Whoops, wrong image :)
and welcome to the German is Easy advent calendar. And behind door number 7 are
Like any language, German has a wealth of proverbs and expressions. Today, we’ll look at 3 really cool ones. They’re common, in current use, really short and showcase what the German language can do with its grammar.
Now, proverbs are like spices. If you use too much of them, they… ahem… ruin everything you’re cooking up. But a pinch here and a dash there can really ameliorate what you’re… ahem… cooking up.
Wait… I just used that cooking up twice, right? Well, that brings us right to our first proverb
- Doppelt hält besser.
Literally, this is a short version of “[Sewed] double holds better.” and that might already be enough to guess the meaning. Do you have an idea?
The translation is
- Two are better than one.
You can use it whenever you do something twice in some way. Like… checking two times whether the stove is off, setting two different alarm clocks or ordering a second beer. It’s just three words, it has a good flow and it’s one of the most common ones out there, so you should definitely add it to your vocab.
Cool. The next one is also kind of about how one time is not enough to make a difference, but from a different angle.
- Einmal ist keinmal.
The literal translation is
- “Once is nonce.”
and native speakers… can you make that a thing please?! Come on, it just sounds soooo much cooler and flow-erer than
- Once doesn’t count.
- Once doesn’t do any harm.
When do you use it? Well, usually people use it in contexts where something bad or slightly bad was done and they want to sort of pardon it. Like… you show up too late to the first date with your new crush. Or you take something from the fridge shelf of your new flatmate. Or you get an adjective ending wrong. Like…. you’re like “Hallo, ein groß Bier bitte.” and the bartender goes like
“Well, well, well… what have we here… a German learner.
It should have been großes, not groß. But okay for this time it’s fine. Einmal ist keinmal how we say in German.”
The best response then is of course:
“Well Sir Smug… It’s AS we say, not HOW we say.”
And when the bartender looks at you confused and embarrassed because his English is not native like after all, then the moment has come for our last proverb of today:
- Wie du mir, so ich dir.
Literally, it means “As you (do) to me, alike I (do) to you.”. and I really like this one. It is so short and elegant, it has a nice flow, it rhymes and it sounds much less serious than Auge um Auge (an eye for an eye). And you can use it as a memory help for Dative and the “wie – so” connection.
Cool. So these were 3 cool, common expressions, that show that German can actually be elegant. How about you? Do you like them? Have you heard them before? Have you used them? Let me know in the comments below and maybe win today’s giveaway. Have a great day and bis morgen.
Oh and in case you’re worrying:
No one has ever been denied a large beer due to a faulty adjective endings :)
Thank you for clarifying what Einmal ist Keinmal means. I saw that as an album name for Nena and Google Translate only told me it meant “One for the money” which made no sense to me at all. It now currently says “Once is never” for that translation. I suggested a translation of “Once doesn’t count.” based on your article.
“do unto others as you would have them do to you” would work for “wie du mir, so ich dir”
Hmmm… not really. The German one is only ever used in negative contexts. So you treat me badly, I treat you badly back. I feel like the English one you mentioned is very much about the opposite.
That would be
“Was du nicht willst, das man dir tu, das füg’ auch keinem anderen zu.”
I think “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander” has some overlap with “Wie du mir, so ich dir,” though not as elegantly put.
I like all sayings that have animals in them :). Would you use it as a man for a woman though? Like … she ate your yogurt, you eat hers in retaliation and say this? Like, are people aware of the animals’ sexes. Little trivia… gander is Ganter in German. BUt I’d say two thirds of people don’t even know that word anymore.
While not an especially common saying, I don’t think it’s used exclusively one sex to the other, and it can just as easily be female to male without the word order being changed. (I can’t say that no-one ever turns it around, but can’t recall ever hearing it so.) Female to male is probably actually the more common, particularly where the female feels that men get away with more than women do. Some might use it in the yogurt situation, but I think it’s mostly used for more serious stuff.
Whether all who use the expression know what a gander is I really don’t know, but am sure that it helps some of us to remember what to call a male goose. Might now help me to remember die Gans / der Ganter, too. Danke.
“two heads are better than one” would work for “doppelt hält besser”.
So could I use that while ordering a second beer?
Doppelt hält besser reminds me of two English-language sayings: ‘two heads are better than one’ and ‘a trouble shared is a trouble halved’. can ‘Doppelt hält besser’ be tortured into carrying either of these meanings? or is there something better on offer?
No, that wouldn’t really work. For “two heads” I think the German one is
– Vier Augen sehen mehr als zwei.
and for the other one it would be
– Geteiltes Leid ist halbes Leid.
Another version of Doppelt hält besser is the carpenter’s rule: measure twice, cut once.
Hi I’ve missed the 1st 6 lessons .
How do I see them again .
Under the article (above the comment section) there are little arrows where you can navigate to the previous articles. Click click your way through there.
ha ha ok fair enough. and yes, i just started listening to CRE…i like it! I’m listening to one now on Saudi Arabia and the interviewee talks faster than I thought humanly possible. It’s downright impressive.
Some German women can talk super fast, indeed. Especially when they talk to each other. It’s like a race almost :). Check out the podcasts on tech there. Compilerbau for instance. That’ll put you to sleep :D
Have a suggested advent (if you’re looking for suggestions…): perhaps a few good German podcasts or blogs. I’d like some interesting things to listen to or to read if you know if any…
Problem is… I literally do not read any German blogs at all (and never have) and the only podcast I like is already linked on my link-page… the CRE.fm stuff. This is great but other than that I have no idea what’s good.
Hi Emanuel. Alternative expressions which are, perhaps, more commonly used in the UK than ‘Once doesn’t do any harm’ are ‘one every now and again won’t (or doesn’t) hurt’, or ‘one, every so often doesn’t hurt’. These are normally used lightheartedly when somebody is about to indulge in one of their vices or more generally something they know isn’t particularly good for them; like a fish bowl cocktail, or a big juicy double stacked gourmet hamburger with extra onion rings and bacon!
You mention that the expression ‘wie du mir, so ich dir’ can be used as a ‘memory help’. Absolutely know what you mean and have heard German friends say this which is why it leapt out to me! People in the UK would tend to say ‘memory aid’ or ‘mnemonic’ instead; ‘mnemonic’ having a more specific reference to helpful wordplay and imagery than memory aid. Hope this is helpful!
Keep up the great work I love the blog and am loving the daily advent calendar articles!
Not to be nit-picky, but there really should be a comma: Wie du mir, so ich dir” :-)
Can “einmal ist keinmal” be used to express skepticism about generalizing from a single event?
For example, if I saw something happen once, and now I try to say that’s how this thing always works, can my friend say “einmal ist keinmal”?
Or if you’re trying to master a difficult skill, and you finally do it correctly for the first time, can your teacher say “einmal ist keinmal” and make you do it again?
I wouldn’t say so; this saying is really only used to excuse something naughty (in my opinion)
I’ll read twice, as “Doppelt hält besser”.
Hi Emmanuel, unfortunately, though julin theory a good idea, nowadays, certainly in the UK, nonce brings to mind a man who interferes with children…
Ich kenne ein, das deinem Blog widerspricht: “Deutsche Sprache – schwere Sprache” :)
Yup hence even the title of this website has a healthy dose of Emanuel humour…