I was working with this quote

That is just a fairytale, A vicious stupid fairytale that keeps people in a mental prison.

When I went to interpret it, I got this sentence

Das ist nur ein Märchen, ein Teufels dumme Märchen, die Menschen in einer psychiatrischen Gefängnis hält.

The part that concerns me is this:

in einer psychiatrischen Gefängnis

I understand that Gefängnis means prison. But the word for mental that I got back was psychiatric which actually means psychiatric. So putting the two words together might have the context of a facility for people with psychiatric disorders. Which is not what I want. But it is making me wonder if Germans do not use the word prison in a metaphoric sense meaning to indicate a form of entrapment.

So would there be suitable words that do not have a direct English equivalent but carry the meaning of being stuck?

  • 5
    Note that the translation from "vicious" to "Teufels-" works only when "Teufels-" ends up as the first part of a compound. "A vicious fairytale" --> "ein Teufelsmärchen" works. What you wrote doesn't.
    – elena
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 14:36
  • 2
    Google translate is not a suitable starting point for a translation.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 17:20
  • @CarstenSchultz well it got the job done. conversation started. Everyone is learning. Common Creative content produced for future members. The question was solved. So I would kindly ask that you not be so judgemental.
    – JGallardo
    Commented Mar 22, 2014 at 0:04

4 Answers 4


how about

Das ist nur ein Märchen. Ein boshaftes/gemeines, dummes Märchen, das Menschen in gedanklicher Unfreiheit hält / gedankliche Ketten anlegt.

the phrase psychiatrisches Gefängnis cannot be used in this context. You might translate the phrase as mentales/geistiges Gefängnis but it would still sound slightly awkward.

Gefängnis can indeed be used metaphorically (eg. Ehegefängnis [prison of marriage]), but in general Ketten ([ball] chains) or Kerker(dungeon) will be preferable. I don't really know why that is, possibly because a structured and organized penitentiary system as opposed to feudal wantonness has been introduced late in history in German-speaking societies (though this would suggest that the usage pattern in Switzerland should be clearly distinct - I don't know whether it is).

  • I agree exept for the use of the word "Kerker" - "Gefängnis" is far more common in the metaphorical sense.
    – Kristina
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 15:00

We do use the word prison in a metaphorical context sometimes. The problem with your translation is, that you translate mental to psychiatric which is wrong. I would translate mental to the German word geistig

Here's how I would translate the whole sentence:

Das ist nur ein Märchen, ein brutales/grausames dummes Märchen das Menschen in einem geistigen Gefängnis hält.

Or instead of in einem geistigen Gefängnis hält. you could say in ein geistiges Gefängnis sperrt.

  • 1
    it's sort of nitpicking for the context does disambiguate, but i don't think that you have a suitable figure of speech. geistiges Gefängnis can only be interpreted as Adj + Noun, so geistig syntactically refers to Gefängnis - but the topic is not a prison that is mental but a prison the mind will find itself inside. A literal German translation might be Geistesgefängnis, ie. a compound. The English phrase (afaik) can be parsed either as a compound or Adj + Noun.
    – collapsar
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 15:40
  • 1
    I just edited your sentence from a codeblock (as used on Stack Overflow) to a blockquote. This should improve readability. If you don't like it, you can always apply a "rollback" in revision history
    – Vogel612
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 16:14

It is possible to use gefangen together with a mental state or thoughts as in

in seiner Gedankenwelt gefangen sein
in Gedankenkreisen gefangen sein

but we would not use the noun Gefängnis in this context. A quite common expression for the quote you gave may be

in den Bann ziehen

where Bann is used figuratively for something that attracts your attention.


Es ist nur ein Märchen, aber ein teuflisch gutes Märchen, das die Leute in seinen Bann zieht.


Es ist nur ein Märchen, aber ein entsetzlich dummes Märchen, das dennoch die Leute in seinen Bann zieht.

  • 1
    in den Bann ziehen expresses focused or excited attention which i doubt is the intended meaning of the phrase which i see in pointing out that people should be kept thinking in certain ways, curtailing imagination, creativity, and freedom. teuflisch gut (darn well) actually contradicts the meaning of stupid in the original.
    – collapsar
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 15:45
  • @collapsar: we do not know where the quote is from nor what the intention of this quote may have been. So all is open for speculation - nevertheless I never heard of "geistiges Gefängnis", and would not really know what it is supposed to mean if we had just invented it. However I made an edit to reflect both, positive, and negative connotations.
    – Takkat
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 16:50
  • @Takkat the quote was made up by me when I wrote this post on my blog. I was reflecting on a few things.
    – JGallardo
    Commented Mar 22, 2014 at 0:07

Warum nicht Folgendes?

Das ist bloss ein Märchen, ein dummes Märchen, das Leute seelisch fesselt.

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