Das Kind mit dem Bade ausschütten

German Proverb: “Das Kind mit dem Bade ausschütten”

Direct Translation: “Pour the baby out with the bath”

Common Translation: “Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water”

My informant doesn’t consider himself fluent in German, but he’s taken several years of German coursework.  Last year he was studying a course reader and at first glance, he thought he had read that someone killed their baby.  However, when he read the page over again and realized it was just this proverbial expression that he recognized in English.  He could not recall the first time he had heard the expression in English, however.

My informant understands the proverb to mean that one should be careful not to discard something worth holding onto.  While a baby in a tub of bath water may be the most extreme example of this sentiment, my informant likes to use it because it’s dramatic and this makes it useful as a persuasion tactic. He also suggested that this proverb is commonly used because anyone can discard something they would rather keep and that there is no German significance to the proverb, other than that its origin.

With respect to using the proverb, it comes in handy when convincing that there may be valuable material in what may seem to be a trash.  The idea is that one can get another party to be careful not to confuse important material with junk.  It is also important to note that with the advent of better indoor plumbing, bath water no longer has to be thrown out, given that most modern showers have drains.  So the popularization of modern indoor plumbing indicates a time period that the proverb existed before, or a terminus ante quiem.  It’s important to realize that regardless of the change in technology, this proverb continues makes sense because the context can be understood.

I recently heard this proverb in a chemistry lecture.  The professor was explaining that when constructing a certain diagram, it was only required that we only had to represent the lowest energy model.  In this case, we were allowed to leave out part of a diagram.  He used the proverb to encourage the class not to discard a part of the diagram that was still needed.  In accordance with my professor’s example, I also believe it means not to get rid of anything you might need when discarding what you don’t.