From your lips to God’s ears / Dein Wort in Gottes Ohr

This post is one of a series on ‘Germanisms in American English’ and should be read in conjunction with the introductory post here.

From your [lips/mouth] to God’s [ear/s]
Dein Wort in Gottes Ohr (Your word in God’s ear)

This phrase expresses the hope that God will hear what someone has just said (something optimistic about the future) and grant that it may come true. A non-religious equivalent in English might be ‘Let’s hope you’re right!’ Language Log provides the following example of the American English (AmE) version:

»  I told him I thought [the movie Goldeneye] would take $30 million in its opening weekend, to which he replied: ‘From your lips to God’s ears.’ Evening Standard     (London) (4 October 1995.)* «

According to Language Log the expression may stem from Jewish religious texts and probably entered English via Yiddish. The same  post provides some original Yiddish examples, one attributed to Ben Sadock:

»  Fun dayn moyl in gots oyern.  ‘From your mouth to God’s ears’  «

and the other attributed to Lillian Merwin Feinsilver in The Taste of Yiddish (1970):1

»  Fun zayn moyl, in Gots oyer.  ‘From his mouth into God’s ear’.  «

The Jewish English Lexicon classifies this phrase and its variants (sometimes mouth instead of lips, sometimes plural ears, sometimes singular ear) as being used in ‘North America’. This ties in with my own experience: I have once heard the phrase used by a (non-Jewish) American, but never by anyone from the UK.

The equivalent expression in standard German is, according to Redensarten-Index:

»  Dein Wort in Gottes Ohr!  «  (Your word in God’s ear),

which mentions neither lips nor mouth. However, the same source cites an older variant from Wander’s Sprichwörter-Lexikon of 1867–1880, which is closer to the Yiddish/AmE wording:

»  Aus deinem Munde in Gottes Ohr!  «  (From your mouth to God’s ear).2

Note that the publication date of Wander’s dictionary coincides with a period when German-speaking migrants were arriving en masse in the USA; so one could speculate that the German phrase consolidated the influence of its Yiddish counterpart on AmE.


1 Cited in: Nigel Rees, Cassell’s Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins (2002), p. 90.
2 See under section: Ergänzungen.

What’s with…? / Was ist mit…?

This post is one of a series on ‘Germanisms in American English’ and should be read in conjunction with the introductory post here.

What’s with…?
Was ist mit…?

This phrase is complicated to deal with because it has two meanings in both American English (AmE) and German, as illustrated in the table below. Both of the AmE examples are taken from the Dictionary of American Slang (via Dictionary.com), which dates What’s with…? to the ‘late 1930s+’ and attributes it to the Yiddish phrase Vos iz mit…? The German examples in the table are my own, as are their English translations.

whats-with-table-screenshot-paint3

As you can see, the type 1 usage (red) has the same meaning in both AmE and German, while type 2 (blue or green) has different meanings in AmE and German. German type 2 is probably more commonly used than German type 1, but it has no equivalent in AmE.

As I haven’t lived in the UK for many years now, I don’t know to what extent – if any – What’s with…? might be on the rise in British English. When I was growing up, it was still uncommon enough to be perceived as an Americanism. However, it clearly does occur in BrE, as a search for What ’s with in the British National Corpus returned 28 results. The earliest of these was from 1978, although most were from the 1990s.

Come on already! / Komm schon!

This post is one of a series on ‘Germanisms in American English’ and should be read in conjunction with the introductory post here.

Come on already!
Komm schon!

In English, already is used to express something that happened before now or earlier than expected. In German, schon is used the same way – as an adverb. But it can also be used as a modal particle, adding various shades of meaning to a sentence depending on the context and speaker’s attitude. In the German example above, schon adds emphasis to a command, suggesting impatience on the part of the speaker. The fact that American English can use already in exactly the same way is usually attributed to the influence of the Yiddish word shoyn (see here, here, and here) rather than that of German schon (see here), although the principle is the same.

British English, on the other hand, has to rely on intonation (‘Come ON!’) or question tags (‘Come on, will you?’) etc. to convey a similar sense of urgency.