12

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?

7
  • 5
    Rules are made to be broken.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 16:59
  • My old Van Dale dictionary N-E says simply, Things are never as bad as they seem.
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 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
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 18:15
  • 5
    Proverbs are notorious for having multiple meanings. That's why they don't translate worth a damn. As they say in Italian, Traduttore, traditore. Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 19:36
  • 5
    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
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 20:46

6 Answers 6

4

In the English subtitles for the 2009 movie "Das Weisse Band, "his bark is worse than his bite" is used.

4

It's one of my favourite German sayings (German native speaker), and I also haven't been able to find a good translation for this proverb.

As for the meaning, it's sort of an amalgamation of: "Don't put the cart before the horse" and "Things are never as bad as they seem".

2

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.)

5
  • 1
    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
    Commented Jun 11, 2016 at 12:38
  • 2
    @MrLister Oh I see, sort of "Things are never as bad as they seem."
    – David
    Commented Jun 11, 2016 at 15:07
  • That's what OP had too, and there may be an overlap, but that's not the gist.
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Jun 11, 2016 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
    Commented Jun 11, 2016 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
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 9:12
1

perhaps context helps, I am familiar with the saying as used by those drafting contracts, where the message conveyed is "strict principles as layed down in contractual clauses are generally not upheld in practice" we would assume practical reasons, and particular circumstances trump principles themselves etc. There has to be an equivalent in other languages..

1

In my personal opinion (austrian german speaking kanguru :)) the food in the phrase "Es wird nichts so heiß gegessen wie es gekocht wird" stands for certain opinions or believes, that are projected onto others.

The phrase therefore rather means "Nothing is as strict as it seems".

For example, a person asking you to uphold certain behavior/believes even though they themselves do not stick to their own word. Then I would say to that person: "Die Supper wird nicht so heiß gegessen, wie sie gekocht wird" - "The soup is not eating as hot as its cooked". This way I am pointing out to the person, that they are not sticking to their own rules.

Just my 2cents. But the beauty of language is, that it is constantly developing and changing, sometimes for the better... :)

0

It indeed is a great proverb, and the German language has quite a lot of those. (Reference: I'm a native German speaker). And they usually hit the mark. Kind of collective folk wisdom. "You don´t eat your food as hot as you cook it." Right. It seems to me that the simplest way to say this in English would be, "Things are never as bad as they look (as they may seem at first)." And thanks for this posting!

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.