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From a coffee shop, I acquired a small cookie individually packaged in a plastic wrapping. On the wrapping the following is printed:

„Lieber mit einer Flamme im Bett, als mit einer Leuchte am Schreibtisch.“ (Unbekannt)

Word-for-word, this seems to say approximately:

“Better with a flame in bed than with a lamp on the desk.” (unknown)

Is there a good translation of this saying to English that preserves the meaning? And additionally, what does the saying mean?

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According to dict.cc "flame" also covers the German meaning required here, "girl-friend" or "mistress", so your translation seems ok for me as a German. –  guidot Aug 15 at 19:20
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@guidot Not completely: also "Leuchte" has a double sense here - it is not only a lamp, but also someone very intelligent. –  Matthias Aug 15 at 19:21
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@guidot I think "unknown" is the better choice here. –  Grantwalzer Aug 15 at 19:53
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Note that there should not be a comma before als in your quote (though this may be a mistake by the original quote). –  Wrzlprmft Aug 16 at 13:27
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@Em1 Elvis Presley fans wouldn't need the Webster here. "And Marie's the name of his latest flame" is the refrain in en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%28Marie%27s_the_Name%29_His_Latest_Flame –  Matthias Aug 18 at 22:04

3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I'm not sure if the above comments really explain the meaning of this sentence. I'm trying to explain it.

"Leuchte" in this case also refers to a woman/girlfriend like "Flamme" does. The difference is, that "Flamme", actually flames from a fire, here refers to

  • a sexually attractive woman
  • a woman one has just met and is either deeply in love with or feels sexually attracted to.

"Leuchte" actually means lamp, though it does not imply an electrical lamp, but rather one with candles or other open fire in it. It's being used to describe bright, clever people, in this case a woman.

The special use of "Flamme im Bett" (literally translated "flames in bed") and "Leuchte am Schreibtisch" means, that one rather prefers a hot woman in bed (flames, which one would avoid having in bed) than a bright woman at the desk (a lamp with an open fire, which one would rather have at the desk).

I don't think the translation above carries the meaning of the German sentence but I'm also not sure how to translate it correctly, since I don't know words that both deal with open fire but can be used in this specific ways.

@guidot: The double ambiguity is needed here for this sentence to work. At least from my point of view.

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English "flame" does connote the same thing as German "Flame". Though, it's difficult to find a good word for "Leuchte". –  Em1 Aug 16 at 6:56
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I completely disagree with the part about Leuchte"... it is electrical, too. proof: google.de/… –  Emanuel Aug 18 at 9:23
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The original nowhere implies the referred person to be a woman. It works perfectly well for men, too. Also, why should Leuchte refer to a [boy/girl]friend? It can also refer to a colleague? –  Toscho Aug 18 at 15:28
    
@Emanuel You're right, and reading your comment I even remember that I was taught in school to say "Leuchte" for what is colloquially called "Lampe" (we should use the latter only for the "Glühhbirne" or whatever shines inside the "Leuchte"). Duden also backs the meaning of an electrical device for "Leuchte" (at least as technical terminology). Personally I would never think of a candle when reading "Leuchte am Schreibtisch". –  Matthias Aug 18 at 21:58

Better in bed with a flame than at the desk with a shiner.

(OK, I'm not 100% happy with shiner here: I use it to convey the meaning of both lamp and (female) brainiac. Can't think of anything better. If you read shiner as black eye it's still funny, though.)

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My translation would be:

Better a genie in bed than a genius at the desk.

As Toscho pointed out in the comments, this could refer to the speaker him/herself, so an alternative would be

Better in bed with a genie, than at the desk with a genius.

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I think, this gets the pun of Flamme and Leuchte in the best way. But it also adds the following ambiguity: In the original, the referred person is clearly somebody else. Your version might also refer to the speaker himself: Better to be a genie in bed than a genius at the desk. vs. Better to have a genie in bed than a genius at the desk. –  Toscho Aug 18 at 15:31
    
@Toscho ... you're right. The damn little "mit" ruins it :). How about "Better in bed with a genie, than at the desk with a genius."... I don't know, I kind of feel that the other one is proverbererer –  Emanuel Aug 18 at 20:01
    
I'm not good enough in English to grade these little differences. –  Toscho Aug 19 at 9:31

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