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A literal, physical translation of "we pulled the plug" is "Wir zogen den Stecker."

But sometimes, this expression is used in a figurative sense

We "pulled the plug" on the project.

Is there a German idiom used this kind of context? Or is the literal translate still the best one?

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2  
The literal translation does not work at all, LEO proposes "den Hahn zudrehen", but this only works in some contexts. –  Phira Dec 11 '11 at 14:34
    
@Phira means specifically stopping the money supply (Geld-Hahn) for a project. Would imho fit fine (put it as answer), if you stop the project that way and because of that reason. –  Hauser Dec 11 '11 at 16:18
    
I removed my answer because of critisism regarding quoting other answers and comments in the hope that we will see more good answers here. Only then the "best" answer may evolve by voting. –  Takkat Dec 11 '11 at 18:11
    
See also: meta.german.stackexchange.com/q/292/23 –  Takkat Dec 11 '11 at 18:49

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

In the context of suddenly aborting a project, Linguee confirms my guess that

die Reißleine ziehen (german well-known metaphor - "pull the rip cord")

would be appropriate german idiom. I think you should adapt this on in English, as "pull the plug" you would also say when having a bluescreen/freeze on an electrical device, while "pulling the plug on a project" probably means more that there are constructional flaws, planning errors... shit happened. If you simply mean "canceling the project" (for whatever reason), imho a metaphor is not really necessary/appropriate.

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I do agree with @Gigili that vulgar slang expressions should be avoided when they are not the topic. –  Takkat Dec 12 '11 at 11:51

den Stecker ziehen

Usage:

Applicable for all electrical devices using a power cord or are related to them.

When something is no longer supported or continued - it emphasizes an abrupt ending.

When someone is in a coma and there is no hope and the doctors decide to end that its really like pulling the plug.

I bit disagree with "die Reißleine ziehen", because it means stopping a thing before it gets worse anyway may apply to some situations.

die Reißleine ziehen

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thanks for correction –  jpse Dec 12 '11 at 15:15

The literal translation

den Stecker ziehen

in a figurative sense is also quite common in German.

Examples of recent usage (found through Google search):

Rechtsstreit geht weiter: Samsung will Apple den Stecker ziehen
TAZ, September 2011

or

"Braunkohle den Stecker ziehen"
Motto von Braunkohlegegner-Aktionsgruppen

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"Plug" may also be a "Stöpsel" ;) –  Takkat Dec 11 '11 at 16:39
    
aktionistisches Marketing/Übertreibung, Apple wird eine Multimilliarden-Moloch wie Samsung garantiert nicht den Stecker ziehen ;) Eher friert die Hölle zu, da wäre wohl eher "bremsen" angebracht. Aber in der Werbung zu arbeiten muss doll sein, hat man alle Freiheiten wo gibt ;) –  Hauser Dec 11 '11 at 16:50
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The literal translation is IMO not very common, and most of the google hits refer to cases, where electricity/data is the topic and the rhetorical figure is somehow related to the topic. Even in these cases I find this expression a little bit awkward. –  0x6d64 Dec 11 '11 at 17:00
    
The literal translation seems to me to be an americanism. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Dec 30 '11 at 20:43

I am not at all a native speaker of German, but as an advanced learner who's been living in Germany for about 10 years now I would translate

We pulled the plug on the project.

using the following idiom:

Wir haben das Projekt aufs Eis gelegt.

This does not reflect 100% the original meaning, but this is a common way to say that the project has been stopped or suspended.

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It's totally not what "pull the plug" means. Pulling the plug means it's dead. And you stopped it abruptly, without much warning. "Auf Eis legen" means to suspend it. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Dec 30 '11 at 20:44

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