The tire is flat or the umbrella gives up in a sudden shower: Quite a few people fear such situations, especially when the 13th falls on a Friday. The next supposed unlucky day is in October. In order not to go from bad to worse, many people are particularly careful on this date. But where do well-known sayings that revolve around misfortune come from?
From the rain to the fire: Anyone who first gets into a small problem and then shortly afterwards into an even worse mess comes “from the rain to the fire”. This saying is said to have been used since the 17th century. In fact, it originally has something to do with the weather. The drip edge at the bottom of a roof is called the eaves. The word is derived from the Old High German “trouf” for “dripping”. Anyone who seeks shelter from the rain under a roof but ends up under the eaves can sometimes end up soaking wet – and even worse than in the shower. According to the Duden, English has a similar saying: There you get “out of the frying pan into the fire”.
To have bad luck: “streak of bad luck”, “unlucky bird”, “haunted by bad luck” or simply “to have bad luck” – German is full of phrases with the black liquid that has been known since the Stone Age. These phrases, common in everyday life, combine bad luck with evil. A possible explanation for this comes from the working world of the Büttners. In order to store beer, barrels are coated on the inside with the substance that is produced during the distillation of wood, oil or hard coal. Anyone who later finds pieces of the black liquid in the beer glass is literally unlucky. But the ancient method of hunting with the help of the sticky substance is probably better known. Even in the Middle Ages, branches were coated with pitch so that birds could get stuck on them. An animal caught in this way literally became “unlucky”.
Putting your foot in your mouth: Anyone who carelessly offends their friend or a co-worker is literally stepping into their own mouth. Even in its original meaning, the term had to do with clumsiness. The chemist Georg Schwedt explains in his book "When the yellow part of the egg turns blue: Sayings with hidden chemistry": In farmhouses there used to be a bowl of fat near the door. This could be used to smear the leather of wet boots so that it would not become brittle. However, it became a nuisance for the homeowner when someone wasn't careful, the bowl was knocked over and grease stains spread across the floorboard.
There are now a number of variations, says dialect and name researcher Markus Denkler from the Westphalia-Lippe Regional Association (LWL). An example: “Don’t miss a beat.” But the faux pas can now stand on its own, he explains. "This word alone can signal the bad luck incident."
Sword of Damocles: If it figuratively hovers over someone, the end of a streak of good luck and an ever-lurking danger are feared. The expression goes back to a story by the Roman writer Cicero that has been handed down from antiquity. In it, the courtier Damocles praises the tyrant Dionysius of Syracuse as the happiest king. The ruler swaps places with him, but has a sword hung above the throne, hanging only by a horse's hair. In this way, Dionysius wants to show the courtier the constant threat to happiness.
Getting into trouble: When someone gets into trouble, the French word that originally means “dirt” or “mud” is mentioned every now and then. Cultural historian Andres Furger explains in his book "The Red Thread. From Idiom to Historical Image" that the expression can be traced back to the revolutionary period. Between 1789 and the Congress of Vienna (1815), French troops occupied extensive land. Combat units repeatedly found themselves in awkward situations, i.e. they got into trouble. Others see the origin of the phrase in a board game. In the French backgammon variant Tricktrack, the "Bredouille" is a game advantage in which the opponent is in trouble.