Are there any (incriminating) idioms in German similar to "Draining the swamp", which is American for "weed out all the bad guys"?

Besides similar phrases, is this idiom itself understood by contemporary German, Austrian and Swiss people when said equivalently in German? Bonus points: Would this idiom be understood by 1940s Germans during wartime, or was there a more common catch phrase back then?

1 Answer 1


The German idiom is

die Sümpfe trockenlegen; das Trockenlegen der Sümpfe
to drain the swamps; the draining of the swamps

This is one of the rare cases where an idiomatic phrases uses the exactly same words in English and in German.

There is a famous quote from Rudolph Kirchschläger from 1980 (Kirchschläger was Austrian federal president from 1974 to 1986) where he criticized a political scandal in Austria (AKH-Skandal):

Beginnen wir also überall mit dem Trockenlegen der Sümpfe und nehmen wir [...] auch gleich die sauren Wiesen dazu!
So let's start draining the swamps everywhere and let's [...] add the acidic meadows as well!


This quote is famous in Austria and »Sümpfe trockenlegen« is well understood at least in Austria, and I guess also everywhere else where German is spoken.

The phrase was unknown before 1910 and it's frequency stayed low up to the middle of the 1940ies. After WWII the frequency of this phrase quickly reached the level that is has today, with some fluctuation.

Ngram: Sümpfe trockenlegen

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    Might be a regional thing, but I haven't heard the plural version before, albeit often the singular "den Sumpf trockenlegen"
    – Arsak
    Commented Jan 22, 2022 at 21:07
  • 2
    "Sumpf trockenlegen" or "Sump austrocknen" seem more common to me than the plural form. Google seems to agree: books.google.com/ngrams/… Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 10:03

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