Advent Calendar 13 – “Step up 9 – Grease.”

 

Hello everyone,

welcome to day 13 of our Advent Calendar and again we’ll up our colloquial game a notch, with the expression:

ins Fettnäpfchen treten

Treten means to step, Fett is fat or grease and Näpfchen is a small version of a Napf.

Today, Napf  is pretty much only used for the bowls pets eat from but back in the day it was a bit more general.
So, we have the literal translation “to step into  a bowl of grease, which begs the question: why would one do that? Was that some kind of beauty craze back in the day? Well, no.
Hundreds of years ago peasants would smoke and dry their ham and sausages on the ceiling of the room where the stove was. The thing is, heat makes meat sweat out grease and because that grease was precious to them and they could use it for a variety of things, they caught it in a little bowl.  That’s the Fettnapf.

And at night, with only the moon or a candle providing light, someone would step into this bowl or kick it over. Gross for himself, annoying for everyone, because it was a mess on the floor and the grease was lost.

So, stepping into the Fettnapf was definitely one of those “Oh crap, why didn’t I pay attention”-moments. And that’s what the expression is still used for today. Just that it’s not actual fat bowl you step into.
Germans say that you “step into the grease pot”, when you accidentally say (or do) something that hurts someone’s feelings or spoils a secret they wanted to keep. Like… you’re at a party telling all your politically incorrect jokes about French people when you find out that three of the guests are French. Oops!  Or you ask a female coworker you haven’t seen in a while when the baby is due but…  she actually isn’t pregnant. Uber oops. That’s more like a whole pool of grease, actually.
It’s not used for really serious stuff, just for these embarrassing every day gaffes people do.
Let’s look at some examples for how it is used.

  • “Ich bin gestern beim Meeting voll ins Fettnäpchen getreten.”
    “Hast du was über Katzen gesagt?”
    “Ja, genau das.”
    “Oh.”
  • “I made a big gaffe at the meeting yesterday.”
    “Did you say something about cats?”
    “Yup, exactly.”
    “Oh.”

  • Vorsicht Fettnäpfchen –  Gesten können in verschiedenen Ländern sehr verschiedene Bedeutungen haben.
  • Careful, cultural minefield – gestures can have quite different meanings in different countries.
  • Thomas lässt kein Fettnäpfchen aus.
  • Thomas misses no chance to put his foot in/puts his foot in his mouth and leaves it there.

I’m not sure if my translations are any good. I took them from a dictionary but I don’t really trust these very much with this anymore.  So if you have suggestions or if the concept isn’t entirely clear yet, let me know.
Cool.
So this is ins Fettnäpfchen treten and now I would like to know… what’s your favorite Fettnäpfchen story? Like… did you make a really big blunder recently? Or a friend? Let me know in the comments below and win today’s giveaway.
Ich freu mich auf eure Geschichten. Schönen Tag und bis morgen.

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Alan
Alan
5 years ago

‘Begs the question’. used after a statement of fact that points to an obvious need for another question to be answered. I am not young, this has been in common use all of my life.

aoind
aoind
5 years ago
Reply to  Alan

That is definitely what it is most frequently used for, although as I have had a go at explaining further up, it’s not what it actually means. Saying all that I don’t think I’ve ever heard it used in its proper sense – maybe it’s all just a conspiracy so pedants like me have something else to talk about once they’ve got bored of correcting people who say “literally” when they mean “figuratively” and “less” when they mean “fewer”.

aoind
aoind
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Good question! It’s one of those things that come up a lot in radio discussions and newspaper comment pieces about the decline of the English language. As described, “less” vs “fewer” and the misuse of “literally” are other popular topics.

berlingrabers
5 years ago

Oh, also, a good English idiom for the aftermath of a gaffe: “to have egg on one’s face.” It’s really a pretty common expression, too.

aoind
aoind
5 years ago
Reply to  berlingrabers

It’s common but also more general than the specific embarrassment at having made a gaffe. Any public humiliation can be an “egg on face” situation. For know-it-alls like me it’s most commonly being called out on bullshit.

berlingrabers
5 years ago
Reply to  aoind

I suppose that’s true, yeah. For that matter, I wonder if “put one’s foot in it” is a little broader even than “foot in mouth” – putting your foot in your mouth is definitely making a verbal gaffe, but putting your foot in it, at least as I might use it, could also involve saying or doing something that touches off a furor, causes a big argument, that sort of thing, even if what you said or did wasn’t actually inappropriate or there was no way you could have known better.

berlingrabers
5 years ago

Just by way of polling the native English speakers: just what is the “it” you picture someone “putting his/her foot in”? I’d say the image is more manure, perhaps the only place English seems more poop-oriented in its idioms than German…

Speaking of which, would “ins Fettnäpfchen treten” be generally less severe than “Mist bauen”? or more specific?

aoind
aoind
5 years ago
Reply to  berlingrabers

I can’t picture what it was I was metaphorically putting my foot in, but I’ve certainly put it there often enough. A bowl of grease that a) will take ages to clean up and b) was earmarked for a useful purpose before my size 10s came along fits the feel of it very well. As a 7 year old scamp I couldn’t resist putting my foot in my neighbour’s freshly laid cement path. The neighbour’s mum yelled blue murder at me but my size 1 shoe imprint is still visible there to this day. I really put my foot in that one :)

Adrian Carrillo
5 years ago

Bitte

TimM
TimM
5 years ago

Entschuldigung. Ich bin zu langsam. Aoind schlug ‘cultural minefield’ schon vor. Ich stimme aber dazu!

TimM
TimM
5 years ago

Ich meine, Franziska hat recht. ‘Sandtrap’ ist wahrscheinlich eine Golf-Metapher. Ich hatte es nie in diesem Sinn gehören, doch ich verstand es sofort, obwohl ich selbst keinen Golf spiele.

Hier in Neuseeland würden wir stattdessens wahrscheinlich ‘(cultural) minefield’ sagen.

Franziska
Franziska
5 years ago

So, I was assuming that sandtraps was a golf reference. Ops is how one says Oops in Italian. Maybe in some other European languages?

Jake
Jake
5 years ago

Kleine korrektur: it’s “oops”, not “ops”. When I read “ops”, I think about top secret military “black ops”.

I’m American, and I’ve never heard “sandtraps” used in that way.

To translate “Thomas lässt kein Fettnäpfchen aus,” I might say “Thomas never misses a chance to put his foot in his mouth.”

aoind
aoind
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Attention: Cultural Minefield

Paul E Ramoni Jr
Paul E Ramoni Jr
5 years ago

Great, and for me rather timely. I had seen this expression in Der Spiegel and duly noted it down after checking the meaning in Leo–but it took me a while to pick it apart for the “literal” meaning–foot in pot of grease. Now it makes sense with the visual reference to sausage and meat preparation.
I would say in English that the complete expression that corresponds to this one in my understanding is “to put your foot in your mouth.” I don’t know how that one came about.

Charles Gleaves
Charles Gleaves
5 years ago

Why is India overpopulated? Because they have too many people. That would be a very simplistic example of begging the question. The expression is used particularly in debate where there is a “question” that is being debated.

Orlandus
Orlandus
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

People use it wrong all the time. It is more common to hear it with the “wrong” meaning than with its “correct”, traditional meaning. It’s a translation (more or less) of Latin “petitio principii”.

Charles Gleaves
Charles Gleaves
5 years ago

Unfortunately most Americans don’t know that if you beg the question, as you said, you are not raising the question you are using an argument that assumes the correctness of the point you trying to prove so you are proving nothing.

aoind
aoind
5 years ago

It’s not just Americans that don’t know that. It seems to be the entire English speaking world. Just this morning I heard a news reporter on supposedly high brow BBC Radio 4 using “begs the question” to mean “raises the question”. I think the concept of “begging the question” in the sense of circular reasoning is lost forever.

aoind
aoind
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

The circumstances where it would be correct to use the term are actually quite rare. If someone argues their point by referring back to the assumption they are arguing in favour of as though it were already an established fact (i.e. skipping the important bit where they actually demonstrate it), then they are “begging the question”. This feels like it’s more likely to happen in long winded arguments but could be as simple as “this must be the right choice because it’s clearly correct”.

The problem is that “begging the question” is not a very fitting term for the type of circular reasoning it describes and sounds rather more like the thing people usually take it to mean, i.e. “raising the question”. Wikipedia says that “begging the question” is a mistranslation of the latin phrase petitio principii which would more accurately be translated as “assuming the initial point”. So what would I advise? You could try using “it raises the question” or “it makes you wonder” and this would certainly have the advantage of never having to have this conversation again! However, it is so common to misuse the phrase these days that it is becoming the default usage!

aoind
aoind
5 years ago

Sandtraps sound like they could be a devilish device used in actual desert warfare or as a defence against amphibious invasion but I’ve never heard the term used in the sense of faux pas. “Clangers” (in the sense of dropping one) would be a British English equivalent. As for Thomas putting his foot in his mouth and leaving it there – we might call this “foot in mouth disease” – a play on words of the livestock contagion “foot and mouth disease”.

Alan
Alan
5 years ago

We have a similar saying, ‘putting your foot in it’. Exactly the same usage I would say.

Anonymous
Anonymous
5 years ago

Hi…not sure if this “qualifies”, but I have a boss who never locks the bathroom door at work. As a result, a few of my coworkers have accidentally walked in while he was sitting on the toilet. I don’t know if the boss’s feelings were hurt, but I am sure my coworkers feelings were! They are still traumatized! :-)

Hannah Tankard
Hannah Tankard
5 years ago

Great post! In British English we say: “To put your foot in in,” which is quite similar to the German idiom but I have no idea of the origins of the British English idiom. I haven’t heard of the “sandtraps” or the “skips no blunders” before. “Gaffe” is commonly used, especially in reference to Boris Johnson or Donald Trump, so perhaps 2017 will be a continuation of all the “ins Fettnäpfchen treten” in 2016.

berlingrabers
5 years ago
Reply to  Hannah Tankard

“Put your foot in it” would also be perfectly idiomatic for me as an American. For verbal gaffes/faux pas, there’s also “put your foot in your mouth.”

I’d also never heard the “sandtrap” thing, but then, I’m no golfer. Not “skipping” blunders sounds odd too, as “skipping” something always seems deliberate to me. Maybe “never misses a chance to put his foot in his mouth” or something.

berlingrabers
5 years ago
Reply to  berlingrabers

Clearly I should have read all the way down…

Simon
Simon
5 years ago

I actually “put my foot in it” just this week.

For my friend’s birthday, I decided to send a card with a gift voucher for a clothing store. I wrote “Happy Birthday! Buy yourself some new clothes!” . Of course, I forgot to enclose the gift card, so you can imagine his confusion, and probably hurt feelings, when he opened it!

jjalonsoc
jjalonsoc
5 years ago

Hi, hahaha, its very funny, I will try to tell an embarrassing story today at lunch with my coworkers so I can practice the expression. My story:
Once I was talking with the mother of my ex girlfriend, the youngest of the family, she was showing me some pictures from the family, particularly of all the pregnancies. In a particularly one, I asked from which baby were you pregnant here? She looked at me and told me, that was one year ago. :( the evening was vastly damaged. I try to save it, saying “uao you lost so much weight in the last year” but it didn’t seem to really help me.