Welcome to Sprichwörtlich Deutsch, the podcast about German proverbs, sayings and expressions. My name is Kirsten Winkler, and I am your host.
Today’s expression is
Den Teufel an die Wand malen.
Let’s take a look at the vocabulary first. Teufel, der Teufel is the devil. Wand, die Wand is a wall and malen, malen means to paint or to draw.
So the translation of Den Teufel an die Wand malen is … right, to draw the devil on the wall.
Now, what do we mean with that? The history behind this expression seems to go all the way back to Martin Luther, the famous reformer. When he was translating the Bible on the Wartburg you have to imagine this castle as a rather dark and also spooky place to stay. Martin Luther did not like the castle as he, like almost everyone back in the middle ages, was afraid of the darkness and all the evil demons that live within it. One night he says he was visited by the devil. In order to defend himself Luther threw his inkpot at the devil which then related to the silhouette of the devil on the wall.
Of course, this could also be seen as a metaphor for Luther defeating evil through the ink, the written word. Nevertheless, it’s a nice story.
But back to the expression itself, what does it mean and when do Germans use it? Well, back in the middle ages there was the belief that even saying the devil’s name would call him, hence painting him on the wall would, of course, have a similar effect.
So when a German says
Nun mal nicht gleich den Teufel an die Wand!
he or she wants to say that you don’t have to expect or call for the worst case, as it will then eventually happen. So a possible translation would be “to tempt fate”.
For example, back in November 2011 the German financial newspaper “Das Handelsblatt” featured a headline
Bonität der USA: Fitch malt den Teufel an die Wand
And if you take a look at today’s economic crisis in Europe and a possible exit of Greece and other countries of the Eurozone you could very well say
Eurokrise und Griechenland-Austritt – viele malen den Teufel an die Wand.
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
Music: Chillin’ With Jeris” by copperhead (feat. Jeris)