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Untranslatable German Words: Nervensäge Posted by on Oct 17, 2014 in Language

Hello and welcome to another post on untranslatable German words! I can’t believe how many words we’ve covered already – Torschlußpanik, Geisterfahrer, Gemütlichkeit, Waldeinsamkeit, Putzfimmel, Schattenparker… to name just a few! It may not have a reputation as being romantic or sexy, but if you’re a language lover then you’ll quickly realise what an interesting, quirky language German really is. So on that note, let’s continue with another untranslatable German word!

Can you think of someone who really irritates you? That person is known in German as a Nervensäge.

What does Nervensäge mean?
A Nervensäge is a really annoying, irritating person.

What does Nervensäge literally translate to?
Broken down, it means ‘nerve saw’. Nerven = nerves, and Säge = saw. Imagine a saw cutting at your nerves… isn’t that what it feels like when somebody annoys the hell out of you? It’s quite an appropriate word!

How would you use it in a sentence?
Quite simply, “Er ist so eine Nervensäge!“ – „He is such a Nervensäge!”

What is the nearest English equivalent?
There are words to describe irritating people, but they are mostly adjectives. For example: annoying, irritating, bothersome. You could use the noun ‘pest’ to describe a Nervensäge, for example: “He is such a pest!” However, there’s no word that describes a person who makes you feel like your nerves are being cut with a saw. In terms of creativity, the word Nervensäge is in a league of its own!

Happy Happy Cookie

Du gehst mir auf den Keks! Photo by carbonnyc on Flickr.com under CC BY 2.0

Interestingly, the English phrase “You get on my nerves” translates the same in German: “Du gehst mir auf die Nerven” (literally, “You go me on the nerves”).

There is, however, a cute little phrase that means the same thing but has a rather strange literal translation.

“Du gehst mir auf den Keks”
„You go me on the biscuit” or “You get on my biscuit”, in other words!

But that’s not all! Here are some other quirky ways that Germans express their annoyance with someone:

Du gehst mir auf den Senkel – You’re getting on my shoelaces

Du gehst mir auf den Wecker – You’re getting on my alarm clock

Du bringst mich auf die Palme – You’re going to force me up a palm tree (Difficult to translate, but it basically means ‘you’re testing my patience’)

One of my favourite ways to express irritation with someone in English is to say, “You’re doing my head in!” Germans say, “Du machst mich kaputt!” – „You are breaking me!“, which has the same sort of meaning.

Do you know any other translations? Or better still, can you come up with your own German phrase for “you’re getting on my nerves”?

Bis bald,

Constanze x

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About the Author:Constanze

Servus! I'm Constanze. I'm half English and half German. I write here because I'm passionate about my languages and my roots. I also work as a translator & group fitness instructor.


  1. Allan Mahnke:

    Many thanks! I am very interested in these little colloquialisms. A few years ago I decided to concentrate on Umgangsprache by reading Krimi. That too is helpful, and fun. My personal favorite in the general genre is Sebastian Fitzek. He must be a very scary guy!

  2. jai vee:

    That’s just Lovely ..!!!…and gréât …

  3. Kenneth RK.:

    Pretty amazing stuff this! Well done Constanze; just love how dynamic you tend to get whilst writing the probable literal translations. As a German language scholar, i’m bound to admit that it’s simply darn awesome to learn – Cheers!.

  4. Matt:

    Er spinnen der uhu.

  5. Stefanie:

    Hey! I know one more sentence! It’s a sentence which men use more often than women.
    “Du gehst mir auf die Eier.” (You’re going on my eggs) ? I’m not an English native speaker, so I don’t know if i translated it correctly!

  6. Dan:

    @Stefanie – One would rather translate it to: “You step/get on my balls.”

  7. KSDeutsch:

    I would probably use the word “nuisance” in this case.

  8. Deja:

    I can add two more sentences:
    1. “Du gehst mir auf den Zeiger.”
    2. “Du gehst mir auf die Düse.”

    • Constanze:

      @Deja Thank for the additions! They’re always welcome! 🙂

  9. Michael:

    An addition:
    Eine Nervensäge nervt.
    „Er nervt.”, lit. „He is nerving.” means „he is annoying”
    And „Er geht mir auf die Nerven.”, like Keks or Wecker.