Ich bin gespannt wie ein Bettlaken

Is this metaphor or not?

From here:

  • A metaphor states that one thing is another thing
  • It equates those two things not because they actually are the same, but for the sake of comparison or symbolism
  • If you take a metaphor literally, it will probably sound very strange (are there actually any sheep, black or otherwise, in your family?)
  • Metaphors are used in poetry, literature, and anytime someone wants to add some color to their language

In my opinion, the sentence above can't be a metaphor. But everyone in my company keeps telling me it is one. So please can someone bring light into this issue?

Why I think it is not a metaphor: The word gespannt has different meanings: stretched and excited in English. In the context of Bettlaken only the meaning for stretched can be applied. But in context of Ich bin only the other meaning makes sense. So it's not the case that the same meaning is transmitted into another context.

If compared to gebrochenes Herz (broken heart), which is a metaphor: A heart can not literally get broken. So the word broken is used as a symbol. But a Bettlaken can be gespannt. What symbol could that be?

The intention was probably to say

I am very excited

But a Bettlaken can be gespannt properly or less properly. It gives no clue whether the person is very excited or only excited on a normal level.

1.) Stating that one thing is another thing: Does not apply here. Because I is not said to be something else then the person who speaks this sentence.

2.) Equation of two things for the sake of comparison or symbolism: Does not apply. Bed sheets can never be curious or excited. So no symbol is used here.

3.) It does sound strange if taken literally.

4.) May apply here, too.

  • 1
    I just wanna throw the obligatory "Gespannt wie ein Flitzebogen" out there, which should be clearer in terms of how "gespannt" it is. Commented Sep 19, 2019 at 15:53

2 Answers 2


This is a metaphor. What your mind seems to stumble about is the fact, that it is also a catachresis (de: wikipedia, en: wikipedia). The term catachresis has a couple of different (but similar) meanings. I am referring to the definition that a catachresis is a metaphor perceived as dissonant, where either two parts in the allegoric domain of the metaphor do not fit semantically or where the allegoric domain does not seem to fit to the literal domain of the metaphor.

The point here is, that gespannt is used in two meanings, which have quite some conceptual distance: The "Bettlaken" is "gespannt" in a very mechanical way, while "Ich" is "gespannt" in a merely figurative way. The sentence

Ich bin gespannt wie ein Bettlaken.

emphasises this distance of the literal and the figurative meaning and thus renews the catachrestic aspects of the figurative meaning of gespannt. The catachresis is further intensified by the fact that "Bettlaken" does not stand prototypical for things which come to your mind if you think about something which is "gespannt": Even though it is totally normal to use the verb spannen with the object Bettlaken and there is even the word Spannbetlaken, the idea of "tension" which is the source of the figurative meaning of gespannt is not prototypically represented in a "Spannbettlaken", but rather in a spring. The concept of Spannbettlaken does not have the idea of this inner tension, and this is the source of the catachresis here, I would say.

  • Ich bin überzeugt wie ein lügender Beschuldigter. Darum bin ich jetzt verstimmt wie eine Harfe. (Man weiß ja: Die Harfenistin stimmt immer. Die Harfe stimmt nie.) Commented Sep 19, 2019 at 15:21
  • 1
    I contradict your last sentence, as a lot of Bettlaken are "Spannbettlaken". With this in mind the sentence contains another play on words.
    – mtwde
    Commented Sep 19, 2019 at 16:25
  • @ChristianGeiselmann Auch der Harfenist stimmt immer. Die Harfe stimmt höchstens eine Stunde, oder bis ein Fenster geöffnet wird.
    – harper
    Commented Sep 19, 2019 at 17:35
  • @mtwde I don't see a contradiction between what you say and the last sentence of my post. But I added a more detailed explanation of my claim.
    – Jonathan Herrera
    Commented Sep 19, 2019 at 19:35
  • 1
    @ChristianGeiselmann OT: Ich fühle mich dadurch aber nicht angesprochen sondern ausgegrenzt. Und nur weil es jetzt "in Mode" ist, würde ich es nicht als die "moderne Form" nennen, wenn ein paar Leute den Unterschied zwischen biologischem Geschlecht und grammatikalischen Genus nicht kapieren. Ich möchte aber nicht diese Frage hier missbrauchen und hier weiterdiskutieren.
    – harper
    Commented Sep 19, 2019 at 20:09

Nein, das ist keine Metapher, sondern ein bildhafter Vergleich.

Der Unterschied zur Metapher besteht darin, dass der Vergleich explizit gemacht wird:

Ich bin gespannt wie ein Bettlaken.

Bettlaken und Flitzebogen sind wohl als bildhafte Vergleiche nicht etabliert genug, um auch metaphorisch eingesetzt zu werden. Dagegen:

Du bist meine Morgensonne.

wäre eine Metapher, während

Du bist wie die Morgensonne für mich.

wieder ein bildhafter Vergleich wäre.

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