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Family Sayings and a Few Songs, August 27, 2008 (Complete up to 12/29/2008 my father’s birthday)

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Family Sayings, Mostly from my Father:

1. „Wenn es Heute regnet, wird das Leder billiger.“

(„Wenn es Häute regnet, wird das Leder billiger.“)

When you get it: „Nun ist der Groschen gefallen.“ (“Now the coin dropped.”)

2. „So lange diese Rose blüht, wird uns kein Geld verwelken.“ (“So long as this cherry blossoms, no money of ours will wilt.”)(My father said this when he lit up a cigar.) Maybe this is just poetic. I don’t yet understand it.

3. „Ein Kater haben wir gehabt; eine Katze wollten wir nicht mehr haben.“ (On discovering we had a female cat, while we thought it was a male.) I never got this one either.

4. „Wat der Buer nit kennt, dat fret er nit.“ (“What a farmer or peasant doesn’t know he won’t eat.”)(When we refused to eat some novel food.)

5. Schieb ‘leine.” (“You can push it by youself!”)(This was said when one became angry at the other, while as refugees, we were pushing the wagon with all our belongings.)

6. Greek: Ής ήδώνης, Ής ήδώνης, Ής έστιν. (Long A and O: Has hadonas, has hadonas, has estin.) (“Hedonism” comes from the Greek word.)

(“What happiness, what happiness, this life is!”)

7. Your room is a TOHU WA BOHU! (complete chaos)

8. „Wenn nicht Heute, denn Morgen, Übermorgen ganz gewiss.“

(When we were caught procrastinating.) (“If not today, then tomorrow; the day after tomorrow I’ll do it for sure!”)

9. „Abends wird der Fauler fleissig.“ (Putting things off) (“In the evening lazy people get busy.”)

10. „Arbeit macht das Leben süss!“ (The only part we heard. When our relatives from Germany visited us we heard the second part of the saying: “Aber Faulheit stärkt die Glieder.”) (“Work sweets up your life. Laziness strengthens up your limbs.”)

11. Fritz Reuter: “Morgen, Herr Av’kourt. Mi is do wat passiert….“ (This is the beginning of a funny narrative poem that my father always began when we appeared in the morning.) (“G’mornin, Sir Advocate, something just happened to me!”)

„I know you had a blow-out!“ said my little brother, who didn’t realize that the poem was about being bitten by a dog. (I’ve translated this poem from the Mechlenburg Plattdeutsch and it’s in my poems now.)

12. „Wat recht ist, muss auch recht bestahn

Un sollt’ die Welt in Stücken gahn.

(“What’s right is right so right increases

or else this world will go to pieces.”)

(From the same poem)

13. Ach, er hat die Welt belogen,

dass die Erd-achs sich verbogen.”

(“Oh he lied to the world,

Till the earth’s axes bent and curled.”) (From another poem about having been to the North Pole [or the moon?] I believe.)

14. Immer heiter, Gott hilft weiter.” (“Keep being cheerful, God will keep on being helpful.”)

15. Da gehen die A,B,C, Schützen.” (On seeing the little folk going to school.) (“There go the little hunters chasing the A, B, C’s.”) (The little ones learning the alphabet.)

16. „Wenn es dem Esel zu gut geht, dann geht er auf das Eis und bricht ein Bein.”(”If things go too well for a donkey, it goes skating on ice and breaks a leg.“)

17. De Kreih, de kreeg een vun de achtersten Been” (A refrain: “and the crow gets one of the hind legs.”)

To find this song see:

18. Sing man tau, sing man tau,

von Herrn Pastor sien Kauh, jau, jau.
Sing man tau, sing man tau,

von Herrn Pastor sien Kauh!”

To see this hilarious song in Plattdeutsch that my father used to sing, see:

19. Fritz Reuter: „Wat den einen sin Uhl is den andern sin Nachtigal.“ (“What for one is an owl, is for another a nightingale.”)

20. Sag mal: „Der Hahn, der Hahn und nicht die Henne!“ (“Say after me, the rooster the rooster and not the hen.”) (A way of confusing children. They think they have to repeat the whole phrase, but he wants them not to repeat “the hen.”)

21. „Vorsicht ist die Mutter der porzelan Kiste.“ (“Caution is the mother of a porcelain object.”)

22. Nun ist der Groschen gefallen.” (When it finally clicked and someone understood something.) (“Now the coin dropped.”)

23. „Wenn zwei dasselbe tun, dann ist es doch nicht dasselbe.“ (“If two people do the same thing, then it is not the same thing.”)

24. “Is it heavy? Take two trips!” (Whenever someone carried something heavy, my father would use this expression. Now if what you carried consisted of many items, it made sense. But he used it, when it was one heavy item, which merely spelled double the work.) Evidently they said it in the Ambridge, PA steel factory in which my father and others had to carry heavy pipes to the railroad cars. The blood would spurt from some of the worker’s shoulders, the pipes were so heavy.

25. “Warum leichter machen, wenn’s schwerer geht?” (“Why make things easy, when they can be more difficult?”) The idea for this expression might come from Kierkegaard.

We used it in a superficial way, while working together. Like we were putting heating pipes under the house and while one of my brothers was chiseling a hole into one of the rafters for a pipe, the other said, “Cut that out!” wanting him to stop. But the first said, “That’s what I’m trying to do!”

Kierkegaard had a much more subtle meaning. We always try to make life easier for ourselves, but the authentic life is full of difficulties and suffering. In addition, self-knowledge, so hard to attain, is avoided, for the most part, by us all.

26. Yehi Or, va yehi Or. (Hebrew) “Let there be light and there was light.” (While switching on the light in a room.)

27. „Mit Vielem kommt man aus. Mit Wenig hält man Haus.“

(“One barely makes it with a lot. With a little, you can run the household.”)

28. Hättest Du geschwiegen, wärst Du Professor geblieben.”

(“If you had kept quiet, everyone would still think you were a professor.”)

29. „Der Mensch denkt, aber Gott lenkt.” (“A Human being reflects, but God directs.”)

30. An Gottes Segen ist alles gelegen.” (“Everything depends on God’s blessings.”)

31. „Zu gut sein ist halb Leichtsinn.” (“To be overly good is half thoughtless.”)

32. „Was macht’s? Nachher die Sintflut!” (“What of it? The deluge will come after my life!”) The saying has classical roots, but mostly today gets ascribed to King Louis XV of France (1710-1774): “Après moi le déluge.”


33. „,Guten Morgen’ segt der Buer wenn er in die Stadt kommt.” (“A peasant, a farmer, is supposed to say, ‘Good Morning’ when he enters the city.”) My father said this if we failed to say “Good Morning” when we came down and joined the family in the morning. In my imagination, I see a farmer in his wagon coming into the Holzentor in Lübec.

34. „Aller Anfang ist schwer.” (“All new beginnings are difficult.”)

35. „Mit Sorgen und mit Grämen und mit selbsteigner Pein

lässt Gott sich garnichts nehmen, es muss erbeten sein.“ („With groans and self castigation, we won’t get anywhere with God. We’ll only receive it by prayer.”)

This is a beautiful Paul Gerhardt verse from his song: „Befiehl du deine Wege.” Charles Wesley has a translation of some verses of this song in the old red Service Book and Hymnal, # 579, but not of this verse. What is so daunting in Gerhardt’s verses is the acrostic, where the first word of every verse reads: “Commit your way to the Lord, trust in Him, He’ll do it all.” Psalm 37:5. To work on it a bit:

“With groans and heavy grieving, self-torture and despair,

we will not be receiving, what God only grants by prayer.”

36. „Studiere nur und raste nie, du wirst es nicht begreifen. Ende alle Philosophie, ist dass wir galuben müssen.”

(Keep on studying and do not rest. But after all our Philosophy we end up having to believe.)

37. Wer einen Pfennig nicht ehrt, ist einen Taler nicht wert.” (“Whoever doesn’t value a penny will also not be worthy of a dollar.”) I thank Priscilla for this one!

38. „Du hast kein Sitzefleisch!“ (How to translate that? “You have no flesh to sit on!”Father would say this when we squirmed on a chair and could not remain still and seated.

39. „Ich muss mal gehen wo der Kaiser selbst zu Fuss geht.“ (“I have to go, where the kaiser himself has to walk and do it himself,“) that is, go to the bathroom.

40. My father would stroke his mustache and say, „Nur eine Kleinigkeit!” (“Just a detail!”) I’m not sure what he meant by it.

41. „Noch einen Spatenstich!“ (“Dig one spade more!“) My father always said this when my youngest brother was digging the garden and he didn’t dig a full row.

42. „Acht Tage Schwanheim!“ (“Eight days of Schwanheim!“) Whenever we did not like our food and complained or did not eat it all, someone would say that. We starved so much in that UNRA camp in Schwanheim, that baby James died, and we would eat anything we could get our hands on. I remember eating apple peals thrown into a hole behind the guard house at the entrance of the camp.

43. „Nichts ist schwerer zu ertragen als eine Reihe von guten Tagen.“ (“Nothing is harder to endure than a series of good days.”) This saying my father said often. It’s a little like Lake Woebegone.

44. „Studenten Jahren sind keine Herre Jarhen.“ (“Student years are not the years of Lords.”) My father said this to emphasize that being a student was hard work, poverty, drudgery, slavery. In graduate school they said, “If you live like a lawyer when you are a student, then you’ll live like a student when you’re a lawyer.” That referred to taking out student loans. What happens if you take out such loans and you remain unemployed? Sigh!

45. „Ich bin ein geplagter Eheman!“ (“I am a tormented husband!“) When my father had to do housework or deal with criticism from my mother. I say this to myself when I do the dishes.

46. „Andrer Leuten Fehler sind angenehmeLehrer.”(I’m not sure of the wording on this one.) (“The mistakes of others are precious instructors.”)

The mistakes of others are pleasant teachers, because they suffer and we get instruction from them.

47. Wie ist dein Wettkampf gegangen?“

Sehr gut. Bald lag er oben, bald lag ich unten.“

“How did your wrestling match go?”

“It went very well. Sometimes he was on top

and sometimes I was on the bottom.”

(This was one my father’s jokes.)

48. (Another one:) A student comes into his dorm room, while the other is already in bed.

„Du, schloppst Du?“

„Nein, ich schlopp nicht.“

„Kannst Du mir ein Dollar Pumpen?“

„Nein, nein. Ich schlopp.“

“Hey, are you sleeping?“

“No, I’m not.“

“Can you lend me a dollar?“

“No, no, I’m sleeping!“

49. A beggar has a sign saying,

“Please help me. I’m deaf.”

A fellow, putting something into his cup, asks,

“How long is it you’ve been deaf?”

“Since my birth.” He answers. „Seid meiner Geburt.“

50.„Er /sie hält kein Blatt vor dem Mund!“
            (This means a person is very outspoken, blunt.)

51. „Bestellt aber nicht abgeholt.” (“Ordered but not picked up.”)

(When people or children just stand there somewhat forlorn and in disarray.

52.„Nun hat die liebe Seele Ruh!“

(“Now finally your soul will get some rest.”)

When you finally received something you really wanted, but my father resisted your getting it until he gave in.

53. „Bist Du nicht recht beim Trost?“ (“Are you crazy?“)

54. „Da bleibt einem die Spuche weg!“ (“That takes away a body’s spit!”)

i.e., it’s so outrageous, you can’t believe it.

55. „Von links nach rechts ist schlecht, von rechts nach links gelingst.“

(“From left to right is blight, from right to left is deft.”)

Evidently this is about superstition. When a cat crossed your roadfrom the right to the left,
what you set out to do would be successful. When the cat went from left to right, you would not,
so you might as well return home.  56. „Bist du nicht ein Strampelman?" One of Mom's little sayingsto babies, when she exercised them
and they threw their arms and kicked their legs with delight. How would I translate “Strampelman?”  57.   „Hop, hop Reiter,       Wenn er fählt - ‚er’ schreit er.        Fählt er in den Graben, so fressen ihn die Raben,       Fählt er in den Sumpf, dann macht der Reiter plumps.“      This was a poem my mother recited while bouncing one of her children up and down on her knees and then letting
them fall backward, holding their hands, of course,for the infant's thrill, which was pure delight.
It is of course problematic in content, like “Rock-a-bye baby”.“If he falls in the ditch, then the ravens will eat him!
”Maybe part of it is mindless rhyming („Reim dich oder fress dich!”)when one rhymed simply for the sake of rhyming,
 even if it made no sense. 

58. “Just think that everybody out there has cabbage heads.”Mom said this when we did public speaking and had stage-fright. 

59. „Das sind Geschichten des Lebens, die im Tode nicht mehrvorkommen.“ My father would say.
(These are stories in life that no longer take place in death.)

60. „Hunger treibst ‘rein.” (I only eat it because I’m so hungry. It was not a meal that my father liked, particularly.)

61. „Das ist mein Leibgericht.” (That is the meal I love the most. It’s food that keeps the body and soul together. That’s another saying.)

62. „Willst du eine Ohrfeige?” („Do you want your ears boxed?” or “Do you want a slap in the face?”)

63. „Knüppelst Dir hinter den Ohren?” („Are you trying to get your ears cuffed?“ or “Are you trying to get a slap in the face?” or „Der hat es knüppeldich hinter den Ohren!” (To my mother this meant the person could not be trusted.)

64. „Es braucht nicht so viel Philifanz.” (“It does not have to be so ornate.”)

65. „Bumalacka!” This meant „Goodbye!“

66. „Du verrücktes Huhn!” (When one of my sisters were being funny and mischievous, my other would say, “You crazy hen!”

67. „Der hat was am Schlawickel!” (That person was up to something.) „Schlamauck” „Schlamauckel” (This referred to chaos or noise.) A Schlamingel referred to a very mixed group of people. A Schlingel was a Bengel, both words meaning a brat or mischievous boy.

68. „Bist du meschuge?” (“Are you crazy?”)

69. „Weine nicht! Deine Mutter wird doch kein Soldat.

(“Don’t cry! They can’t draft your mother and make her a soldier.”)

70. „Witte West und nichts im Bauch!” (“Wearing a white vest, but with an empty stomach.”)

71. „Icke, ditte, Kiekemol, Ogen, Flehsch, und Behne.” A little Berlin street urchin would say.

Nein, mein Kind, so heisst das nicht. Augen, Fleisch, und Beine!“ the teacher corrected him.

72. One of my sisters to be funny would say, “Hit me on the head with a frying pan and call me Dick Tracy!”

73. „Der hat Köpschen!” (“That person is really smart!”)

74. „Sie hat die Ruhe weg!” (That person is really laid back, mellow, or low key.)

75. „Na, so was!” or „So was lebt nicht!” or „Na, so was lebt und Schiller musste sterben!” (You don’t say! This is an exclamation. “That can’t be possible!” (“Now something like that exists, while Schiller had to die!”)

76. „Ach, Kwatsch!” This was my mother’s way of saying, (“That’s nonsense!)

77. „Die hat was auf dem Herzen.” My mother would say that about someone who talked in circles because she did not dare to bring up a request. (“She has something on her heart.”)

78. One of my sisters would say, “Ich muss auf die Klo.” My mother would correct her, „Es heist das Klo.” Sometimes they would call the toilette, die Klikla.

79. The Berlin dialect places j’s in for the g’s: „Eine jutte jebratene Janz ist eine jutte Jabe Jottes!“ “A well roasted goose is a good gift of God.”

80. „Allet Käse, ist mir wurscht!” It was a pun I would say in Berlin. “Everything is cheese but its sausage to me.” But “cheese” meant “rotten” and Wurscht came from “Es ist mir wurst-pip-egal! “It doesn’t matter to me in the slightest!” Thus, (“Everything is rotten, but it doesn’t matter to me!”)

81. That’s so sour, it’ll pull the holes in your socks together!

82. „Owa, owa, schreit der Bauer. Was sind die Äpfel sauer.(“Ouch! These apples are sour!”)

83. „Willst du ein Apfel? Puff. Da fliegt er!” If you wanted to tease a child, you asked if he wanted an apple. You blew up your cheeks, poked them, and pointed upward, (“There it goes, flying up there!”)

84. „Spurlos verschwunden!” (“It disappeared without a trace!”) Looking For car keys, for example, that you can’t find in the house.

85. „Ein schöner Rücken kann auch entzücken!“ (When a man is transfixed by a woman’s beautiful back).

86. Ich werde mich von innen bekiecken.” (When my father was about to take a nap, “I have to take a look at myself on the inside.”)

87. „Nun, husch die Lerche!” (“Now, hurry up!”)

88. „Ein Wetter wie in Schleswig-Holstein!” (On a very rainy day, “A weather like in Schleswig-Holstein!”)

89. “All roads lead to Georgetown!” (When we were driving to the beach in Massachusetts, usually to Salisbury or Crane’s Beach, we wanted my father to make a stop at a Wasmacco Ice cream stand in Georgetown where the scoops of ice cream were extra large and the ice cream truly delicious.)

90. “What a rigmarole!” This is actually not the private language of our family. It is in the dictionary meaning “an elaborate or complicated procedure.”

91. „Ist mir piep-wurscht egal!” (A vehement way of saying, “It doesn’t matter to me!”)

92. „Ich kenne meine Pappenheimer!” (“I know rogues like that very well!”)

93. When you made a good sandwich for yourself, „Für den Meister gemacht!” In other words, you made it for yourself as Number one!

94. “Dear, dear, bread and beer, if I were married I wouldn’t be here!” Ruthie would say that before she was married.

95. „Im Munde hat sie Gold, in der Tasche hat sie Silber, und was sie redet ist Blech.” Blech is “tin” in German and it means nonsense as well as the metal. (“She has gold in her mouth, silver in her pocket, and she speaks tin.”) (It doesn’t work in English.)

96. Some one is „Ete potete!” which means very finickie.

97. If you could drink piping hot coffee, then you could keep a secret. (Ruthie usually made this comment.)

98. Putting a lot of pepper on your food, meant you wanted to have a strong will.

99. „Eee dropsche, dropsche, dralla: Violin auf Drat kaput!” (I think my father was imitating the broken German of a Gypsy singing about a broken string on his violin.)

100. „Deutsch ist eine harte Sprache. Ein Wort hat drei artikel: das, die, der Teufel hole!” (“German is a difficult language. One word has three articles: that the devil gets you!”) Really the first is the conjunction “dass,” the second, the personal pronoun “they”, and only the last is the real article for the word, “devil”.)

The Complete Family Sayings post has 160 items.


Written by peterkrey

August 27, 2008 at 10:34 pm

Posted in 1, Family, Sayings

One Response

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