I recently came across (paraphrasing) Das habe ich aus dem Hinterzimmer des Ladens mitgehen lassen. Apparently mitgehen lassen is an idiomatic and euphemistic way of saying "to pilfer". I'm wondering how the literal meaning connects to the idiomatic meaning. It sounds like the item followed the person out of the store like a lost puppy; is that a fair interpretation? There are entries in Redensarten-Index and English (not German, for some reason) Wiktionary, but neither gives any explanation for the origin.

  • 4
    "It sounds like the item followed the person out of the store like a lost puppy; is that a fair interpretation?" Basically, yes. And the person didn't prevent that, even encouraged it.
    – user6495
    Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 6:24
  • There is a very similarly structured idiomatic phrase you might be interested in as well: etw. rüberwachsen lassen = 'to hand sth. over'. Again, it features lassen as if the object would hand over itself (like in case of mitgehen lassen: steal itself) Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 0:57
  • @amadeusamadeus: Thanks. I'm not sure I can reconcile "hand over" and "grow over", but some idioms are just unexplainable.
    – RDBury
    Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 2:38
  • @RDBury Just to be sure: the expression is rankly jocular as well. Of course a chewing gum, e.g., can't 'grow over', but for this very reason I find the mechanism behind 'to let sth. grow over' (rüberwachsen lassen) the same as with 'to let sth. come along' (mitgehen lassen). Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 13:37

3 Answers 3


to be dragged along with something else

is simply a literal meaning of "mitgehen", meaning 2.). Also frequently used to describe processes that have side effects.

Example, very up-to-date:

Bei dem Hochwasser gingen Sträucher, Bäume, Autos und sogar Häuser mit.

Thus "Das habe ich mitgehen lassen" simply translates to

I allowed or didn't prevent or used little effort that this one got dragged along with me

with "lassen" introducing a passive, trivialising aspect. It can have a few meanings in English, here an apt one would probably be "to allow".

In the end, it means

I stole this.

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    yes, like jmd. mitnehmen, erfassen (mit dem Auto). The question was basicly where that's from. It is not from the DWDS, is it? And it says nothing about lassen
    – vectory
    Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 8:17
  • desch hascht dir em ausgdocht
    – vectory
    Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 10:27
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    So you're saying the item got caught up in the wake as the person left, like a leaf in the wake of a speeding car. Or somehow the item got stuck to the person by static electricity, and it wasn't noticed until it was too late. As similar expression in English is "it fell of the back of a truck", but while both the speaker and the hearer know there was no truck, the story is plausible enough that both can pretend it's true. I guess the German is more humorous than euphemistic.
    – RDBury
    Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 12:31
  • @RDBury We don't speak about the details of the physical interaction, that would be unprofessional :-). Yep, "Ist vom Laster gefallen" is actually the same in German. Maybe an English equivalent for "hab' ich mitgehen lassen" could be "Got a five finger discount for this" ?
    – user41853
    Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 13:36
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    @a_donda: I thought LKW was more common, at least it's the term I'm more familiar with, though that means little. So Leberkäse contains neither liver or cheese, but people fry it up, put it on a bun and call it "LKW". I think the closest thing to it that's available where I am is SPAM :)
    – RDBury
    Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 3:13

Wiktionary lists the meaning at least, but the corresponding lexeme page is not yet created.

Note, that mitgehen lassen as non-idiom means "permit sombody to walk with someone" (i.e. accompany him/her) and any corpora hit earlier than ca. 1970 is likely to have that "normal" meaning.

I had considered the idiom as not much more than an euphemism, downplaying the own participation in the theft, in the sense of "I did not reject something hopping into my bag".

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    Your right, it is in German Wiktionary under Redewendungen. The Egon Kisch quote is from 1925 and seems to use the idiomatic meaning, but the next one seems to be from 1972. That's kind of what I was thinking, "It hopped into my bag," "It fell into my pocket," "It followed me out," all have the same general idea that the person only "allowed" the item to do something.
    – RDBury
    Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 13:37

I don't see a need to refer to "walking" instead of the more general "go".

gehen lassen is equivalent to let go, and the preposition mit implies a common direction.

The verbal phrase has a plain meaning: if a kid wants go with its friends to somewhere, the parents may let it, if the group will take it with them (compare mitnehmen).

A logical conclusion seems to be that it could be that it is ironic, self-reflexive, proposing command of the object to let it go. This might appear ironic or absurd.

It is offensive in the first place to assume command of the object, but the intent is usually kept secret in case of thieving. A thought crime, it is difficult to construct an Abstraktes Gefährdungsdelikt. Therefore, for all intents and purposes, everyone perceives the taking and going as infraction into somebody's possession, and calls it accordingly.

On top of that, lassen suggests that the action is effortless, as it should be to remain undetected.

That is to say, it only implies pilfering, as you say.

One might imagine that it had more basic implications, I'm wondering about dispatchers in logistics letting go a little extra for one reason or another, which might become collusion or criminal negligence to the detriment of the owner. Or it could be one of those infamous reinterpretations of Bargoens or other thieves cant, but that does not seem to be suggested. All things considered, it seems very literal.

Instead of a dog from a pet shop, it might also have referred to innocent children, I suppose, since kidnapping must have been rather lucrative at some point, in which case verleiten would have been a better choice of words, compare to lead, lead astray, lead away, but I can't quite tell if this is related or not (computer says no).

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    "gehen lassen is equivalent to.let go" No, it's not. "let go" is equivalent to "loslassen".
    – user6495
    Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 6:21
  • Also, do you have some issue with your space bar?
    – user6495
    Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 6:22
  • @Roland what, are you complaining the pronoun is missing, "let sb. go"? Other than that, Yes, I installed a new touch keyboard with smaller spacebar.
    – vectory
    Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 7:32
  • No, I'm not. dict.leo.org/englisch-deutsch/let%20go
    – user6495
    Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 8:04
  • linguee.com/english-german/translation/let+go.html
    – vectory
    Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 8:13

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