I'm sure most people here are familiar with the saying Ehrlich währt am längsten, which is roughly equivalent to "Honesty is the best Policy." (The literal, and alliterative, translatation is "Honest lasts longest.") But shouldn't it actually be Ehrlichkeit währt am längsten? The wonderful usage database at DWDS only turns up results for the sans-keit version, so it's definitely the version that is commonly used. But the reason I'm bringing this up is that Wiktionary claims that it's grammatically incorrect or outdated. So the first question is whether it's okay in German to turn a random adjective into a noun without adding the expected -heit or -keit. I'm pretty sure doing the equivalent in English would be unusual but not always actually wrong, and there's the English saying "Clever is as clever does." The second question is whether Ehrlich währt am längsten is considered outdated. Perhaps the English equivalent is a bit old-fashioned, but no more than that.

  • Some people modify this to the unethical "Ehrlich währt's am längsten". Sadly enough, this has proven to be true in the real world. – Paul Frost Jun 24 '20 at 23:54
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    @PaulFrost: Would you care to explain what that variation means? I seem to "auf dem Schlauch stehen" ;) – O. R. Mapper Jun 25 '20 at 5:06
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    @O.R.Mapper "Ehrlich währt es am längsten" soll bedeuten, dass man mit Ehrlichkeit den längsten Weg zum Erfolg hat. Mit Lug und Trug geht es schneller. – Paul Frost Jun 25 '20 at 16:27
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    @PaulFrost: Aha. Finde ich persönlich jetzt nicht so eingängig, aber das mag daran liegen, dass ich mich etwas schwer damit tue, "währen" mit der negativen Bedeutung von "dauern" (sich unerwünscht lange hinziehen, sich verzögern) in Verbindung zu bringen. Und wenn man eine solche negative Bedeutung annimmt, ist mir auch nicht klar, wieso "Ehrlich währt am längsten." eine andere Bedeutung haben sollte als "Ehrlich währt's am längsten." – O. R. Mapper Jun 25 '20 at 22:03
  • @O.R.Mapper Mein Kommentar hat auch nicht wirklich etwas mit der Frage zu tun ... – Paul Frost Jun 25 '20 at 22:23

„Ehrlich währt am längsten“ is not outdated. It is a bit old-fashioned, but not uncommon in modern context.

It has, as far as I can tell, also not been replaced by a newer saying.

„Ehrlichkeit währt am längsten“ would be more grammatically correct, but is rarely ever used.

As mtwde said, „Ehrlich währt am längsten“ contains an ellipsis. Such stylistic devices are quite common with sayings, as they’ve been refined over the years.

To answer your questions: yes, it should be „Ehlichkeit“; no, it is not okay to use adjectives as noun without -keit or -heit (save maybe few odd cases and poetry); no, it is not considered outdated.

  • Thanks. I found this video which proves that at least it's currently well known. I'm tempted to call it an idiom, but it is understandable when translated literally, just not completely grammatically correct. Meanwhile, Wiktionary has been updated to remove the offending claims. – RDBury Jun 30 '20 at 10:12

Ehrlich währt am längsten is a really old German saying. Ironically, it can also be found in Karl Leberecht Immermann's famous book "Münchhausen" (written in 1838/39), for example.

When you look up "Ehrlich" in the Deutsches Wörterbuch (DWB) you will find this entry, which mentions your saying.

bei den folgenden redensarten kann man sich den inf. sein oder leben hinzu denken: ehrlich macht reich, aber langsam gehts her; ehrlich währt am längsten. [...] erklärt sich nach ehrlich adj. 6.

In short: There is some kind of ellipsis in this sentence and you may add a "sein" to it.

Ehrlich sein währt an längsten.

With this in mind "ehrlich" is more of an adjective than a noun and a literal translation would be

Being honest lasts longest.

  • Hmm, I feel like you're answering the question I should have asked instead of the question I did ask. Anyway the expression goes back at least to 1800, see google.com/books/edition/… So are you saying the expression is or isn't grammatically correct? And if so, is an implicit 'sein' okay with other adjectives or just 'ehrlich'? And are you saying that the expression is outdated or that it isn't? – RDBury Jun 25 '20 at 9:42
  • @RDBury From my point of view it's not incorrect. It sounds outdated, but there are a lot of idoms with this "problem". e.g. "Schuster bleib bei deinen Leisten" (try to find someone who knows the meaning of Leisten without googling ^^) – mtwde Jun 30 '20 at 19:44

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