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About 100 German Proverbs with Explanations

Allein ist besser als mit Schlechten im Verein.

Better be alone than in bad company.

Aller Anfang ist schwer.

A beginning may be difficult.*

Alles ist seinen Preis wert.

Everything is worth its price. Or: "Everything is worth what its buyer will pay for it."

Alter schützt vor Torheit nicht.

Age does not protect from foolishness.

Am vielen Lachen erkennt man den Narren.

By all his laughs the fool is known.

An den Früchten erkennt man den Baum.

The apple does not fall far from the tree.

Andere Länder, andere Sitten.

Other countries, [have] other customs.

Angriff is die beste Verteildigung.

Attack is the best defence [at times].

Aufgewärmter Kohl war niemals gut.

Red-hot coals did nobody good.

Aus (Durch) Schaden wird man klug.

From hurts and harms one becomes wise(r).

Aus einem Stein ist schwer Öl pressen.

It is hard to press oil out of a stone. Cf. You can't milk a bull.

Aus einer Mücke einen Elefanten machen.

Don't make a mountain out of a molehill.

Aus Schaden wird man klug.

From harm you get wise.

Bedenke das Ende.

Whatever you do, act wisely, and consider the end.

Bedenke, dass du sterben musst.

Remember that you have to die. Latin: Memento mori.

Beispiele tun oft mehr als viel Wort' und Lehr'.

Examples often do more than words and teachers.

Besser allein als in schlechter Gesellschaft.

It is better to be alone than to be in bad company.

Besser am Rande sparen als am Boden (also zur rechten Zeit).

Save in good time, or when there is any use of it. Explanation: Better save while the storage crib is full to the rim than when it is quite empty.

Das böse Gewissen verrät sich selbst.

A guilty conscience needs no accuser.

Das Eisen schmieden, solange es heiß ist.

Strike while the iron is hot.

Der Apfel fällt nicht weit vom Stamm.

The apple does not fall far from the tree.

Der Apfel fällt nicht weit vom Stamm.

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree trunk.

Der Geizige ist keinem gut, ihm selbst der Ärgste.

The covetous man is good to none and worst to himself.

Der Horcher an der Wand hört seine eigene Schand.

The Listener at the wall hears his own shame.

Der liebe Gott ist immer mit den stärksten Bataillonen.

God is on the side of the strongest battalions.

Der Schein trügt.

Appearances deceive. Things are not always as they look like.

Die Alzen zum Rat, die Jungen zur Tat.

Age counsels, youth acts.

Die großen Fische fressen die kleinen.

The big fish eat the small ones

Die Liebe wächst mit dem Quadrat der Entfernung.

Love grows with the square of the distance.

Die Ratten verlassen das sinkende Schiff.

The rats desert the sinking ship.

Eigenlob stinkt.

Self-praise stinks.

Eile mit Weile.

More haste, less speed.

Ein fauler Apfel stecht hundert gesunde an (macht zehn).

One bad apple spoils the bunch.

Ein jeder habe das fröhliche, gesunde Mißrauen.

Everyone should have the happy, healthy distrust.

Ein kiel trebt den andere aus.

One nail drives out another.

Einer allein ist nicht einmal gut im Paradies.

Being alone is not even good in paradise.

Erst denken, dann lenken. • Erst denken, dann handeln.

First think, then organise and steer. Cf. Look before you leap.

Erst kommt das Fressen, dann die Moral.

First food, then moral.

Es geht alles vorüber.

This too will pass.

Es ist keiner so blind, wie der, der nicht sehen will.

No one is as blind as the one who does not want to see.

Es ist nicht alles Gold, was glänzt.

Not all that shines is gold. All that glitters is not gold. (An attractive appearance may be deceptive. Judge the content also.)

Faulheit ist der Schlüssel zur Armut.

Laziness is the key to poverty.

Frisch gewagt ist halb gewonnen.

What is bravely ventured is half-way gained (won).

Furcht macht Abgotterei.

Fear brings about idolatry. (It also brings its measure of cramped living).

Geld allein macht nicht glücklich.

Money alone doesn't make one happy.

Gelernt ist gelernt.

What is learnt is learnt (remains and can be recalled)

Gemein Gerücht ist selten erlogen.

Common fame is seldom to blame.

Geschenk vom Feind ist nicht gut gemeint.

(Do not trust gifts or favours from an enemy.)

Gesunder Mann, reicher Mann.

A healthy man is a rich man.

Glück bringt Neider.

Good fortune (good luck too) brings envy.

Gleich sucht sich, Gleich findet sich.

Like seeks like; like finds like.

Gleiche Gemüter suchen sich.

Similar minds (tempers) seek one another. Cf. Those who are like one another, gather. (From French).

Golden Gebiss macht das Pferd besser.

A golden bissel makes the horse (seem) better.

Greift ther Abt zum Glas, greifen die Mönche zum Krug.

If the abbot seizes a glass, the monks seize a jar.

Hütet euch vor den falschen Propheten.

Beware of the false prophets (who areravening wolves).

Hoffen und harren macht manchen zum Narren.

Hope and wait make fools of many.

Hunger ist der beste Koch.

Hunger is the best cook.

Im Becher ersaufen mehr als im Meer.

Wine has drowned more than the sea.

In Zweifelsfalle draußen bleiben. When in doubt, leave it out.

Junges Alter is gut, alte Jugend taught nichts.

Young age is good, old youth will not do.

Kleine Kessel haben große Ohren.

Little pitchers have big ears.

Kümmere dich nicht um ungelegte Eier.

Don't worry about unlaid eggs.

Lösche nicht, wo dich's nicht brennt.

Don't put out a fire where it does not scorch you.

Lebe wie du kannst, nicht wie du willst.

Live as you may, not [necessarily] as you want to.

Leere Ähren stehen aufrecht.

Empty ears [of corn] stand upright.

Lieber ein Ende mit Schmerzen als Schmerzen ohne Ende.

Better an end with pain than pain without end.

Lieber ein Ende mit Schrecken als ein Schrecken ohne Ende.

Better an end with horror than horror without end.

Man höre auch den andern Teil.

Listen (carefully) to the other party too (the other side's versions). (There may be two or more sides to an issue, so listen well to the other part too.

Man sieht am Ende wohl, Wie man es loben soll.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Man sieht das Hirn nicht an der Stirn.

Judge not a man and things at first sight.

Man sieht das Hirn nicht an der Stirn.

You don't see the brain on the forehead. Don't judge things and a man at first sight.

Man soll den Tag nicht vor dem Abend loben.

One shouldn't praise the day before the evening.

Narren bedürfen der Schellen nicht.

A fool does not need any bells.

Neue Besen kehren gut.

New brooms clean well.

Niemand kann sich über das Meer beklagen, der zum zweiten Male Schiffbruch erlitten hat.

No one that has suffered shipwreck for the second time can complain about the sea.

Not bricht Eisen.

Need (necessity) breaks iron.

Quäle nie ein Tier zum Scherz, denn es fühlt wie du den Schmerz.

Never hurt an animal for the fun of it, for it can feel pain like you.

So ist das Leben.

Such is life!

Sorge macht vor Zeiten grau.

Fretting cares make grey hairs.

Spare in der Zeit, so hast du in der Not.

Spare in time, then you have something in your time of need. (Save for a rainy day.)

Sparsamkeit erhält das Haus.

Frugality keeps the house.

Stehend Wasser wird stinkend.

Stagnant water begins to stink.

Taten sagen mehr als Wörter.

Actions tell more than words.

Unter dem blühenden Strauch liegt oft ein giftige Schlange versteckt.

Among flowers a snake often lies.

Viele Bäche machen einen Strom.

Many brooks form a river.

Vom Regen in die Traufe.

Out of the rain and into the eaves. (Going from one unpleasant situation into another.)

Vorbeugen ist besser als heilen.

It is better to prevent than to cure.

Wem der Rock paß, mag ihn anziehen.

To whom the skirt fits, may wear it.

Wenn du dich nicht selber kitzelst, ein and'rer wird nicht für dich lachen.

If you do not tickle yourself, there is no one else who will laugh for you.

Wer den Acker nicht will graben, der wird nicht als Unkraut haben.

Who does not want to dig the land shall have nothing but weed.

Wer einen grossen Sprung tun will, geht vorher zuruck.

Who wants to make a big jump, first prepares a run.*

Wer nich zweifeln kann, ist ein dummer mann.

He who cannot doubt, is a stupid man.

Wer sich nicht selber achtet, wird auch von andern nicht geachtet.

He who does not respect himself, will not be respected from others.

Wie etwas nutzt so wird es geputzt.

From how a thing is used, it is polished. Or: A thing is polished with a view to the benefits it brings.

Wer sich unter die Kleie mischt, den fressen die Schweine.

Who blends with bran is eaten by the hogs. [Who blends in with the swill, is eaten by the pigs.]

Wie der Vater, so der Sohn.

Like father, like son.

Wie du mir, so ich dir.

Like unto like. Tit for tat.

Wie man in den Wald hineinruft, so schallt es zurück (heraus).

(As one calls into the forest, so it echoes back.)

Wo der Zaun am niedrigsten is, springt jeder über.

Where the fence is lowest, everyone jumps over.

Zeige mir Deine Freunde und ich sage Dir wer Du bist.

Show me who you are friends with, and I will tell you who you are. / A man is known by the friends he keeps.

Zeit ist das teuerste Kleinod.

Time is the most precious treasure.

Zum Lernen is keiner zu alt.

Nobody is too old to learn.

TAO SEARCH

Be Sparing for Your Own Welfare

To master the use of proverbs also includes living up to the best of them.

Considering German proverbs
Good proverbs help solid overviews and outlooks.

Many German proverbs are appraisals and consequently help in getting "realistic the German way". It may be surmised that many old insights were had through trial and error gathered over generations, and at times presented with a tint of humour. The terse and in part humorous folk wisdom may be likened to a handsome face. What is beneath it may be likened to torn garments and lots of battered bodies. Thus, "Truth may have a handsome countenance but torn garments."

If we learn the hard-won lessons of others, perhaps we escape learning them a hard and costly way ourselves: either by getting fewer troubles, lessening their impacts on us because were have been forewarned by proverbs - troubles that we might otherwise have got, and even to our great ruin. I point to a possibility if we learn the proverbs in times we are far from trouble and care, as in youth, for example, and some useful backup lessons from proverbs strike root.

We find German proverbs in German-speaking countries and in particular cultures that Germans took part in establishing as they emigrated. For example, over 40 million Americans are of German ancestry. Germans and others brought handy, entertaining sayings" with them across the Atlantic, and recreated some of them in English to deal with life there.

There are books of German proverbs with translations into other languages. Further down is a list of some of them. Here is an example of how one may put some proverbs to good use:

LoTry to study when there is ample time. Better: Study with ample time.

Besser am Rande sparen als am Boden (also zur rechten Zeit). [Sl 545]

It suggests: "Better save while the (supply) bin (storage crib) is quite full than when it is as good as empty." Thus, save while there is some use to it.

LoGood study helps even doubting Thomases and scientists on and up

Zum Lernen is keiner zu alt. [Sl 35]

Nobody is too old to learn.

Wer nich zweifeln kann, ist ein dummer mann. [Sl 706]

He who cannot doubt, is a stupid man.

LoIt helps the solvent man to try to be quite calm in general - enough to study his other part to get rid of blunt, suggestive fear

Furcht macht Abgotterei. [Sl 29]

Fear forms idolatry. (It also helps cramped living).

Sparsamkeit erhält das Haus. [Sl 346]

Frugality keeps the house.

Wie etwas nutzt so wird es geputzt. [Sl 452]

Who uses the thing, keeps it polished or well wiped (something like that).

Man höre auch den andern Teil. [Sl 38]

(There are two sides to an issue:) "Listen to the other part also".

Gist

IN SUM
  1. Try to study so as to save better to be better able to meet future demands or needs.
  2. Study all life long, and study to doubt well enough too. To study-and-doubt is a good part of research, and of finding out some things on one's own.
  3. Calm frugality may work much better in the long run than what turns into very cramped living. Much adjustment may be needed for it.

IN NUCEStudy to base the personal economy on thrift and frugality enough when there is time. But doubt the value of that counsel as well as other counsels, as a fruit of your study of doubt and your general conditions. The stand "Make do with less" may not be good enough, after all. It is too categorical. The freedom to doubt, inquire, and get skilful in handling life for prosperous living are main parts of Buddha's teachings.

Contents


German proverbs, Literature  

Some of the German proverbs show us how to keep going.

Albrecht, Peter. Zitate und Sprichwörter. Fränkisch-Crumbach: Edition XXL, 2001.

Beyer, Horst og Annelies. Sprichwörter Lexikon. Weyarn: Seehamer Verlag, 1996. ⍽▢⍽ 15 000 proverbs and proverbial sayings from the 1600th century onwards, in alphabetical order. Illustrated with wood-carvings.

Czarnomski, Francis Bauer, coll. Proverbs in German and English. London: Leopold B. Hill, 1920.

Der Dudenredaktion. Duden: Redewendungen: Wörterbuch der deutschen Idiomatik. 4., neu bearbeitete und aktualisierte Auflage. Berlin: Dudenverlag, 2012.

Halveland, Anja, red. Lexikon der schönsten Sprichwörter und Zitate. München: Bassermann Verlag, 2008.

Jockel, Gabriele und Gerd. Zitate und Sprichwörter: Das richtige Wort zur richtigen Zeit. Renningen: Garant Verlag, 2011.

Kudla, Hubertus. Lexikon der lateinischen Zitate: 3500 Originale mit Übersetzungen und Belegstellen. 3. durchgesehene Auflage. München: Verlag C. H. Beck, 2007.

Mertvago, Peter, red. Dictionary of 1000 German Proverbs. New York: Hippocrene Books. ⍽▢⍽ German proverbs with English translations and renderings (equivalents). A handy primer of its sort.

Möller, Ferdinand, oms. Proverbes francais. München: Dtv, 1979. ⍽▢⍽ Proverbs in French and German.

Möller, Ferdinand, mit Curt Ludwig und Hanna Dehio. Proverbi italiani. Italienische Sprichwörter. München: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 2011. ⍽▢⍽ Proverbs in Italian and German.

Pyter, Diane. Dumme Sprüche. München: Bassermann Verlag, 2005.

Pöppelmann, Christa. Redensarten und Sprichwörter: Herkunft, Bedeutung, Verwendung. München: Compact Verlag, 2016.

Simroch, Karl, coll. Deutsche Sprichwörter. Die deutschen Volksbücher 5. Band. Frankfurt: Brönner, 1846. ⍽▢⍽ 12 396 Sprichwörter.

Skupy, Hans-Horst (Hrsg.) Das großße Handbuch der Zitate: 25.000 Aussprüche und Sprichwörter von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart. Sonderausgabe. München: Bassermann Verlag 2013.

Steiner, Alexandra. 1000 Glückwünsche: Sprüche, Zitate und Verse für jeden Anlass Von der Taufe bis zur goldenen Hochzeit. 2. Auflage. Hannover: Humboldt, 2010.

Wüst, Hans Werner. Zitate und Sprichwörter. München: Bassermann Verlag, 2010. ⍽▢⍽ Large (743 pages) - 10 000 apt quotations and proverbs mingle.

In Sammlungen

Benham, William Gurney. A Book of Quotations, Proverbs and Household Words. London: Cassell, 1914.

Bohn, Henry George. A Hand-book of Proverbs: Comprising an Entire Republication of Ray's Collection of English Proverbs, with His Additions from Foreign Languages, and a Complete Alphabetical Index. London: George Bell and Sons, 1899.

Rauch, Karl. Sprichwörter der Völker. Düsseldorf: Diederichs, 1963.

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