Word of the Week: Durch die Blume Gesprochen

Mar 23, 2012

Every Friday, Germany.info and The Week in Germany highlight a different "Word of the Week" in the German language that may serve to surprise, delight or just plain perplex native English speakers.

Durch die Blume Gesprochen

"Easter Bunny" in Dresden, Germany (March 2012) Enlarge image (© picture-alliance/ZB)

When you say one thing but really mean to impart something much more dramatic by it, you may be "speaking through the flower" - the literal translation of the less-innocent-than-it-sounds turn of phrase "durch die Blume gesprochen."

So if, say, a man is trying to break some bad news to a woman a friend might advise him to break it to her gently, as in: "Sagen Sie ihr durch die Blume, dass ... " (Tell her in a roundabout way that ... ).

An alternate way of saying this is "etwas durch die Blume sagen," or "saying something through the flower", as it were.

This expression moreover extends well beyond the private sphere of bilateral human relations into the public sphere, too, such as in the following translation from a European Parliament transcript:

"Das war, Herr Präsident, durch die Blume gesprochen, und ich hoffe, dass die Dolmetscher verstehen ... " (All this I have said in order to drop a hint, and I hope that the interpreters understand what I mean by that.)

Beyond providing some snippets of gossip for harried Brussels-based interpreters at European Union institutions, this is a classically subtle German turn of phrase. Essentially it boils down to very subtly or even snidely suggesting something by not really fully spelling it out, but discreetly hinting at it in a cleverly clandestine fashion.

In this vein, a romantic break-up, a political jab, or a critique of a particular work-related performance can be couched in "flowery" or polite or downright "coy" language. This is quite simply a way to soften the blow being dealt at that particular point in time vis-a-vis another human being.

Although it is kind of a cheeky term, it also can be an almost chivalrous way of saving face and trying to - even if only partially - spare someone else's feelings. It may not always be the kindest of German expressions, but it certainly is one of the most memorable.

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