I'm reading the Harry Potter series in German to brush up on the language. I came across the following sentence:

»Dieser Lockhart ist schon ein toller Hecht, nicht wahr?«

So I guess it's saying something good about him. I looked up "Hecht" and found that it's a pike (the fish), which doesn't really help me understand the phrase; clearly it's an idiom. So I looked at the American version of the book:

“That Lockhart's something, isn't he?”

From the rest of the paragraph, it's clearly a positive "something," but I still don't really get the phrase.

Is this a common idiom? Am I interpreting the literal translation correctly, he's a "great fish"? I wouldn't think that's positive, is it really? Is there a more enlightening idiomatic translation than "really something"?

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    – Em1
    Jul 6 '14 at 18:57
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    I am neither an English nor a German native speaker but the title sounds a bit strange to me. Shouldn't it be: "Was bedeutet hier ...?" Or is "meinen" possible here as well?
    – Giorgio
    Jul 8 '14 at 17:45
  • @Giorgio As far as I'm aware, "meinen" is appropriate here. And since none of the native German speakers here have bothered to change it, it seems to be fine.
    – Kevin
    Jul 8 '14 at 17:49
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    @Kevin: I have been living in Germany for a while and I normally hear the verb "meinen" applied to people like in "Was meinst du?" = "What do you mean?" (but also, "What do you think, what is your opinion?"). I can't remember hearing "meinen" applied to objects but, as I said, I am not a native speaker and I may well be wrong. If no native corrects it it is probably OK.
    – Giorgio
    Jul 8 '14 at 17:54
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    To me, "meinen" as used in the title, is a word for word translation from English. Here it means "what opinion does the pike have".
    – Robert
    Mar 13 '16 at 16:28

So I guess it's saying something good about him.

Ja, wobei es oft auch ironisch verwendet wird. Ein toller Hecht ist ein erfolgreicher Mann, jemand der wegen seiner Verwegenheit, Coolness etc. bewundert wird.

Is this a common idiom?

Ja, durchaus, wobei ich vermute, dass es zunehmend seltener verwendet wird.

Am I interpreting the literal translation correctly, he's a "great fish"?

Die Herkunft ist umstritten. Hecht ist nicht irgendein Fisch, sondern ein sprichwörtlicher Raubfisch (vgl. "Der Hecht im Karpfenteich"). Als "Hecht" wurde zunächst also nur eine räuberische Person bezeichnet, bevor sich die Bedeutung allgemein zu "Kerl" oder "Mann" gewandelt hat.

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    DWDS.de tells us that one of the origins of hecht is "mhd. hecken, hechen 'hauen, stechend verwunden'". So someone who is a toller Hecht could be someone who did well in the battlefield by taking out many enemies. Jul 8 '14 at 7:31
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    In my experience, "toller Hecht" is predominantly used in the ironic sense.
    – Raphael
    Jul 10 '14 at 10:12
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    Vielleicht gehört hier noch dazu, dass sich die Bedeutung von "toll" (ursprünglich: "verrückt") inzwischen (fast vollständig) zu einem (bewundernden) "super" gewandelt hat. Ich kenne den Ausdruck vom "tollen Hecht" allerdings auch nur im ironischen Sinne, meinend, dass der "Hecht" sich hauptsächlich selbst "toll" findet.
    – tofro
    Mar 12 '16 at 18:42

I don't think "ein toller Hecht" is meant to be ironic; it is just a bit old fashioned. It describes a man who is attractive to women. By contrast, a woman who is attractive to man is "eine flotte Biene", not "eine tolle Hechtin".

Also: in German, we'd say "was bedeutet" (for "what means"), and not "was meint"


When I was thirteen (in the sixties), my German lessons at school in the Netherlands started. The teacher wat a father, (a catholic priest).

In his first lesson he said "let's get the main question aside, being "What is German for 'A Nice Girl' in all it's varieties". He gave an impressive list of German idiom on this subject, on which "Ein toller Hecht" featured. "Enjoy!"he said, "After today, I will not discuss this subject any more".

This one was so odd, that I have not forgotten it in over 50 years...

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    Really wouldn't occur to me to use it for a female. The idiom definitely is used for males only. That said, thanks and welcome to the German Language SE 😆 Mar 12 '16 at 19:53
  • Eine tolle Hechtin? xD
    – Jan
    Apr 19 '16 at 16:11

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