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Idiom: Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof

edited December 2016 in German

It is time for another idiom!

Are you having trouble with your math homework? Are you listening to an accountant about your latest tax return while getting more and more confused by the second? These would be good times to use another very commonly used German idiom “Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof”.

This phrase literally translates to „I only understand station“  but essentially means “It is all Greek to me” or “I do not have the foggiest notion what is going on” or even “I do not get what the heck you are talking about”.

One would think that the origin of this idiom comes from foreign travel. Imagine a helpless traveler asking his way to the station and receiving a lengthy explanation in a foreign tongue. It does not take much imagination to see that the only thing this weary traveler is likely to understand without the benefit of Living Language is, well, the word station or maybe a gesture or two that may or may not point in the right direction.

However, the expression is thought to originate in WWI where exhausted soldiers wanted nothing more than to go home. The way home was associated with the train station. The desire to be home was so strong that when you talked to them they would only respond to the word station. They literally only understood the word station. With time the meaning morphed somewhat to the idiom we have today.

Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof.

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