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“If She Had Wheels, She’d Be a Vehicle” Means “You Can Wish All You Want For Things That Won’t Be Happening”

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Katya in Jacksonville, Florida, says her German-speaking parents think that when someone expresses a wish, it’s hilarious to respond with the German saying Wenn Oma Räder hätte, wäre sie ein Omnibus, which means “If Grandma had wheels, she’d be a bus.” Katya likens that saying to one she says she’s also heard: If I had ham, I’d make a ham and cheese sandwich if I had cheese. Versions of the German saying appear in Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, and Yiddish, among others. One Spanish version translates as “If my aunt, instead of skirts had wheels, she wouldn’t be my aunt, she’d be a bicycle.” Another German version from 1876 features a wheeled aunt instead of a grandmother: Wenn die Tante Räder hätte, wär’s ein Omnibus. Although the vehicle changes in various versions around the world, it’s usually a female with the wheels, whether grandmother, aunt, or mother-in-law. This is part of a complete episode.

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