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A German speaker wrote:

As the German saying goes: You never eat the food as hot as it is cooked.

This is a literal translation of the proverb, "Es wird nichts so heiß gegessen, wie es gekocht wird." I wasn't the only person who had never heard that proverb in English. To me it sounded like a great proverb, but I couldn't quite figure out what it should mean. When asked to clarify its application to the question at hand, the German explained:

We don’t take the rules as literally as they are written.

"Wow!" I thought. "That is a great proverb! Why can't I think of an English equivalent?"

Out of curiosity I popped the whole saying into Google translate and it came back with, "Nothing is as bad as it looks." So that doesn't seem right.

Of course German is famous for having a word for everything. But without falling back on ethnic jokes I can't figure out why a simple proverb like this would not have been translated or have an English analog.

Is there something equivalent, or similar, in English? Or any great insights into why there wouldn't be?

  • Rules are made to be broken. – Dan Bron Jun 10 '16 at 16:59
  • My old Van Dale dictionary N-E says simply, Things are never as bad as they seem. – Mr Lister Jun 10 '16 at 17:05
  • @MrLister - So that's a second source that appears to incorrectly translate the German proverb to an English one with a different meaning. I wonder why that happens? – feetwet Jun 10 '16 at 18:15
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    Proverbs are notorious for having multiple meanings. That's why they don't translate worth a damn. As they say in Italian, Traduttore, traditore. – John Lawler Jun 10 '16 at 19:36
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    I might be wrong, but I think @JohnLawler was pointing out that proverbs, including this one, can have multiple meanings (even in the language of origin). Are you positive that the meaning given by your German friend is the one and only meaning of the proverb in German and that it means exactly the same thing to all Germans? Judging by the way you're writing off "Things are never as bad as they seem" as an apparent incorrect translation [of the meaning] of the German proverb, it seems that you are assuming that your friend's interpretation is the only valid one, and maybe that's a mistake. – Papa Poule Jun 10 '16 at 20:46
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My German is adequate, although not good enough to know whether this conveys the meaning of the phrase, but what about the simple English "take it with a pinch of salt"?

(And it also has a culinary flavour.)

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    Not quite. The German saying is actually used in situations where the results of a bad situation are not as dramatic as they appeared at first. (Or where you predict a bad situation to not have as bad a result as it looks now.) You could say "all's well that ends well", but that doesn't quite cover it either. – Mr Lister Jun 11 '16 at 12:38
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    @MrLister Oh I see, sort of "Things are never as bad as they seem." – David Jun 11 '16 at 15:07
  • That's what OP had too, and there may be an overlap, but that's not the gist. – Mr Lister Jun 11 '16 at 15:22
  • @MrLister I'll see if I can find examples of the German in context and then return to this. A bit embarrassing as mine is the only answer, bit I prefer to follow the rules and answer in answers rather than comments. I can always modify or withdraw later. – David Jun 11 '16 at 16:53
  • @MrLister: "All's well that ends well" doesn't cover it, because the situation won't necessary end well, just not as bad as predicted. Let's say you did something really stupid, expect to go to jail for it, and end up with a £500 fine: It didn't end exactly well for you but also not as bad as you initially feared. – gnasher729 Dec 7 '16 at 9:12
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In the English subtitles for the 2009 movie "Das Weisse Band, "his bark is worse than his bite" is used.

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