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My German was far better as a child then it is now. I am currently attempting to re-learn it. During this review, an anecdote that I've repeated frequently has come under scrutiny.

While in Switzerland, I was quizzing my sister in front of a small figure of the three wise monkeys. I asked her to translate "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil". Looking now the expression in German seems to be "nichts (Böses) sehen, nichts (Böses) hören, nichts (Böses) sagen".

Immediately after that exchange, we were approached by a strange man who explained that "here" they say "Sehe alles. Höre alles. Spracht nichts." (The grammar might be off but that is what I remember.) He then proceeded to explain what that meant to him as to how we should behave though out lives. I coincidentally met that memorably man several times over several years in several countries which is why this story is usually worth remembering.

At the time (and until today) I assumed what he told me was accurate but cannot find the expression online. Is this an actual German (or Swiss or Austrian) expression or his own creative speech on how we should grow? It may be Schweizerdeutsch as the exchange occurred in Basel.

  • Well...the third verb should be "spreche nichts", if it should be in line with the other two. – Veredomon Oct 22 '14 at 20:15
  • @Veredomon Yeah, this logical grammar difference from what I remember is what caused to search for it. I explictly remember the "t" sound so he might have said "Sprecht nichts" but his explanation works better with the more logical grammar. – anotherguest Oct 22 '14 at 20:44
  • See also de:WP, Drei Affen, Bedeutungswandel in der westlichen Welt (change of meaning in the western world) with link to en:WP, too. – Gerold Broser Oct 22 '14 at 20:46
  • Well, if Sehe alles. Höre alles. Spracht nichts. should contain imperatives, then it should be Sieh alles. Hör(e) alles. Sprich nichts. – Chris Oct 22 '14 at 21:03
  • Most dialects would use sagen instead of sprechen here, so Alles|Nichts sehen, alles|nichts hören, nichts sagen! or Sehe X, höre X, sage nichts! using weak imperative or Sieh X, hör X, sag nichts! with strong imperative. – Crissov Oct 29 '14 at 8:13
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I think it's his own expression. I never heard that version and I also didn't find anything on the internet. The grammatical correct version would be: "Alles sehen. Alles hören. Nichts sagen."

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