In German there is a phrase that describes a fictional animal that can lay eggs and at the same time provide wool, milk and meat. Also this animal manages to finish your tasks yesterday (funny).

This animal is metaphorically describing a solution with only advantages and no losses. You can hear it, for example, in meetings and discussions when nobody wants to give in.
Somebody might say "Oh I see, we need a "Eierlegende Woll-Milch-Sau" here!".

The phrase is:

"Eierlegende Woll-Milch-Sau(, die seit gestern schon fertig ist.)"
German article about this.
English article about this.

Translated each word separately, this would give you:

Egg laying wool-milk-sow (being done since yesterday).

So is there a common term natives use sometimes to describe the same thing in English?
What I've found so far is a "chief cook and bottle washer", who obviously can't compete with the German animal.


Summary of answers (so far):

We need to find a silver bullet otherwise we will not meet our targets.
We won't ever finish our project if we keep trying to invent a Holy Grail.
My boss is asking the impossible!
I'm not a miracle-worker. He might as well ask me to part the red sea/walk on water/for a unicorn.

It should ironically point out that something is impossible.

Yes...Sure, I am to invent a holy grail for him. What a @#!"#&*!

  • You seem to have a list of answers at the bottom of your post, so why are you asking the question?
    – David Z
    Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 11:27
  • @DavidZ - That summary was edited in by the O.P. after the answers were given. That may not be customary on ELL, but I don't see anything wrong with doing so.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 1:24

6 Answers 6


EDIT: If the perfect solution is hypothetical, and can't exist in real life, we describe it as a 'Holy Grail'. Here are a couple of examples:

  1. We won't ever finish our project if we keep trying to invent a Holy Grail for our customers
  2. I know you want to hire a doctor who can also perform surgery, but we've refused a lot of great interviewees in our search for the Holy Grail.

Also : Panacea

It literally means 'a medicine that cures every disease', we sometimes say cure-all instead of panacea because it's not a very common word. Here's an example:

He wrote his own accounting program as a cure-all for all the money problems his company was having.

Panacea is for when your perfect solution is real and works.

  • I think this "panacea" is supposed to actually work. The German expression kind of implies that there is no way to solve the issue.
    – Avigrail
    Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 10:33
  • 2
    @Avigrail Oh, in which case we say it's a 'Holy Grail', a perfect ideal solution that doesn't exist.
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 10:35
  • So you guys really say things like "A holy grail is what we need here" ? Never heard that before, thanks :)
    – Avigrail
    Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 10:36
  • 3
    @Avigrail Exactly, or maybe someone will say "we're looking for the Holy Grail" as a way of saying "We're trying to find a perfect answer that doesn't exist, we should try something else".
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 10:39
  • 1
    Could you add the Holy Grail in your answer? IMO it would fit better than in the comment. Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 10:57

You seem to be looking for something with a mythological component. I've seen the term silver bullet used, borrowed from its magical powers to kill werewolves in fictional literature.

NOAD defines this usage as:

silver bullet (noun) a simple and seemingly magical solution to a complicated problem

and the website etymonline.com says this term goes back a couple centuries:

silver bullet (n.) "very effective, almost magical remedy," 1808. The belief in the magical power of silver weapons to conquer foes goes back at least to ancient Greece.

The term is somewhat widely used by software engineers, thanks to Fred Brooks' landmark No Silver Bullet paper, but is used in other areas as well. National Public Radio did a story called:

No 'Silver Bullet' For Ending America's Dropout Crisis

I'm not sure how the egg-laying milk sow is used in German, but, in English, the term "silver bullet" often doesn't refer to the solution we need, but to a solution that simply doesn't exist. It's often an appeal to acknowledge reality, uttered in a context similar to, "There's no silver bullet for this."

There are a few exceptions, though; I found one blogger who mused:

It will be a very difficult challenge....but we need to find a 'silver bullet' otherwise we will not meet our targets.

  • 1
    I think this one is pretty close, I like it. Even if the phrase itself is not as spectacular as the German one :p You assumed right, that the phrase is used to describe kind of an 'impasse'. We often use it when one's boss is asking for the impossible. So the use is very often 'ironical'.
    – Avigrail
    Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 11:09
  • Seems like this is AE vs. BE here! So far, I like both of them and can't decide which one to accept, yet.
    – Avigrail
    Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 6:49


This one works well in a scientific/technical setting.

Unobtainium is an element/material that is infinitely strong, has zero mass, is impervious to all wear, chemicals, etc., and costs nothing.

  • 1
    +1 How do I go about getting some of this..un-obtain-ium? Welcome to ELL!
    – Adam
    Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 18:12

You can sometimes refer to someone being

"all-singing, all-dancing"

if you want to convey the fact that they are "omnicompetent":

"what we need around here is an all-singing, all-dancing chef..."

  • This one sounds funny :) but again this somehow is too realistic.
    – Avigrail
    Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 10:35
  • @Avigrail This one was originally a slogan used to describe large, extravagant musical theater shows, in which all the cast members would both sing and dance (and act!) It's easy enough to find a few people who can sing, dance, and act, but casting dozens of them in the same show ... that's harder; even with the entire population of New York City to choose from.
    – zwol
    Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 1:52

J.R.'s suggestion of "silver bullet" is a very good one, but I would suggest the related but slightly different "magic bullet".

As an aside, the closest thing that American popular culture probably has to an Eierlegende Woll-Milch-Sau is the Shmoo, created by cartoonist Al Capp. It can be eaten raw, fried, boiled, or roasted (and tastes different and delicious each way); it produces eggs, milk, and butter; its skin can be used as leather or lumber; its eyes can be used as buttons and its whiskers as toothpicks. Sadly, the Shmoo is not a very current reference, so people probably won't understand if you use the word!


"The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg" or "The Golden Goose" is the one that comes to mind for me. People usually use it to describe a person or a situation that produces almost-miraculously all-positive results, or that keeps producing results of great value. It seems to be the same idea as your German phrase, minus the specific details.

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