An interesting question, Francis. Thank you for posting it.
Keep in mind that the English "mean" can be translated by "meinen" and
"beabsichtigen" as well as by "bedeuten" and "besagen."
I'm not a native speaker or expert, but I believe I would translate "I
say what I mean" by "Ich sage, was ich meine." That is because here the
English "mean" means "refer to/have in mind," and I think "meinen" would
be the best translation for that.
As for "I mean what I say," here the English "mean" means "to be earnest
or serious about"; and, again, I think that "meinen" rather than
"bedeuten" would be the best translation.
(Note for example "I mean it!" = "Das ist mein Ernst!" or "Ich meine das
I agree there are times when "besagen"and "bedeuten" can be
interchanged; but just as I would not use "bedeuten" in your example, I
would not use "besagen" either.
As for the difference between "besagen" and "bedeuten," I would say that
the primary meaning of "besagen" is "say" whereas the primary meaning of
"bedeuten" is "signify/denote/symbolize." So while there will be some
overlap, there will also be contexts where one is better than the other.
1. Rote Wolken bedeuten schlechtes Wetter.
2. Sein Benehmen besagt viel über sein Wesen.
I don't think I would use "besagen" in 1 or "bedeuten" in 2. But what do
the experts say?
Francis J. A. Pinteric wrote:
> Grüß Mitglieder un Prosit Neujahr!
> There is a saying in English, "I say what I mean and mean what I say."
> As a beginner it seems to me that I may be able to render this into
> German as, «Ich sage was ich besage und ich besage was ich sage.» It
> has a nice flow to it for me. As a beginner German speaker, though,
> I'm wondering if the hearer may get a different impression. Worse,
> perhaps there is a way of saying this using some already existing
> German idiom I am not aware of.
> Normally I would choose 'bedeuten' to signify an intention and an
> importance, but 'besagen' can also mean the same thing. What's the
> So my question really has three parts. Does my use of 'besagen' here
> convey what I intend say, and if there is a significant difference
> between 'besagen' and 'bedeuten' when would I choose one over the
> other? Finally, is there already some German idiom I can use to say
> the same thing?
> Viel Danke.