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33 brilliant idioms that simply can’t be translated literally

How do you put a lipstick on a pig? And why do you need to put fuel to the fire?

We asked different translators to share their favorite idioms. The results are uniquely funny!

 

Johanna Pichler – translator from German
The idiom: Tomaten auf den Augen haben.
Literal translation: You have tomatoes on your eyes.
What it means: You are not seeing what everyone else can see.

The idiom: Ich verstehe Нур Bahnhof
Literal translation: I only understand the train station.
What it means: I don’t understand a thing about what that person is saying.

The idiom: Die Katze им Sack kaufen .
Literal translation: To buy a cat in a sack.
What it means: That a buyer purchased something without inspecting it first.

 

Matti Jääro – translator from Swedish
The idiom: Det är ingen ko på isen
Literal translation: There’s no cow on the ice.
What it means: There’s no need to worry.

The idiom: Att glida in på en räkmacka
Literal translation: To slide in on a shrimp sandwich.
What it means: It refers to somebody who didn’t have to work to get where they are.

The idiom: Det föll mellan stolarna
Literal translation: It fell between chairs.
What it means: It’s an excuse you use when two people were supposed to do it, but nobody did. It has evolved into the slightly ironic phrase, like when you want to say: “Yeah, I know I was supposed to do it but I forgot.”

 

Kelwalin Dhanasarnsombut – translator from Thai
The idiom: เอาหูไปนา เอาตาไปไร่
Literal translation:
Take ears to the field, take eyes to the farm.
What it means: Don’t pay attention.

The idiom: ไก่เห็นตีนงู งูเห็นนมไก่
Literal translation: The hen sees the snake’s feet and the snake sees the hen’s boobs.
What it means: It means two people know each other’s secrets.

The idiom: ชาติหน้าตอนบ่าย ๆ
Literal translation: One afternoon in your next reincarnation.
What it means: It’s never going to happen.
A phrase that means a similar thing in English: When pigs fly. In French: When hens have teeth. In Russian the same idea is conveyed by the phrase: When a lobster whistles on top of a mountain. And in Dutch: When the cows are dancing on the ice.

 

Ilze Garda and Kristaps Kadiķis – translators from Latvian
The idiom: Pūst pīlītes
Literal translation: To blow little ducks.
What it means: It means to talk nonsense or to lie.
Other language connections: In Croatian, when someone is obviously lying to someone, you say that they are “throwing cream into their eyes”.

The idiom: Ej bekot
Literal translation
: Go pick mushrooms.
What it means: Go away and leave me alone.

Patrick Brault – translator from French
The idiom: Avaler des couleuvres
Literal translation: To swallow grass snakes.
What it means: It means being so insulted that you’re not able to reply.

The idiom: Sauter du coq à l’âne
Literal translation: To jump from the cock to the donkey.
What it means: It means to keep changing topics without logic in a conversation.

The idiom: Se regarder en chiens de faïence
Literal translation: To look at each other like earthenware dogs.
What it means: Basically, to look at each other coldly, with distrust.

The idiom: Les carottes sont cuites!
Literal translation: The carrots are cooked!
What it means: The situation can’t be changed.
Other language connections: It’s bit like the phrase, “It’s no use crying over spilt milk,” in English.

Aliaksandr Autayeu – translator from Russian
The idiom: Галопом по Европам
Literal translation: Galloping across Europe.
What it means: To do something hastily, haphazardly.

The idiom: На воре и шапка горит
Literal translation: The thief has a burning hat.
What it means: He has an uneasy conscience that betrays itself.

The idiom: Хоть кол на голове теши
Literal translation: You can sharpen with an ax on top of this head.
What it means: He’s a very stubborn person.

Gustavo Rocha and Leonardo Silva: translator from Portuguese
The idiom: Quem não tem cão caça com gato
Literal translation: He who doesn’t have a dog hunts with a cat.
What it means: You make the most of what you’ve got.

The idiom: Empurrar com a barriga
Literal translation: To push something with your belly.
What it means: To keep postponing an important chore.

The idiom: Pagar o pato
Literal translation: Pay the duck.
What it means: To take the blame for something you did not do.

Kinga Skorupska – translator from Polish
The idiom: Słoń nastąpił ci na ucho?
Literal translation: Did an elephant stomp on your ear?
What it means: You have no ear for music.

 

Yasushi Aoki and Emi Kamiya – translators from Japanese
The idiom: 猫をかぶる
Literal translation:
To wear a cat on one’s head.
What it means: You’re hiding your claws and pretending to be a nice, harmless person.

The idiom: 猫の手も借りたい
Literal translation:
Willing to borrow a cat’s paws.
What it means: You’re so busy that you’re willing to take help from anyone.

The idiom: 猫の額
Literal translation:
Cat’s forehead.
What it means: A tiny space. Often, you use it when you’re speaking humbly about land that you own.

The idiom: 猫舌
Literal translation:
Cat’s tongue.
What it means: Needing to wait until hot food cools to eat it. Yes, Japanese has quite a few cat idioms. J

 

Askhat Yerkimbay – translator from Kazakh
The idiom:
Сенің арқаңда күн көріп жүрмін
Literal translation: I see the sun on your back.
What it means: Thank you! I am alive because of your help.

 

Ivan Stamenkovic – translator from Croatian
The idiom: Doće maca na vratanca
Literal translation: The pussy cat will come to the tiny door.
What it means: What goes around comes around.

The idiom: Da vidimo čija majka crnu vunu prede
Literal translation: We see whose mother is spinning black wool.
What it means: It’s like being the black sheep in the family.

 

Tharique Azeez – translator from Tamil
The idiom: தலை முழுகுதல் (Thalai Muzhuguthal)
Literal translation: To take a dip or pour water over someone’s head.
What it means: To cut off a relationship. 

The idiom: தண்ணீர் காட்டுதல் (Thanneer Kaattuthal)
Literal translation: Showing water to someone.
What it means: It means to be someone’s nemesis. 

 

Valerie Boor – translator from Dutch
The idiom: Iets met de Franse slag doen
Literal translation: Doing something with the French whiplash.
What it means: It means doing something hastily. 

The idiom: Iets voor een appel en een ei kopen
Literal translation: Buying something for an apple and an egg.
What it means: You bought it very cheaply. 

What are your favourite idioms?  

 

Source: ted.com

mitra33 brilliant idioms that simply can’t be translated literally

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