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This phrase appears in the DWDS entry for freuen. It refers to a fable, repeated in both the English and German Wikipedias, where the wren becomes king of the birds. Is the phrase still used now or is it the kind of thing you only hear in fairy tales?

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  • It is still in use. See also here or here. – Paul Frost Nov 19 '20 at 0:12
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    The "official" German name for the wren is Zaunkönig. With that name it appears in the Brothers' Grimm fairy tail "Der Zaunkönig". This goes of course back to Aesop's Fable about the wren outwitting the eagle to become king of the birds. I doubt that there is connection between the fairy tail and the above phrase. Probabyl the phrase is based on the wren's behavior - it seems to enjoy life even in winter. I moreover guess that nowadays not too many people are aware that "Schneekönig" is a synonym for "Zaunkönig". Perhaps they do not even have the idea that it is a bird. – Paul Frost Nov 19 '20 at 9:40
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    And maybe future generations will not even know what "Schnee" is. – Paul Frost Nov 19 '20 at 9:42
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    @PaulFrost: "Perhaps they do not even have the idea that it is a bird." - actually, I was just about to post a comment related to this ... indeed I never had the idea that "Schneekönig" could be a bird; my mental image for "sich freuen wie ein Schneekönig" was always that of a jolly fantasy creature that lives in the snow and rules there, for whatever reason. Or, maybe in a more mundane interpretation, that of a happy little child playing in and crafting stuff with the snow and thereby, so to speak, being "a king of snow". – O. R. Mapper Nov 19 '20 at 9:54
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    @O.R.Mapper In fact, when I was a child, I had a similar idea as you. I can't remember when I learnt that it actually is a bird. This shows that our ancestors lived in a "different world" than we do. For most modern people, nature is no longer an essential part of their life, and even if they know the official word "Zaunkönig" and understand that it is a bird, they probably have never seen one or could identity it when they see one. I added my comment to my answer because it seems to be not completely irrelevant in the context of the question. – Paul Frost Nov 19 '20 at 10:30
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It does not only oocur in dictionaries etc., it is really used in everyday German. It does not prove anything if I tell you that I use it at suitable opportunity and that I also hear it not so seldom. But look at

Example 1

"Wir würden uns wie ein Schneekönig freuen, wenn wir mit einer Null aus der Krise kommen", erklärte Patrick Dahmen, Vorstandsvorsitzender der HDI Lebensversicherungs AG.

Example 2

Oder diejenigen, die sich bei jeder gesichteten Flocke auf den Webcams schon wie ein Schneekönig freuen.

Example 3

Und wenn eine Veranstaltung reibungslos abläuft und auch noch gute Einnahmen in die Vereinskasse spült, kann ich mich immer wieder selbstlos wie ein Schneekönig freuen.

Example 4

Würde mich wie ein Schneekönig freuen, wenn der nächste "Nicht-FC Bayern-Meister" eben RB Leipzig und nicht der BVB wird.

Example 5

Wie ein Schneekönig freuen können Sie sich winters im gemütlichen Haus mit Saunaanlage.

Also look at this.

Remark:

The "official" German name for the wren is Zaunkönig. With that name it appears in the Brothers' Grimm fairy tail "Der Zaunkönig". This goes of course back to Aesop's Fable about the wren outwitting the eagle to become king of the birds. I doubt that there is connection between the fairy tail and the above phrase. Probably the phrase is based on the wren's behavior - it seems to enjoy life even in winter. I moreover guess that nowadays not too many people are aware that "Schneekönig" is a synonym for "Zaunkönig". Perhaps they do not even have the idea that it is a bird.

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  • Thanks. It's hard to tell from a dictionary whether to spend time learning this kind of thing; sometimes it's an everyday expression you should have in active vocabulary and sometimes it's just a time waster since you'll never hear it used in real life. This one is very cute and charming, and the wren fable is now stuck in my brain anyway, but I'm trying to work out how much time I should put into keeping there long-term. – RDBury Nov 19 '20 at 1:12
  • Additional remark: I have the feeling it's often used with a slight touch of irony, at least when used by younger people. But maybe that's true for most idioms. And in fact, it's used surprisingly often. – kopaka Nov 19 '20 at 13:39
  • Yeah, that phrase is always used with a smirk ;-) – toolforger Nov 19 '20 at 14:44
  • @RDBury My feeling is that it's rarely worth it to memorize sayings like this while you are still actively studying vocabulary. Even comparatively common ones really aren't that common (i.e., not stuff you will hear every day), and more often than not you'll figure out from context what it means. And if a saying is more common in your circles (i.e., because a German friends likes and uses it) you'll remember it automatically anyway. – xLeitix Nov 19 '20 at 17:13

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