German expressions with a color to brighten up your life | Meet the Germans | DW | 17.10.2018
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Meet the Germans

German expressions with a color to brighten up your life

As in every language, German has a number of idioms referring to a color. But some of their literal translations can be enigmatic for English speakers. Can you guess their meaning?

Some German idioms mentioning a color have a direct translation in English, but that's obviously not always the case for every expression.

Take the color green, for example. In both cultures, it's associated with nature, spring, youth, hope and envy. 

Colored pencils sit in a row (picture alliance/dpa/J. Kalaene)

Using color expression can broaden your palette of German vocabulary!

In English, someone who is skilled with plants has a green thumb. In German, they will likewise be described as having "einen grünen Daumen." And to "be green with envy" also exists in German — although yellow is also often used for the same expression, "grün (oder gelb) vor Neid."

A person who is naïve and lacks experience is "green behind the ears" — "noch grün hinter den Ohren" — and if you give a project the green light in English, you can also give the go-ahead with the same words in German: "das grüne Licht geben." Both refer to a traffic light turning green. 

A green four-leaf clover up close (picture alliance/dpa/C. Seidel)

If you tell someone in English you'd like to 'praise them over the green clover,' they may be more than a little confused

However, an English speaker won't necessarily be able to guess the meaning of other German idiomatic references to the color green.

  • "Auf keinen grünen Zweig kommen" (literally: not come to any green branch) is said of someone who is not able to accomplish anything in life.
  • "Das ist dasselbe in Grün" (the same thing in green): a way of saying that two things are essentially the same despite apparent differences, as in "same difference."    
  •  "Über den grünen Klee loben" (praise over the green clover): It's the equivalent of "praise to the skies." The origin of the German expression is unclear, but one explanation is that cemeteries used to be covered with clover — and it's easier to glorify someone who's already dead. Or another theory is that clover was also a marker of the freshest grass in the spring, so to be portrayed as better than clover would be the utmost flattery.

Click through the gallery above for different German idioms that don't translate directly into English.

You'll find more from Meet the Germans on YouTube or at dw.com/MeettheGermans.

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Best German idioms | Meet the Germans

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