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I read today:

Ein weiser Möch sagte einst: "Wenn deine Augen eine Frau erblicken, schlage sie nieder"

Am I misunderstanding something?
Because it is kind of hard to consider knocking down woman as soon as your eyes caught a glimpse of her good advice!

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    I am surprised this question has not made it to the hot network questions yet due to dozens of people visiting it just to find out what’s behind this title.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Jul 19, 2014 at 12:07
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    The German sentence just made my day. I didn't get it until I read hellcode's answer - and I am German... :-) Jul 21, 2014 at 7:21

1 Answer 1

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It is an example of ambiguity. The real meaning of "schlage sie nieder" in this sentence is to look (bashfully) at the ground (open eyes = Augen aufschlagen, look at the ground = Augen niederschlagen), but the first thing you normally think is what you wrote, because nearly nobody uses "Augen niederschlagen" (maybe you would say: "schaue verlegen auf den Boden")

See also Wikipedia:

Alte Mönchsregel: Wenn deine Augen eine Frau erblicken, schlage sie nieder. (Das Wort „sie“ bezieht sich syntaktisch auf das Subjekt des Satzes, also „die Augen“, nach der üblichen Betonung aber auf „die Frau“; diese syntaktische Doppeldeutigkeit ist nur möglich, weil das Wort „sie“ semantisch ein Femininum im Singular oder einen Plural bezeichnen kann.)

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    "Die Augen niederschlagen" means "to look down", not "to close one's eyes".
    – fdb
    Jul 19, 2014 at 9:18
  • For me, "the first thing [I] normally think" (in the german sentence) was the meaning of "to look down". And I find this quite "normally"... What's going on in this country? Aug 20, 2014 at 13:24

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