German Language Blog

German Sayings + Expressions 26: Geister! Posted by on Oct 31, 2019 in Culture, Holidays, Language, Traditions

Finally, Halloween is here! But do you want to use some ghostly sayings and expressions? Then you’re in the right place! Where I looked at the word Geist last week, we now use it in a Sprichwort (saying) and an Ausdruck (expression). Let’s go!

For older posts, please follow this link.

Der Geist ist willig, aber das Fleisch ist schwach

He really wants to surf, but does he feel like it? (Image by Patrick Fore at

Literally: The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

What this means is quite straightforward. With your common sense, your mind, you want to achieve something, but temptation, the body, holds you back. This is a bit about the interplay of mind and body, obviously.

While you won’t hear this Sprichwort a lot anymore, it’s an interesting premise. It comes from a passage in the Bible, which goes like this:

“Wachet und betet, dass ihr nicht in Versuchung fallt! Der Geist ist willig, aber das Fleisch ist schwach.”

(Wake and pray, so you do not fall into temptation! The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”)

In everyday German, you might use it to refer to a task you really want to accomplish but you simply don’t do it. Here’s an example:

Mario: Ich möchte mindestens zehn Kilo abnehmen!

Kevin: Dann los, setz’ dich auf’s Rad, und iss ein bisschen weniger.

Mario: Ja, ich weiß. Aber im Winter ist es so kalt auf dem Fahrrad, und mir schmeckt fettiges Essen einfach besser in der kalten Jahreszeit.

Kevin: Der Geist ist willig, aber das Fleisch ist schwach. Da musst du jetzt mit leben. 

(Mario: I want to lose at least ten kilos!

Kevin: Then go, get on the bike, and eat a little less.

Mario: Yeah, I know. But in Winter, it’s so cold on the bike, and I just enjoy greasy food better in the cold time of the year.

Kevin: The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. You’re gonna have to live with that now!)

Jemanden auf den Geist gehen

Gehe der Geistlichen nicht auf den Geist! (Image by Maria Teneva at

Literally: To go somebody on the ghost

To get on somebody’s nerves

This is a fun one! You’ll see Geister (ghosts) during Halloween everywhere. But sometimes, all of this Halloween stuff is also really annoying. The jump scares, the cobwebs sticking on your clothes, the fiftieth time you hear “trick-or-treat”… Es geht dir sowas von auf den Geist! (It totally gets onto your ghost!).

But to translate Geist here as ghost isn’t really fair. As discussed in last week’s postGeist also refers to the mind. And when you occupy, intrude somebody’s mind without being asked to do so, that might be seen as quite annoying. So the origin of this Ausdruck is quite self-explanatory.

There are variations of this, too. Auf die Nerven gehen (like the English “nerves”), the vulgar auf den Sack gehen (“to get on the sack”) or the interesting, probably euphemistic auf den Keks gehen (“to get on the cookie”). But auf den Geist gehen is definitely the original. And the most fitting for Halloween!

Here’s an example of how to use it:

“Mein Gott, mir geht dieses Halloween-Fest auf den Geist!”, the monk said.

“My god, this Halloween celebration is getting on my nerves!”, the monk said.

Enjoy the trick-or-treating! Do you have Sprichwörter and Ausdrücke related to Halloween in your language? Let me know in the comments below!

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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.