tell dogs stay away from that rotten fish at the beach.

And now let’s look at the expression again.

“Aussen hui, innen pfui.”

Do you have an idea what it means?
It’s basically about something being all shiny and cool on the outside or first sight and rotten at the core. A fancy restaurant with fancy waiters and stuff but then they microwave their food for instance. Or this absolutely gorgeous, charming guy who is an absolute asshole.
“Aussen hui, innen pfui” really is the perfect expression for our appearance obsessed world, so you should definitely add it to your active vocab.
People will be really impressed by how native your German sounds ;).

And that’s it for today. How about you? Have you heard any of those before? Do you have a good translation, maybe? Which one do you like best?
Let me know your thoughts and questions in the comments (which I’ll answer 3 days late … for shame :)
Have a good one, and I’ll see you tomorrow.

for members :)

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Peter
Peter

RE the dogs: maybe something like, “Shoo! Beat it! Get! That’s nasty.”

RuthE
RuthE

“All that glitters is not gold.” comes to mind. Not a snappy put-down, though, just useful as a comment.

Francesca Greenoak
Francesca Greenoak

What about whited sepulchres. People who present a holy good appearance but are corrupt inside for aussen hui …

Shannon Skilton
Shannon Skilton

Aussen hui, innen pfui reminded me of ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’. Though that is often used in reverse of the German proverb to mean something that seems kinda shabby on the outside can be pure gold within.

aoind
aoind

Rabble is a popular English word for lumpen proletariat and possibly a translation for Pack. To be super dismissive and nose wrinkling, possibly use scum, but I think you also use Abschaum in a similar sense too.

The closest widely used English equivalent to “Was Hänschen…” is “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” but it doesn’t capture the sense of what you describe. It’s more often used as a weary excuse for a lack of skills (often social or empathic skills) in older people and never used in relation to the schooling and discipline of younger people.

billkamm
billkamm

My best translation of Pfui in your dog example would be “yucky”. We use “yucky” to describe disgusting things to animals and children. “Don’t touch that’s yucky!”, “Don’t put that in your mouth that’s yucky!”. In fact there is a sticker in the U.S. called Mr. Yuk that parents can put on toxic things to let children know things are yucky and shouldn’t put them in their mouth (for example cleaning sprays, bleach, soap, etc…)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mr._Yuk

crittermonster
crittermonster

I find it interesting how Mr Yuk came about! I’m sure you know this, having read the article… but other readers may be curious why on Earth anyone would replace the skull and crossbones—a perfectly good, clear, scary symbol for “Poison!!!”— with a face that merely implies the poison tastes gross.

I was curious about it, when they introduced Mr. Yuk to America. I was a kid then, and I felt kind of insulted. It was as if adults were saying: “dumb kids, they’re too dense to understand what poison is”.

I kept that thinking— that Americans really must have a low opinion of children— until I went to college in Pittsburgh, PA— home of the Pirates (baseball team) AND of Mr. Yuk. It turns out that children in Pittsburgh were NOT frightened of the skull and crossbones and had no idea it meant “Poison”— because it was the pirate flag symbol of their favorite team!

Doctors at the University of Pittsburgh campaigned to create a different symbol for poison. And so was born that now-familiar retching green face. Huh, you learn something new every day (on this blog)!

billkamm
billkamm

I’ve lived in Pittsburgh most of my life and I did not know that. Do you still live in Pittsburgh or were you just here for school? If you still live in Pittsburgh we have a Stammtisch for German speakers. Check it out sometime: https://www.meetup.com/german-61/

crittermonster
crittermonster

Aw I wish I could join you! I graduated from CMU in 1991, but visit as often as I can. Some of my friends stayed in the Burgh. I really love it…a hidden gem of a place.

Rob
Rob

I would say the same, “Yuck! Spit that out. That’s yucky!” I know in German they can say it simply for dogs with one word “Aus!” But I normally hear in English “Spit that out!”

billkamm
billkamm

We have similar statements to “Aussen hui, innen pfui” in English. Such as “it’s what’s on the inside that counts”.

Lisa S

When I grew up in California, we had the word Phooey – pfui in English spelling. The meaning was the same. Aussen hui, innen pfui reminds me of the “snow-covered dung hill” attributed to Luther. Most of the English phrases contrasting inner and outer are with inner=good and outer=not good. This phrase turns it around. I suppose “not all that glitters is gold” comes close. Or a quote from the Gospels about “white-washed tombs” captures the sense even more closely.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth

The ‘snow covered dung hill’ sounds intriguing – have you got a source?

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin

Snow-covered dung hill is brilliant! And associated with Luther to make it even better on this particular site! Hope you don’t mind me using that snow-covered dung hill – I will definitely give you the foot note.

Darius
Darius

Re the dog yelling stuff: in Australia and New Zealand at least, you yell “Oi! Get out of it!”, or rather “Oi! Geddowdovit!”. It covers almost every naughty dog-related situation (the doggo doesn’t have to be physically “in” anything), including playing with a dead animal, trying to get into a bin, sniffing at a plate of sausages, or growling at another dog. Can also be used for people caught in similar situations, especially the growling.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth

I love sayings and all three of these are new to me.

Hänschen/Hans is beautifully descriptive and in English there’s really only ‘some people never learn’ – that I can think of. ‘There’s no cure for stupid’ is one that’s been popular lately too.

Pack . . . . well there’s it’s all a storm in a teacup/ making a mountain out of a molehill but you’d say that about anyone making a fuss about nothing. You’d be implying they’re not that bright but neither seem to be as derogatory as Pack seems to be.

Hui/Pfui . . . this one is my favourite – it’s so snappy. It made me think too of those people who are super nice in company but you know are complete shits once their front door closes . . . .

Pfui . . I think the US term Phooey is a direct descendent, although I remember it more as a term meaning darn it or that’s a load of crap. My command when the dogs are near anything undesirable is “Leave It!!” – short and to the point.

berlingrabers

Agreed on “phooey” – it sounds pretty old-timey, and I’d definitely understand it either as an expression of annoyance generally or to mean “that’s nonsense” (maybe like “was für ein Quatsch!”).

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin

Pfui = Blecch! Gross! Yuck! To the Dogs in my life, “Leggo – that’s GROSS”, or “Blecch, whatsa matter witch you?!” (Both while fiercely holding their stout trying to pry loose whatever disgusting thing they are trying to eat). Yuck, yuckaroo, disGROSSting, fooey, blecch – all pretty much the same. Dogs don’t really “spit” things out, so “leggo that’s gross” for dogs, “Spit it out” for humans. In Swedish (to Swedish dogs), “Loss, fy!”. To children, “spotta ut”. Don’t really need to be a linguist (or a Swede) to figure that last one out.

“Aussen hui, innen pfui” describes my neighbors. Dress to the teeth just to go out to buy a liter of orange juice, nose in the air, but they are the ones that leave rotting bags of garbage outside the door, don’t hold the door for others, just let it slam in other people’s face and throw garbage off the balcony. But they dress really well.

“Pack” is the same in Swedish, or “Tattare”. Plebes or Philistines in English. Or just scumbags. At boarding school we just said, “NOKD”. (Not Our Kind, Dahhling). In college, “hosers”. My mother called “pack” “philistines” or, sadly, “Huns”. Sorry ’bout that one. My grandmother, from The Ukraine, used “Tatare” for “pack”.

As for your example of the buffet – well, I’m still trying to hear the difference between clean and magical (sauber and zauber) – real talk – I hear there’s more of a “ts” in “zauber”, but let’s face it, you gotta really slow down and enunciate it properly to hear the diff. German is a minefield (and it’s fattening).

Do I win a prize for most quotation marks in a comment?

Charlie Joe
Charlie Joe

I actually thought the first one was good. I would translate it differently into English, something like” “What Bobby doesn’t learn, Bob will never ever learn”. I think it’s kind of profound. And useful for everything from algebra and geometry, to the existence of something in German called dative adjectives. The last proverb enshrines an idea that keeps giving rise to expressions. We are all familiar with the notion of pretty on the outside and ugly inside. But the first one is new to me. And like all good things you wonder why you never thought of it, it seems so obvious once you hear it.

Charlie Joe
Charlie Joe

The on line dictionary I use has your first proverb, maybe the others too but I didn’t check; And they give two translations for it, “A tree must be bent while it’s young” and “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”.https://www.dict.cc/?s=nimmermehr&failed_kw=mimmermehr
I think they are taking liberties with the original meaning and I still prefer my close to the original translation.

Anonymous
Anonymous

The “PFUI, aus. AUS! Das ist PFUI!!” would make a great alarm/ring signal on my mobile phone. Unfortunately, it’s embedded in a way that will not lend itself to theft, so I am stuck wishing for the audio file as a Christmas prezzie… Not so subtle hint.

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin

The comment about the not so subtle hint regarding receiving the audio file was sent accidentally too soon, forgot to sign it, Amerikanerin.

berlingrabers

Not equivalent but related to “außen hui, innen pfui” is “putting lipstick on a pig” – basically, trying to make something “außen hui” that you know really is “pfui.” The English saying also has biblical roots – “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion” (Proverbs 11:22).

AhmedA
AhmedA

Man i have been waiting for something like this for so long!!! thank you!!