13 Mar 2007 07:05 UTCTue 13 Mar 2007 - 7:05 am UTC
I recently learned the expression "Pferde zurück".
Don't ask me where but I understood that it was something that all Germans say, even though I had never heard it uttered even once during my two years in Germany.
Since learning to say "Pferde zurück" I have used it enthusiastically but several of my German-speaking friends in my Schuhplattlers class have since stopped speaking to me; one (an irate Hausfrau) slapped me across my kopf; and a lovely Mädchen tweaked my lederhosen.
Please help me by explaining what's it all about ...
Could I have accidentally invoked an Evil Spirit?
Worried of Hove
13 Mar 2007 20:35 UTCTue 13 Mar 2007 - 8:35 pm UTC
I think I can help you, Herr Probo!
"Pferde zurück" means literally, as you have certainly already figured out, "horses back" (NOT "horse's back", to avoid misinterpretation).
Luckily, I know that expression. However, it is rarely used, which is not surprising considering the fact that horses have gone out of fashion as common means of transport many decades ago.
The version of the expression you have learned, "Pferde zurück" is heavily shortened. Longer, and more obvious variants are "Alle Pferde zurück!" (All horses back) or "Alle Pferde zurück in den Stall!" (All horses back to the stable!). Now, what does that expression mean?
It simply means that something has been done overhastily, and now that the rashness of the activity has become obvious, it is quickly stopped. But why the horses? The answer is rather easy: Imagine a cavalry barracks 200 or so years ago. An alarm is raised, the soldiers hurry to the stables, get their horses and bring them out in the barrack yard to await orders. But then the alarm turns out to be false, that it had been raised overhastily. So the order is issued: "All horses back to the stables!"
Interstingly, there is a related expression with military origin in German, which is used to stop an activity that had been started overhastily: "Kommando zurück!" - "Orders cancelled!"
So the "Pferde zurück" saying is basically pretty obvious, isn't it? Please don't ask me for the source - I read it years ago when I had brought a book about sayings and their origins from the library. I doubt that I will ever find it again...