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What does "Selber selber, lachen alle Kälber" mean literally and figuratively?

As I understand it, it is something a child would say to another child (to insult? to make fun of?). But what is the translation, all the calves are laughing at themselves? And why calves, are they considered stupid, or just because it rhymes? In what situation would it be appropriate to say? I'd really appreciate some context around this saying.

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  • The figurative meaning wasn't too hard to Google, something like "I'm rubber and you're glue, ... " or "I know you are but what am I". I have no idea what calves have to do with it though.
    – RDBury
    Jan 18 at 22:02

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The complete phrase is

Selber, selber, lachen alle Kälber,
lacht der ganze Bauernhof und du bist doof.

As you see it is a rhyme:

selber - Kälber
...hof - doof

The word "Kälber" (= calves) does not have an intrinsic meaning, its only purpose is to form a rhyme.

What does it mean?

It is a response to an insult. For example, child A says to child B something like "Du bist doof" (you are stupid) or "Du stinkst" (you smell). Then child B says to child A "Selber" (yourself) which reflects the insult. It is short for "Du bist selber doof" (you yourself are stupid ) or "Du stinkst selber" (you yourself smell).

It is an old kindergarten mantra: "What you say is who you are".

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  • Where (and when?) I grew up the part after "Kälber" was "lacht die dumme Kuh, und die bist du!"
    – Jan
    Jan 23 at 20:22

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