I have found this used in another quote from the movie "Der Untergang" and the dialogue goes something like this...

Wir halten die Stellung bis zum Letzten!

"Und welche Stellung soll das sein? Das ist keine Stellung, das ist eine Falle! Die Russen nehmen euch in die Zange und ihr könnt nicht mal wegrennen!"

I actually kind of understand it idiomatically and it is an idiom. However, on Linguee this phrase shows up as "to heckle" which I'm 100% sure isn't what is going to happen in the next scene from the film.

So my question is, what is the true meaning and usage? I would like to be able to add this idiom to my vocabulary. Also, is it specific possibly region specific?

  • Everyone's answers and thoughts on this was amazing! You all make learning german so much fun!
    – Autumn
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 18:42

4 Answers 4


jmdn. in die Zange nehmen

This proverb goes back to the grip, plier or pincer (Zange) tool of a blacksmith used to hold the glowing iron while forging.

Some people also believe there was an analogy to medieval torture tools in addition but this may not have been the main source of this figurative meaning.

So whenever there is an often figurative meaning of holding somebody or a process thightly in a grip we may use in die Zange nehmen. This does not imply a military context in most cases but it always needs a forced action. This "force" does not need to be of physical nature but most often it will be emotional pressure (like e.g. in a cross examination).

enter image description here
Er faßt ihn mit der Zange
dem Teufel wird es bange
W.Busch: Schmied und Teufel

Derived from a military maneuver is the near identical English expression: Pincer movement.

  • Very awesome answer, I especially like the picture. A very nice touch. The only the I'm left wondering is when could I possibly say this aside from situations where someone is getting surrounded or cut off from something? I can think of some gaming or movie contexts of course.
    – Autumn
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 18:46
  • @Autumn See edit - it is mostly used in a figurative meaning.
    – Takkat
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 19:30

It is actually a figurative expression. just picture yourself using pliers on an object: the business parts of the pliers will approach the object from the sides, as compared to anything approaching (or in this case, attacking) from the front. In a military context this means that you attack from the weaker sides, hoping to result in encircling the enemy completely.


I think the origin of the phrase in die Zange nehmen is a military maneuver that's called pincer movement in English. The German word for it is "Zangenangriff". The enemy is attacked on both flanks. The own forces are moved in the shape of a pincer. See English or German Wikipedia.

I think in the film "Der Untergang" this phrase is used in this military context. But the phrase is also used figuratively. For example

Der Kommissar nimmt den Verdächtigen in die Zange.

means that the police inspector questions the suspect very intensely. Wiktionary suggests to grill somebody as translation.

I think this phrase is not limited to a specific region in Germany.

  • It would be interesting so see what expression was used earlier in German in die Zange nehmen or Zangenangriff/Zangenbewegung to see which might be derived from which.
    – Konadi
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 15:48
  • I find your example a bit weird however. In die Zange nehmen usually implies two (seldom more) seperate entities simultaniously closing in on their common target - reflecting the mental image / semantic aspect of the tool (pincer / prongs) it takes the name from. To me it sounds weird using in die Zange nehmen referring to a single actor/person (Kommissar). I think in den Schwitzkasten nehmen would fit better.
    – Konadi
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 15:54

In this case, given the military context,

etwA in die Zange nehmen

means to encircle something by offensively mimicking the form of a Zange: two units restricting movement of the target by actively engaging / closing in on it from different sides.

  • Forgive me for nitpicking, but I disagree. Both einkreisen and in die Zange nehmen have the semantic aspect of restricting/denying the movementof the target, however einkreisen implies - as it's right there in the word - positioning all around the target. Einkreisen also has a more passive quality to it, while In die Zange nehmen usually is used in an active*/*offensive situation, two units restricting movement of the target by actively engaging / closing in on it from different sides
    – Konadi
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 15:46
  • @Konadi I forgive you. Just kidding. Thanks for the instruction. Actually I didn't even know the meaning and looked it in the dictionary.
    – c.p.
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 18:26

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