Germany likes Russia

More complicated than a steamed turnip
What Russians and Germans associate with food

Language and food | Photo: © Ewgenia Kisterewa

Why is the Germans something Doesn't matter and why do they say about a thick book ham? Don't they like sausage and ham? Words used to describe food are often used figuratively. Boris Iomdin and Alexander Piperski compared food-related associations between Germans and Russians and found a significant difference. And for those of you who like to be interactive, we have prepared a quiz with which you can test your knowledge of Russian and German “linguistic cuisine”.

Both Germans and Russians like nothing better than talking about food. What is surprising, however, is the observation that the Russian speakers generally like the food and the Germans mostly not. We found at least 22 food-related words in the Russian language that have a figurative meaning and express a positive evaluation, and 15 with a negative meaning. In German the situation is exactly the opposite: 17 and 27 words.

For example, this is how Russians express their joy: But you made me a piece of candy (a pleasure). With us everything is in chocolate. That's butter for my heart. In German, however, it says: Puff cake! Or you moan: Why all the cinnamon? Or you shrug your shoulders: I don't care! Instead of sausage, the Germans can also mention cheese here, and the Austrians Potting or powidl. (Pedants argue whether you have to write the names of food in uppercase like all nouns in German or lowercase, since they are used adjectivally). It is interesting that Germans resort to different foods when they want to say that they don't care about something, whereas the Russians use completely different items: It's a lamp to me. Theirs is the drum.

Working for sweet treats

In Russian, names for candy have the most figurative meanings with a positive rating. Where everything is good, they say it is (in German it says: With us everything is fine) If you want to poach someone for a job, you promise them all possible milk rolls, so additional bonuses. If you don't want to give your consent or consent, you say: for no gingerbread in the world! (On the Internet instead of gingerbread also Gingerbread, tartlets, donuts or candies used because it is clear to everyone that all of this stands for something good). And when something is particularly outstanding, you say in Russian raisin or Cherry on the cake (the German equivalent here is this Cream topping). In a word, it is not for nothing that the most interesting things are kept for dessert. In German, however, sweets do not always mean something good: Stick a piece of candy on someone's shirt means teasing someone.

Judging by their standing idioms, neither Germans nor Russians like dishes in which different components are mixed together. At least their figurative meanings refer to it. I'll make minced meat out of you (Chopped, fake rabbit, compote) threatens in Russian. The German idiom sounds very similar I'll turn you into minced meat or. I'll make goulash out of you! If a path is not passable, they say in Russian: Have kissels under your feet. (Kissel is a dish made from berry and fruit juice, milk, oatmeal, and starch). And in German one says when the weather is very foggy: There's a thick sauce outside. Amazingly, the most "Russian" of all dishes - the kascha (porridge) has a negative figurative meaning: We have to spoon out this pulp. His mouth has porridge. Whereas someone who is clever, in German Has grits in his head. (In many areas of Germany, however, it can also mean exactly the opposite, namely that someone only has stupid things on their mind!) By the way, one also says in Russian: The bowl cooks well with him!) And in German you don't have to have the porridge, but rather spoon out the soup. In Russian has the word Soup apparently no transferred meanings (by the way, the word "nasupitsja" (scowling, frowning) does not come from the Soup, French soup, but from the old Slavic name for a bird of prey, a griffin or vulture).

The appetite grows ...

Many of the words for food have acquired a figurative meaning based on how common they were in ancient times. That's how it is turnip - associated with the idea of ​​simplicity in Russian - one of the most widespread vegetables: easier than a steamed turnip. Although beets are no longer easy to get these days, not to mention that hardly anyone can steam them anymore. In order to express insignificance, the words were used in German as early as the Middle Ages ber (today berry), loaf «(Today bread), egg (egg). In Konrad von Würzburg's poem, "Trojan War" (13th century) is written: it doesn’t harm an egg (That doesn't hurt you for an egg - so not at all), although there is no mention of eating in the context.

The different types of fruit and vegetables are sometimes associated with completely different associations in Russian and German. There is one in Russian Potato nose, in German, on the other hand, one means with Drop someone like a hot potatothat people turn away from him, let him down. Cabbage means money in Russian slang and nonsense in German. The cucumber is a symbol of freshness and courage in Russian: You will be like a pickle. Bravo cucumber. The Germans, on the other hand, call their rickety car one old cucumber. The Russian word has especially many figurative meanings banana: In the past, skirts were called with a certain cut, later tight trousers and now hair clips, headphones, water gliders, the discs from the disk dumbbell and bad school grades - earlier the one, which is the worst grade in Russian and a banana in shape resembles, and today mostly the two, because a one is rarely given. The Germans, on the other hand, say if everything is okay: Everything banana! Just the Russian riddle A pear you can't eat Germans don't worry at all, because the Germans officially have theirs Lightbulb to have.

In general, it has been found that the transfer of meaning takes place according to very few principles: Sweet stands for good, mixed for bad, local for simple, exotic for strange. The results in the different languages ​​are very surprising and very different, which in the end results in a mixed bag. Bon appetit!


Boris Iomdin, V.V. Vinogradov Institute for the Russian Language of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Alexander Piperski, Russian State Humanitarian University

Translation: Christine Radisch
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet editorial office
March 2015

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