sprichwoertlich deutsch

Sprichwörtlich Deutsch Episode 11 – Den Löffel abgeben

sprichwoertlich deutsch

Welcome to Sprichwörtlich Deutsch, the podcast about German proverbs, idioms and expressions. My name is Kirsten Winkler, and I am your host.

Today’s expression is

Den Löffel abgeben.

Not much vocabulary today. Löffel, der Löffel means spoon. And abgeben is our verb and means to hand something in or over. Hence, the translation of Den Löffel abgeben is … right To hand in the spoon or to hand over the spoon.

You probably noticed that the expression doesn’t start with a nominative case which would be der Löffel. We encountered something similar in Episode 9 of Sprichwörtlich Deutsch and learnt that German sentences or terms can well start with a Dative or Accusative case. Den Löffel is the Accusative case and tell us that this is the direct object. We hand over what? Yes, the spoon, in German den Löffel instead of der Löffel.

Now, let’s decode! Once again we are in the Middle Ages. At that time the spoon was a very important personal belonging and meals were usually served in a big bowl in the middle of the table. People carried their personal spoon with them all the time. The only time when the owner handed in his spoon was when he died.

In the Black Forest region there was even a tradition that the spoon was not handed on to the next person but hung on the wall of the house. If you were a farm hand or day laborer you usually got a spoon from the farmer which needed to be handed in when you moved on.

Therefore, when Germans say

Er hat den Löffel abgegeben.

we mean that someone died. It is a colloquial expression similar to bite the dust in English. Thus you should be a bit careful when you to use it and with whom. It’s OK to use with friends or family when you talk about someone you don’t really know or when you maybe talk about a pet. But I would advise you not to use it when a family member died, unless you really did not like that person, of course.

And that’s it for today’s episode of Sprichwörtlich Deutsch. Hope you join me next time and don’t forget to subscribe to this podcast either on iTunes or via FairLanguages.com

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Music: Chillin’ With Jeris” by copperhead (feat. Jeris)

  • Tom

    “Bite the dust” is a good metatranslation, but the phrase that came to mind when I read this was “kick the bucket.” The latter probably is even better than the former because it is more generic. “Bite the dust” comes from the Indian wars of the old West (U.S.), and it is used most often when describing a death resulting from conflict, as in war. “Kick the bucket” is applied to death from natural causes. An interesting side story here is the development of the term “bucket list” to describe the list of things a person wants to do before he/she “kicks the bucket.”