1

The idiom

Er soll vor der eigenen Tür kehren

means 'He should mind his own business'. (Of course, I use 'he' here, but any other pronoun works just as well.) However, its literal meaning is 'He should sweep in front of his own door'

What is the origin of this idiom? How did the idea that one should sweep in front of one's own front door turn into an idiom about minding one's own business?

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  • This saying has an entry in Redensarten-Index, which claims that it's been documented since the 16th century and is probably older.
    – RDBury
    Jun 3, 2022 at 15:13
  • I support the opinion, that there is only an overlap in meaning, not a perfect match, and minding ones own business is a metaphorical expression as well, since most people don't own an own business. Jun 3, 2022 at 18:18
  • Falls der Spruch alt genug ist und sich dem Schrifttum dahingehend vorenthält, wäre Zusammenhang mit Karren bzw. einkehren (Rast machen) denkbar. Man kennt doch die Schilder, "Parken vor der Einfahrt verboten".
    – vectory
    Jun 13, 2022 at 20:32

3 Answers 3

6

In addition to what @planetmaker wrote, I think that 'He should mind his own business' is not the best translation.

"Er soll vor der eigenen Tür kehren" is directed at someone who criticizes others, but has issues themselves that they should take care of first. It's basically the same meaning as the bible verse (from Matthew 7):

Remove the plank from your own eye before the mote from your neighbour's.

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  • 4
    Very true! In an exchange like "What are you writing there?" - "Mind your own business.", "Kehr [lieber/erst mal] vor deiner eigenen Tür." is absolutely not an adequate translation of the response. Jun 3, 2022 at 13:00
  • @O. R. Mapper: Although the idioms have similar literal meanings, the interpretations are different, so I can see why this is confusing. The German one is more about being critical of others when you have your own faults. The English one is more about respecting someone else's privacy. There is a certain amount of overlap though. I don't know if there's an idiom in English with the same meaning as the German saying. But there's another bible quote (from John) which is similar: "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."
    – RDBury
    Jun 3, 2022 at 15:46
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    @RDBury Linguee examples seem to suggest that "He should put his own house in order." is used. I can't judge if this is idiomatic in English.
    – HalvarF
    Jun 3, 2022 at 16:07
  • @HalvarF: Yes, I don't thinks it's used that often but enough to be recognizable. MW online gives it as "We should get our (own) house in order before we criticize others for their mistakes." It's not idiomatic in the sense that you'd use it in other contexts though; normally you'd just say "clean house" or something similar.
    – RDBury
    Jun 3, 2022 at 20:21
5

IMHO it's reasonably obvious: don't mind or at least complain about the dirt in front of my (or anyone else's door) while there is dirt in front of your own which (also) needs sweeping.

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In my opinion the translation "He should mind his own business" is inadequate. Although Linguee claims that this English phrase means "Er soll vor der eigenen Tür kehren", it seems to me that it rather means "Er soll sich um seine eigenen Angelegenheiten kümmern".

As HalvarF has explained in his answer, "Er soll vor der eigenen Tür kehren" is normally a response to criticism from another person who has his own failings. "Er soll sich um seine eigenen Angelegenheiten kümmern" is not necessarily a rejection of criticism, it can also mean rejection of any interference, even it should be sound advice.

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