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Popular German idioms involving tools

Dagmar Breitenbach
November 27, 2019

German idioms: What people mean when they make nails with heads, or shout about showing you where the hammer hangs. Don't expect a visit to their workshop!

a bunch of nails stuck in a piece of wood
Image: picture-alliance/imageBROKER/S. Hutfilz

"That is the hammer!" 

If you hear a German say "Das ist der Hammer!" they're talking about something that's brilliant or absolutely dreadful, expressing their amazement or frustration about something that's completely unusual, unexpected — perhaps reflecting the way the tool could just change everything with a single strike. 

There is a great variety of everyday German idioms  and phrases that use colorful images, from arms and legs to hats and sleeves, donkeys and monkeys, cherries, peas and potatoes — as well as terms from the world of tools and workshops, often dating back hundreds of years. 

In English, people may have an ax to grind — the German phrase with the same meaning uses entirely different imagery: Germans would more commonly have a chicken to pluck ("Hühnchen zu rupfen"). Other phrases are readily recognizable in both languages, as both German and English-language speakers can have a screw loose!

Click through the gallery above to learn more German expressions involving tools.

You'll find more from Meet the Germans on YouTube or at dw.com/MeettheGermans, and check out DW's cartoon series That's so German for a humorous take on German culture and stereotypes.

Fernandez cartoon: two children playing in the sand
Proper tools for a proper sand castle: A cartoon from the series 'That's so German'