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Do similar figure of speech exist in German or should one translate it literally?

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I don't know any German equivalent but I wouldn't translate it literally. Grasp the idea and phrase it your own, in respect to your context. If another idiom fits in your context take that, e.g. "Wo kein Kläger, da kein Richter" (If nobody is complaining it can't be so worse). –  Em1 Apr 4 '13 at 12:25
    
@Em1: I'd translate it, "If nobody is complaining it can't be judged." But the correct version of your expresson is, "if nobody is complaining it can't be so BAD." –  Tom Au Sep 12 '13 at 0:08
    
@TomAu Good catch. You're right. –  Em1 Sep 12 '13 at 6:59

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

One aspect I would translate as "Glück im Unglück" (lit. fortune in misfortune). Something bad (Unglück) has happened, but, contrary to expectation, without serious consequences (Glück).

If the unfortunate action was deliberate, like a breach of a law or a rule, Em14's translation of "Wo kein Kläger, da kein Richter" is the best fit.

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The German expression "Wo kein Kläger, da kein Richter," literally means, "Where there is no plaintiff, there is no judge," and is probably the closest. In the German idiom, the emphasis is on the PERSONS doing the complaining or judging, as opposed to whether the ACTS can be complained about (harm) or judged (foul)

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As far as I understand the English expression "no harm, no foul" it is used colloquial rather than in standard English (but I am not a native English speaker). Then a frequently used colloquial analogue in German would be

"Ach was, ist doch nichts passiert."

In this expression the interjection "Ach was" makes the accident light, and also implies an apology. The second part "...ist doch nichts passiert" corresponds to "no harm".

Often we only hear the short form

"Nix passiert!"

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