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I vaguely remember a German expression that means "not the sharpest tool in the shed" that can be literally translated to "not the brightest light on the Christmas tree". Is there actually a saying similar to the one I recall, and what is its exact phrasing?

9

There exists the expression

nicht die hellste Kerze am Baum (sein)

which translates to "Not (being) the brightest candle on the tree", presumably a christmas tree, as we don't put candles on trees that often.

It means someone is not very smart (or bright).

There also exist Variations:

nicht die hellste Kerze (sein)

nicht die hellste Kerze auf der Torte (sein)

... auf der Torte = ... on the cake

Article about the expression by a German radio station


There are a few other expression linking intelligence to light, eg:

  • Nicht der/die hellste sein: Not being the brightest
  • Keine grosse Leuchte sein: Not being a big lamp
  • Another similar way: "Nicht die hellste Birne im Kronleuchter" – Em1 Dec 5 '19 at 8:23
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It's

Er ist nicht (gerade) das hellste Licht.

You could add unter der Sonne, am Baume or similar colourful adverbials depending on the season.

Er ist keine Leuchte.

is similar and also common.

  • 4
    "Unter der Sonne" passt bei Licht ziemlich schlecht, denn die Sonne zu überstrahlen fällt ja auch den hellsten artifiziellen Lichtern äußerst schwer - das will man aber nicht ausdrücken, sondern einen Vergleich unter Seinesgleichen, bei Christbaum oder Tortenkerzen. – user unknown Nov 26 '19 at 18:35
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I know the expressions mentioned in the previous answers; but in parts of Eastern Germany, where I am from, the following expressions are more common:

  • Er ist nicht der hellste in der Birne.
  • Sie ist nicht die hellste in der Birne.

Notice that Birne does not only name the fruit (pear), but that it is also used to refer to a light bulb and, colloquially, to a person's head.

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