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Just to explain what I'm missing here, I'll attempt to translate the phrase

Wer nicht lenkt, kommt irgendwo an!

into English

If you don't steer, you arrive somewhere!

But that makes no sense to me, at least, it doesn't really say anything meaningful.

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I've never heard this phrase in German. It sounds strange to my ears and doesn't quite make sense IMHO. There's this saying: "Wer nicht lenkt, der wird gelenkt.", but I guess that's different. –  splattne Dec 16 '11 at 14:41
It tries to make the point that you should take control of your own life, lest others do that for you, which in turn means you end up where they want, not (necessarily) where you would like to be. –  Burki Aug 11 at 6:58

6 Answers 6

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I do not know this phrase, so I'm curious where you have read/heard it. Context could help to translate it correctly. Here follows my guess:

If you don't steer, you do not arrive at your planned destination, just at some arbitrary place.

Yes, it's a little bit long. The emphasis would be on "irgendwo" (somewhere, anywhere). With the correct emphasis it should be obvious that a subordinate clause beginning with "but" was omitted:

Wer nicht lenkt, kommt irgendwo an, aber nicht dort wo er will!

If you don't steer, you arrive somewhere, but not where you want!

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It was in an email I was translating. I guessed that it meant something like this but you can't just drop that sub clause in English so I found it a bit confusing. –  z7sg Ѫ Dec 16 '11 at 14:49
@z7sgѪ: It is confusing in German also, especially when it is written. In a conversation when you hear the pronunciation this would be much easier to comprehend. –  John Smithers Dec 16 '11 at 15:26

I suggest the translation

If you don't steer, you could arrive anywhere.

(edited, thanks to z7sg)

Does that convey the meaning John Smithers correctly explained?

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Yes it does, except that in English I think could is preferred with positive anywhere rather than will. –  z7sg Ѫ Dec 16 '11 at 14:50
Good point, thanks! –  elena Dec 19 '11 at 7:47

We can just guess here without knowing the context but the German sentence has a flavour as if it could have been said from a motivational or inspirational speaker. Only in this context we could also quote Tony Christiansen:

"Life is like flying a plane, if you don't steer it you end up going somewhere you don't want to be."

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It sounds like a (presumably rarely used) German proverb. I haven't heard it, either, but the format fits and it makes sense.

It would correspond to the English (Yogi Berra quote)

If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up somewhere else!
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I haven't come across this saying either, but all the answers provided so far seem to stress the "negative aspect" of not being in control.

This is based on the interpretation as "anywhere (you don't want to be at)" of the word "irgendwo".

It of course depends on the context, but I'd like to offer another take on that phrase. When I read the sentence, I first thought of the futility of trying to be in control all the time, which is why I suggest:

"Try to not to steer, and you'll eventually end up in the right place."

Which just takes a different approach on "irgendwo".

My translation of "Wer nicht lenkt" into a suggestive "Try not to steer" keeps the proverbial character of the sentence intact, as e.g. in the saying "Wer nicht wagt, der nicht gewinnt", "You have to take a risk sometimes, or you'll never achieve anything"

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+1 because I also see a much more positive sense. I think it means if you steer, you'll do so all the time and you'll never arrive (because you're focused on adjusting to get somewhere 'better'). However, once you stop steering, then you'll eventually arrive. You don't know where, but you will arrive. That is, "The one who doesn't steer, will arrive somewhere". –  Em1 Aug 11 at 8:23
Interesting to come across a new interpretation of this old question! –  z7sg Ѫ Aug 11 at 12:43

Without knowing the context your translation sounds perfect to me. But I also never heard this before. A possible context where it might make sense would be, e.g., a boat on the sea.

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