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Sayings + Expressions 3 – The Winner and the Oil Posted by on Jul 24, 2014 in Culture, Language

Hi there!

Today, I will go over one saying and one expression again. Both are related to actions – if you dare, what can happen? That connects both the saying and the expression. As always, let’s start off with the saying!

Wer nicht wagt, der nicht gewinnt

Who doesn’t dare, doesn’t win (i.e. no guts, no glory)

Its origin is not really known, and this saying probably just started by use. The premise that you have to do something to achieve something is logic. That this often also involves exposing oneself to harm also makes sense. From this, wer nicht wagt, der nicht gewinnt is quickly made.


This widely known saying has a clear meaning – take a risk if you want to achieve something, otherwise you will never be successful! So the next time you have to advise a good German friend that is too scared to talk to someone he or she likes, say this. The use is exactly the same as in English. Example:

Markus traut sich nicht Lisa anzusprechen, obwohl er sie wirklich mag. Daraufhin ermutigt sein Freund Lars ihn: Wer nicht wagt, der nicht gewinnt!

(Markus doesn’t dare to talk to Lisa, even though he really likes her. Thereupon his friend Lars encouraged him: Who doesn’t dare, doesn’t win!)


Öl ins Feuer gießen 

Pour oil into the fire (i.e. Add fuel to the fire) 

Öl ins Feuer gießen - this is what happens! (Image by Al404 at Flickr.com under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Öl ins Feuer gießen – this is what happens! (Image by Al404 at Flickr.com)

This expression already existed in Roman times. Back in those days, they had figured out the flammability of oil already. The Roman poet Horace already used this expression (oleum addere camino) in his Sermones. When you pour oil into fire, it burns even stronger. As in the English expression, it describes an act that makes a situation even more severe. In one word: provozieren (provoke).


The use of this expression is basically the same as in English. For example:

Die Vereinigten Staaten schicken weiter Waffen in Krisengebieten und lindern die Kämpfe dort damit nicht. Das Land gießt damit nur Öl ins Feuer.

(The United States continue to send weapons to crisis areas and do not soothen the fights there that way.  With this, the country only adds fuel to the fire.)


As always, if you have any suggestions for sayings or expressions – also English ones – that you want to see translated and broken down a bit, please write a comment below!







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About the Author:Sten

Hi! I am Sten, and I am half Dutch and half German. I was on exchange in the United States, and I really enjoyed that year! So in that sense, I kind of have three nationalities... I love all of them!


  1. doris:

    though it’s been a while this article got published it’s needs a tiny correction: to encourage someone should be translated as “jemanden ermutigen”. so pls change the prefix: “daraufhin ermutigte ihn sein Freund Lars”. btw your posts are very interesting. one of my favourites is about our german wimp analogies… I guess sitzpinkler and warmduscher are the most common. it derives from the 90ies. nowerdays we refer more often to the word “pussy” when calling someone a complete “weichei”. back in the nineties my school friends and I used to detect parties or even daily situations which weren’t cool enough or had too many wimpy people involved as “ein totales Pussy Desaster”. hoping it makes sense 🙂 ty for posting. keep up the good work.