Context: the man is traveling by train and it's going to see his family again after a long period of time.

Er war allein im Abteil.

Vor Jahren hatte er sich von seiner Familie trennen müssen - denn er war mit dem Gesetz in Konflikt geraten, wie es so schön hieß.

I'm not sure at all on how I understand or translate the last part.

I believe here heißen = to mean.

Maybe here schön = nicely

My idea is that he was saying that he had conflict with the law but in reality he did bad things and he was responsible for them but he was avoiding saying or admitting it. So somehow this last part means he was put those things in a "nice" way saying he had conflict with the law.

Does it make sense? Is this more or less correct or I'm completely off track?

Thanks for your help.

  • I'd say, the preterite of the last subclause is suspicious. This is a statement not related to the story told; it is still valid and therefore I would use present tense (wie es so schön heißt).
    – guidot
    Commented Jan 31, 2022 at 15:19
  • @guidot do you think the preterite is a mistake? Or it could be used that way for the concordance of verbs? Or to describe that he was used to say that in the past all the time, for example.
    – David R
    Commented Jan 31, 2022 at 16:08
  • Yes, I consider it as an error/ clumsy translation/ poor choice. See here: [Präsens is used for]: Etwas ist ein Fakt oder ein Zustand in der Gegenwart.
    – guidot
    Commented Feb 1, 2022 at 19:31

1 Answer 1


wie es heißt means "as they say", literally "as it is being said". wie es so schön heißt is a variation, literally translating to "as it is being said so nicely", and has the same meaning. wie es so schön hieß is the preterite form.

In your example, it expresses that "to have come into conflict with the law" is a rather formal style. One could interpret this passage in way that mit dem Gesetz in Konflikt geraten is used as a euphemism here, meaning that he has done some really bad things.

heißen has some old (sometimes archaic) meanings, which all translate to verbs of saying or telling:

  • jemanden etwas heißen, etwas zu tun - "to tell someone to do something"
  • jemanden etwas heißen - "to call someone something": jemanden einen Lügner heißen - "to call someone a liar".
  • es heißt - "it is being said"
  • You can just say es heißt for "they say* or it is said. This is covered in meaning 5 in DWDS. But not knowing if the confusion is in schön, heißen, or maybe wie, or some idiomatic combination of several of these, this does present a puzzle for people who've never heard this expression.
    – RDBury
    Commented Jan 30, 2022 at 23:58
  • 1
    In this case it is an euphemism, but in most cases it is fairly neutral. A common translation is "as the saying goes".
    – Paul Frost
    Commented Feb 3, 2022 at 11:17

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