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German phrase of the day: Etwas in Kauf nehmen

Leave it to the German language to help with any situation that involves a trade-off between two things.

German phrase of the day: Etwas in Kauf nehmen

Why do I need to know this phrase?

This is one of the most common German language idioms, which pops up just as frequently in colloquial chats as it is in political debates and news broadcasts across the German-speaking world.

What does it mean?

The phrase literally translates as “to take something in the purchase”. But its usage goes far beyond commercial transactions: essentially it means that, in order to get something you really want, you have to accept something less-than-ideal in return.

Let’s say you’re a trivia buff who’s invited to be a participant on Die Millionenshow (the Austrian version of Who wants to be a Millionaire?) – on the same night as your best friend’s birthday bash which you’ve been planning for weeks. You might have to take it in Kauf that you’ll miss the festivities. 

In the political dimension, the phrase is often used to argue that, in order to implement a beneficial measure – be it more reliable public transport or energy rebates – a less desired consequence, such as raising taxes, will be part of the deal. 

And the phrase frequently arises in debates around the ethics of technology: some say, for example, that self-driving cars will ultimately save lives, even if there are a few fatal crashes before the AI behind them is perfected.

Essentially it’s a trade-off of two things, with a person arguing (or at least accepting) that the good outweighs the inevitable bad.

Where does the phrase come from?

Originally the phrase was used to refer to something a person receives in addition to what they have already bought. It then came to refer to the bad goods that a merchant wanted to get rid of along with the desired purchase.

Examples of how it’s used:

Dieses Risiko kann ich in Kauf nehmen.

I can accept this risk.

Bei diesen preisgünstigeren Geräten müssen Nutzer aber eine niedrigere Rechenleistung in Kauf nehmen.

But with these lower-priced devices, the user must take into account the lower processing power.

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German phrase of the day: Aus Schaden wird man klug

This optimistic German phrase gives hope when everything seems to be going awry.

German phrase of the day: Aus Schaden wird man klug

Mistakes, failure, and pain are an unavoidable part of life. What’s important is that we learn from mistakes and challenging experiences and try not to repeat them too much.

That is the gist of this handy German phrase, which translates directly to “From damage, one becomes smart.” 

Or, more elegantly put, “From damage comes wisdom.”

“Schaden” means damage, hurt, or harm. Though immediate harm and hurt may feel painful initially, these tough experiences can often teach us a valuable lesson. 

This phrase comes from the Latin “Quae nocent docent.” It was initially translated into German as “Was schadet, lehrt” (“What hurts, teaches) by German Protestant reformer Martin Luther. 

Martin Luther, who first translated the Christian Bible from Latin to vernacular German, translated many interesting phrases he found that had only been articulated in Latin. 

He is credited for coining this phrase, as he famously loved proverbs and sayings. Luther is said to have combined valuable adages from the Bible, Aesop’s stories, and everyday people into succinct aphorisms that impart wisdom. 

19th-century poet and translator Friedrich Rückert poked fun at Luther’s supposed wisdom when he wrote: 

Durch Schaden wird man klug / Damage makes you wise!

Sagen alle klugen Leute /say all the smart people

Schaden litt ich genug /I’ve suffered enough damage

Doch bin ich ein Tor noch heute /yet I’m still a fool today