Funny German animal phrases.

In this post I am sharing with you a selection of German animal phrases and sayings that you might find amusing and I will explain what they actually mean.

In German we use animal names either as Kosenamen (terms of endearment) as in “Bärchen” or the opposite when we want to offend someone and for swearing for example “Schweinehund”. But animals also often crop up in German sayings and phrases. Here is a selection of some animals used in phrases, which you might have not heard of before. Please note that I tried to translate some of these literally, but with others I just found it impossible.

Aal (m)  = Eel

sich aalen = to lounge about or sunbathing on the beach


Affe (m) = Monkey

Ich denke mich laust der Affe = well, I’ll be damned

mit affenartiger Geschwindigkeit =  lit. “with monkeylike speed”. Means incredibly quickly.

Affentheater as in “So ein Affentheater” = exaggerated fuss

Maulaffen feilhalten = to gawp

nachäffen = to mimic

du bist wohl vom wilden Affen gebissen = lit. “you’ve been obviously bitten by a wild monkey”. Means you’re off your rocker

seinem Affen Zucker geben =  lit. “to give your monkey sugar”. Means really let oneself go

einen Affen sitzen haben = to be plastered

sich zum Affen machen = make a monkey out of somebody


 Bär (m)= Bear

einen Bärenhunger haben = lit.  “to have the hunger of a bear”. Means to be extremely hungry

jemandem einen Bären aufbinden = to tell someone a lie

jemandem einen Bärendienst erweisen = to render a disservice

auf der Bärenhaut liegen=  lit. “to lie on bear skin”. Means to laze about

bärenstark sein = lit. “to be strong like a bear”. Means to be very strong

Someone who is bärbeibig =  is scowling


Bock (m) = Ram

to be bockig or bockbeinig = to be stubborn

jemanden ins Bockshorn jagen = to bluff or intimidate a person

keinen/einen Bock haben = not to fancy or to fancy doing something

einen Bock schieben = lit. “to shoot a ram”. Means to commit a blunder

den Bock zum Gärtner machen =  lit. “to make the ram the gardener” Means to choose the wrong person for the job  – I actually have never heard of this myself!


Elefant (m) = Elephant

wie ein Elefant im Porzelanladen = equivalent to “like a bull in a china-shop”

aus einer Mücke einen Elefanten machen = equivalent to “to make a mountain out of a mole-hill”

das Elefantenbaby or das Elefantenkücken = describes a fat young girl


Ente (f) = Duck

lahme  Ente =lame duck” means someone who is slow or a slowcoach

Zeitungsente = false newspaper report or canard


Esel (m) = Donkey

Esel is not only used as a pejorative as in “Du alter / Du dummer Esel” meaning silly fool it also has the following uses:

Eselsohren haben as in “Das Buch hat Eselsohren” = the dog-eared book

ein Packesel = is a beast of burden

eine Eselsbrücke = a mnemonic

die Eselei = stupidity


Fliege (f) = Fly

eine Fliege can also be a bow-tie

Zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe schlagen = equivalent to “to kill two birds with one stone”

Keiner Fliege etwas zuleide tun = to be completely harmless


Floh (m) = Flea

Flöhe husten hören = lit. “to hear the fleas cough”. Means “to know it all before it happens

Flöhe haben = lit. “to have fleas”. Means to have money.

jemandem einen Floh ins Ohr setzen = lit. “to put a flea in someone’s ear”. In contrast to the English equivalent this actually means “to put an idea in somebody’s head”.

Lieber einen Sack voll Flöhe hüten, als…= lit. “to rather care for a sack full of fleas than..”. Means even if you paid me a million pounds I wouldn’t.


Fuchs (m) = fox

Fuchs = often used to describe a sly person

Wo sich Fuchs und Hase gute Nacht sagen = lit. means “Where the fox and the hare say good night to one another”. It describes a rather isolated and remote place. Another rather less poetic phrase is “am Arsch der Welt”.

Pfennigfuchser = a penny-pincher

Fuchsteufelswild = livid or hopping mad


Hammel (m) = Ram

Hammel = often used to describe a stupid person

Neidhammel = is an envious person

Jemandem die Hammelbeine langziehen= to tell somebody off

Hammelsprung = parliamentary division  (vote)


Hase (m) = Hare

Mein Name ist Hase = I’m not saying anything

ein alter Hase = an old hand

der Hasenfuss or Angsthase = coward

wissen, wie der Hase läuft = lit. “to know how the hare runs”. Equivalent to “to see or know which way the wind blows”.

ach, da liegt der Hase im Pfeffer = That’s the real trouble; There is the rub

falscher Hase = lit. “fake hare”  means meat loaf

Skihase = a woman on skis


Hecht (m)= Pike

der Hecht im Karpfenteich sein = lit. “the pike in the carp pond”. Means “to be a new broom” or “to be a live wire full of new ideas”. Also to be the kingpin.

ein toller Hecht= an incredible fellow

hechten= to dive headlong

Hechtsprung (m) = racing dive or pike vault

es zieht wie Hechtsuppe = there is a terrible draught


Huhn (n) = chicken and Hahn (m) = cockerel

Huhn is the generic word for chicken and also denotes the female  chicken (also called “Henne”)

Da lachen ja die Hühner = you must be joking

ein verrücktes/fideles/dummes Huhn = a nutcase, idiot or stupid twit

ein Hühnchen mit jemandem rupfen  = to pick bone with someone

Ein blindes Huhn findet auch mal ein Korn = lit. “A blind hen also finds a corn”. Means anyone can have a stroke of luck once in a while.

mit den Hühnern zu Bett gehen or mit den Hühnern aufstehen = to go to bed earlier / to get up with the lark

herumlaufen wie ein aufgescheuchtes Huhn = lit. “to run about like a startled chicken”. Means to run about in a great panic or to run about like a headless chicken.


A Hahn can also be a tap.

Er ist der Hahn im Korb = lit. “he is the cock in the basket”. Means to be the cock of the walk.

Da kräht kein Hahn nach or danach kräht kein Hahn = no one could care less about it/him/her

to be a Streithahn = to be a quarrelsome person

Jemandem einen roten Hahn aufs Dach setzen = lit. “to put a red rooster on someone’s roof”.  Means to set somebody’s house on fire. I haven’t heard of this one before and it is rarely used.

A Hahnenfuss = is a buttercup


Hund (m) = dog

The word Hund is often used in compounds to describe something that’s very bad. For example Hundewetter = very bad weather, hundemüde and hundekalt = extremely tired/cold

hundsmiserabel = extremely bad

der Windhund = is a greyhound, but also a windbag

auf den Hund kommen = to go from bad to worse

vor die Hunde gehen = to go to the dogs

bekannt wie ein bunter / scheckiger Hund = be a well-known figure.

ein dicker Hund = lit. “a thick dog”. Means a real bloomer or goof.

das ist ein dicker Hund = that’s a bit thick

mit allen Hunden gehetzt sein = to know every trick of the trade – another one I haven’t heard of before.

kalt wie eine Hundeschnautze = lit.“cold as a dog’s snout”. Describes a person with no feeling.

verhunzen = the verb verhunzen is derived from verhundsen which has Hund in it and means to make a mess of something or spoil something.

ein armer Hund = poor devil

da liegt der Hund begraben =  lit. “that’s where the dog is buried” Means that’s what’s causing it or that’s the real reason.

da wird der Hund in der Pfanne verrückt = lit. “the dog goes crazy in the pan” Means it’s quite incredible.

Damit kannst du keinen Hund hinterm Ofen hervorlocken = that won’t tempt anybody.

Das ist zum junge Hunde kriegen = it’s enough to drive you to despair.

Viele Hunde sind des Hasen Tod = lit. “Many dogs are the hare’s death” Means it’s one against many – I didn’t know this one either.


Die Katze im Sack.

Die Katze im Sack.

Katzen (pl) – cats

Kater (m)= tom cat

einen Kater haben, verkatert sein = means to have a hangover.

ein Katerfrühstück = is a hangover breakfast.


Katze(f)= cat in the generic sense and female cat

Die Katze im Sack kaufen = lit. “to buy a cat in the sack” Means to buy a pig in a poke.

Die Katze aus dem Sack lassen = same as in English – to let the cat out of the bag.

die Katzenmusik = cat music describes discordant music.

der Katzenjammer= hangover

der Katzensprung = a stone’s throw

Wie die Katze um den heissen Brei gehen = to beat about the bush.

die Katzenwäsche = cat’s lick; to have an inadequate wash.

der Katzentisch =  lit. “cat table”used jokingly as meaning the children’s table.

Alles ist für die Katz = lit. “everything for the cat”.  Used when things turn out badly; equivalent to all was in vain.


Die Katze aus dem Sack lassen.

Die Katze aus dem Sack lassen.
As modelled by our cat.

Laus (f) = Louse

sich lausig fühlen = to feel lousy or rotten

Ihm/Ihr ist eine Laus  über die Leber gelaufen =  lit. “a louse ran over her /his liver”. Means he/she got out of the bed the wrong  side.

sich eine Laus in den Pelz setzen = to let somebody/oneself in for something

Lausbub  = a Lausbub is a little rascal

Mich laust der Affe! = well, I’ll be damned or blowed

lausige Zeiten = hard times


Maus (f) = Mouse

weisse Mäuse sehen = lit. “to see white mice”. Means to have hallucinations or to see pink elephants.

mausen = to pinch or steal

sich mausig machen = to be unpleasant about something – Not an expression I am familiar with.

mucksmäuschenstill = to be very silent

da beibt die Maus keinen Faden ab = there’s nothing to be done about it

ein paar Mäuse = a few quid

eine graue Maus = a colourless nondescript sort of a person


Mops (m) = Pug

a Mops = describes a fat person

to mopsen = means to pinch or steal something, but it can also mean to annoy (I didn’t know this last meaning).

However sich mopsen = means to be bored or to be annoyed

Someone who is mopsfidel = is someone who is very jolly or cheerfu

to be mopsig = means to be  podgy or tubby

while the plural Möpse  = can also mean tits

die paar Möpse = such peanuts or such a piffling sum


Pferd(n)= Horse  / Rappe (m) = black horse / Schimmel (m)  = white horse/ Rob (n) = horse (poetic)

Mit ihm/ihr kann man Pferde stehlen = he/she is a good sport

der Pferdefuss = can mean the hoof of the horse, but also snag

der Pferdeschwanz = can mean the actual tail of a horse, but also pony tail (hair)

das Steckenpferd = hobby horse


auf Schusters Rappen = on foot

Amtsschimmel = red tape, bureaurocracy, officialism

der Amtsschimmel wiehert = that’s bureaurocracy for you

Schimmel also means mould


Riesenross = a very stupid person (meant inoffensively)

Stahlross = lit. steel horse. Means bike


Pudel (m) = Poodle

des Pudels Kern = the heart of the matter

wie ein begossener Pudel abziehen = lit. “to walk away like a drenched poodle” Means to depart dejectedly.

sich pudelwohl fühlen = to feel very well

Pudelmütze = long tasselled woolly hat or Hoxton bonnet


Polyp (m) = polyp and Bulle (m)= bull

Both colloquial terms are used for policeman (make sure you don’t say it to his face though!).


Sau (f) = Sow / Schwein (n) = Pig / Ferkel (n) = piglet

a sow =  is an extremely dirty person and used as a very offensive term as in “Du dumme Sau”.

die Sau rauslassen = to let one’s hair down

wie eine gesenkte Sau fahren = to drive like a madman

zur Sau machen = to tear a strip off somebody

unter aller Sau = bloody awful or the pits

saumässig as in saumässige Arbeit/Hitze = a hell of a job/temperature

es ist saukalt/ sauheib = damn cold/hot

saumässiges Glück haben = to be extremely lucky

Sauarbeit  = bloody awful job

keine Sau = not a bloody soul


Schwein is the generic term for pig and also used as an offensive term like sow to describe a dirty person

Schwein haben = means to be lucky

you can eat  Schweinsöhrchen = which is a type of pastry

Sparschwein and Glücksschwein = are used the same as in English meaning piggy bank and lucky pig (charm)

du Ferkel = you mucky puppy or dirty pig


Schlange (f) = Snake

Brillenschlange = describes an unpleasant girl with glasses

Schlange stehen= to queue


Schnecke(f)= Snail

jemanden zur Schnecke machen = to cut a person down to size

Schnecken can also be a type of pastry or hairstyle

Schneckentempo ; im Schneckentempo fahren is similar as in English = at a snail’s pace


Taube (f) = Pigeon

Hier geht es zu wie im Taubenschlag = it’s like Piccadilly Circus here

taub sein = means to be deaf

der/die Taube  = also describes a deaf person – not to confuse with the bird!


Vogel (m) = Bird

Einen Vogel haben as in “Du hast ja einen Vogel!” = to have bats in the belfry or bees in the bonnet

Bei dir piepts wohl nicht richtig! = similar meaning to above. Piepen is the sound that birds make.

jemandem einen Vogel zeigen = pointing at one’s forehead at somebody to indicate that you think that he or she is stupid.

den Vogel abschieben = to take the biscuit with something

vögeln (v) = to screw


Wurm (m) = Worm

sowas wurmt einen schon = that sort of thing rankles

da sitzt der Wurm drin = there’s something wrong in there

armes Würmchen = poor little  thing

jemandem die Würmer aus der Nase ziehen = lit. “to pull worms out of someone’s nose”. Means to get somebody to spill the beans.


Uups – I didn’t mean to write such a long post with so many examples. I hope you found these examples interesting and I hope that you might even use them in conversation next time you are in Germany.

Let me know which of these you liked or found amusing.

Thanks for reading.

Helen 🙂





Helen White

I am a bilingual journalist, jewellery designer, German tutor, and translator – and I am passionate about cats.

Helen White – who has written posts on Helen Kaut Press.

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