Fettnäpfchen: If you offend someone by making a thoughtless remark, Germans will say you have “stepped into the grease bowl”

Literally: “grease bowl” / meaning: something you figuratively step into when you make an thoughtless remark

You happen to meet your former colleague on the street and congratulate her on her pregnancy. From her puzzled look you realize: She’s not expecting a child, she’s just gotten a little chubby. Ouch! Looks like you stepped into the Fettnäpfchen again. Like that time you offered a cigarette to an asthmatic.

But what’s a Fettnäpfchen anyway—and why shouldn’t you step into it? In the middle ages, you could find something like this in many farmhouses. When meat or sausages were hung from the ceiling to smoke or dry, a small bowl was placed underneath for the fat to drip into. If you accidentally knocked it over, you would make yourself just as unpopular as you would today for making an awkward comment.

For my part, I can claim to very rarely step into a grease bowl. Instead, I jump headfirst into the deep fryer with my ill-considered remarks.




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