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I found the following phrase:

Il faut toujours viser la lune, car même en cas d'échec, on atterrit dans les étoiles

A literal English translation would be "You always need to point at the moon, because even if you fail, you'll land in a star" (of course the meaning is that one must always work hard to achieve something great without fearing of failing, because even if one don't succeed, something good will come out of it).

My question is:

How a German speaker will translate this phrase? I'm not looking for a literal translation (I can find one just by writing it on an online translator), but I'm interested in knowing how in Germany one would make reference to this phrase, or if there's a German proverb/famous phrase with a similar spirit.

Edit (16th November):At the beginning I attributed this aphorism to the Irish writer Oscar Wilde, but it seems that the origin of this phrase is not quite clear, so I will remove that part from the formulation of my question. For a further discussion see the wonderful answer provided by Paul Frost.

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  • Is it from "Salomé"? Or is it a translation from English to French?
    – Paul Frost
    Nov 12 '21 at 23:35
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    I did some "GoogIe research" and found that it seems to have an English origin: Shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. But it is not clear whether it is from Oscar Wilde. Some sources attribute it to Norman Vincent Peale (whoever he is). See goodreads.com/quotes/…. Anyway, it is irrelevant who created it.
    – Paul Frost
    Nov 13 '21 at 0:47
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    It happens quite often that an aphorism is attributed to a certain person although there is no evidence. Also see german.stackexchange.com/q/53588/34192 and en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Giordano_Bruno.
    – Paul Frost
    Nov 13 '21 at 0:53
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    Also look at goodreads.com/author/show/8435.Norman_Vincent_Peale. It is plausible that the phrase occurs in one of his books.
    – Paul Frost
    Nov 13 '21 at 0:56
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    Wilde, who died 1900, might be excused by the poor scientific education of his time, but nowadays every child knows, that if you miss the moon you will travel till the end of your life without the slightest chance of ever landing on a star, which wouldn't be useful anyway, since they are suns and pretty hot. A better excuse for Wilde is, to attribute it to someone else. Nov 13 '21 at 10:56
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It seems that the aphorism has an English origin: Shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. But it is not clear whether it is from Oscar Wilde. Many sources attribute it to Norman Vincent Peale. Quote from Wikipedia:

Norman Vincent Peale (May 31, 1898 – December 24, 1993) was an American minister and author who is best known for his work in popularizing the concept of positive thinking, especially through his best-selling book "The Power of Positive Thinking". He served as the pastor of Marble Collegiate Church, New York, from 1932 until 1984, leading a Reformed Church in America congregation.
Peale was a personal friend of President Richard Nixon and he influenced other US presidents as well.
His ideas and techniques received criticism from church figures and from psychiatric professionals.

A book with the "The Power of Positive Thinking" seems to be a good candidate to contain your aphorism. Of course the author may have quoted Oscar Wilde, but I doubt it.

The aphorism sounds very nice, but Peale's philosophy also has a "dark side". Let me quote from here:

"Das Opfer eines Minderwertigkeitskomplexes sieht alle Fakten durch die Brille der schwarz-weißen Einstellung. Das Geheimnis der Korrektur dieser Einstellung besteht einfach darin, dass man eine normale Sichtweise annimmt, und das bedeutet, dass man sich immer der positiven Seite zuneigt." NORMAN VINCENT PEALE
Dabei zitiert er Menninger: "Einstellungen sind wichtiger als Fakten."

Doesn't this resemble alternative facts?

Anyway, the origin of the aphorism is irrelevant, you asked for a German translation. Here are two suggestions:

Versuche stets den Mond zu erreichen - auch wenn es Dir nicht gelingt, wirst Du bei den Sternen ankommen.

Setze Dir große Ziele - und Du wirst immer etwas Wunderbares erreichen.

Update:

Michael Kay comments that the quote is also attributed to W. Clement Stone. As Peale he was a proponent of a "positive mental attitude" to be successful in life. For the quote see here. I did again some "Google research" and found that variants of the quote have been attributed to many people. See here:

  1. „Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.“ — Norman Vincent Peale

  2. „Shoot for the moon, even if you fail, you'll land among the stars“ — Cecelia Ahern Irish novelist 1981 Quelle: P.S. I Love You

  3. „Shoot for the moon, because even if you miss, you'll land in the stars.“ — Les Brown American politician 1945

  4. „Reach for the stars and even if you miss you will land among the stars“ — Wendy Mass American children's writer 1967 Quelle: Jeremy Finl & the Meaning of Life

  5. „If you shoot for the stars, you'll at least hit the moon“ — T. Harv Eker American writer 1954 Quelle: Secrets of the Millionaire Mind: Mastering the Inner Game of Wealth

  6. „Aim for the moon. If you miss, you may hit a star.“ — W. Clement Stone American New Thought author 1902 - 2002 As quoted in The Power of Choice (2007) by Joyce Guccione, p. 199 also attributed to Oscar Wilde (1854–1900) and Les Brown (1912–2001) Misattributed

Also look at this to find even more similar quotes. It is remarkable that 3. occurs in the alternative form „It is better to aim high and miss than to aim low and hit.“

Therefore I believe that we cannot really identify the creator of the aphorism. I think it has been circulating for a very long time and many people used it, perhaps not consciously knowing that they have heard it somewhere before.

The whole thing reminds me of a question concerning a quote attributed to Otto von Bismarck; see What is the original German version of Bismarck's phrase about intentions and capabilities? It is not clear whether he ever said it, but is nevertheless popular in Russia (though not in Germany).

Let me close by quoting Giordano Bruno:

Se non è vero, è molto ben trovato. (If it is not true it is very well invented.)

I hope this does not apply to itself.

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  • This is exactly what I was interested in knowing, thank you very much for your help !
    – Amelian
    Nov 13 '21 at 2:47
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    The quote is also attributed to W. Clement Stone, another American author of popular self-help books from the same era. Nov 13 '21 at 18:40
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I'd say that the original phrase is too lyrical to have an equivalent phrase that is not a literal translation.

A German proverb with a similar spirit would be

Wer nicht wagt, der nicht gewinnt

which has two obvious differences: Firstly, it is much more direct in what it wants to say, and second it uses negation which alters the meaning: Instead of saying „effort will always get you somewhere“ it says „no effort will get you nowhere“, which makes the phrase more pessimistic.

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  • I wouldn't say pessimistic but realistic. Nov 13 '21 at 8:30
  • @infinitezero Pessimistic relative to the original phrase, realistic in absolute terms.
    – flyx
    Nov 13 '21 at 10:59
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My suggestion for the German translation.

Ziele auf den Mond. Selbst wenn du ihn verfehlst, landest du zwischen den Sternen.

This sounds to me much better than the suggested ones.

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An internationally used proverb that seems to have very similar meaning is the Latin fortes fortuna adiuvat. In English it's typically translated as fortune favours the bold (or the brave), in German as “den Mutigen hilft das Glück”. The term “das Glück des Tüchtigen” is also closely related.

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While reading your question I remembered

Denke riesig, werde groß

which is no German proverb, however. At least no listed one.

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My first impression was that "Shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars" has a very positive meaning and encourages people to pursue ambitious goals. Certainly that was the intention of the person who created it and all answers support this point of view.

But I think it is somewhat ambiguous. Yes, in the night sky the moon looks big and the stars look small, so the "obvious" interpretation is that you should have big goals, and even if you do not achieve them, you will still reach something precious, though perhaps a bit less than you wanted. And of course reaching the stars has a very positive connotation in itself.

On the other hand, the phrase says "shoot for the moon" - as an archer shooting arrows at a target. But isn't in this mental picture the moon just the biggest available target in the sense that it can most easily be hit? In other words, the interpretation could be to select the easiest goal because you will most likely achieve it. And even if you do not succeed, you get a consolation prize by hitting (unintentionally) smaller and more distant targets with your arrows.

My suggestion in this sense:

Setze Dir gut erreichbare Ziele, dann wirst Du nicht leer ausgehen.

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    Even if this points out some interesting reflections on the aphorism, it doesn't even try to provide an answer.
    – tofro
    Nov 16 '21 at 12:09
  • @tofro Right, see my update. Nov 16 '21 at 17:38

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