The World is a Handkerchief: Our Favourite Idioms from Different Languages

Earlier this week we published a post by the author of our new book, Idiomatic Mastery in a First and Second Language, Monica Karlsson. This got us thinking about the idioms we’ve come across in different languages. Here are some of our favourites…

Laura

I like this one from German, which I think means that you’re mad. It is particularly poignant here as we do have all our cups in the cupboard! We must be a very sane office 😊

“Sie hat nicht alle Tassen im Schrank.” – She doesn’t have all her cups in the cupboard.

I also like “Être gourmand comme un chat” as it roughly translates as to eat like a pig, but has the added element of having high standards about what you eat, possibly reflecting the more stereotypical French appetite compared with the English one!

 

 

Flo

The French idiom “Poser un lapin à quelqu’un”, literally “To put a rabbit to someone”, or “Stand someone up” has always stuck with me… it makes something mean sound a lot cuter!

I like it when idioms reflect the culture of the country that language is spoken in, like the Russian “Любишь кататься – люби и саночки возить” – “If you like sledging, you’ve got to like pulling the sledge”, the idea that in order to do something we love, we have to do things we don’t – there is no pleasure without pain!

Another one is “Ни пуха, ни пера.” – “К чёрту!” This is like the English “Break a leg” whereby you wish someone bad luck in the hope it will bring them good luck, but in Russian it’s a hunting metaphor – you say “Neither down, nor feather” and they respond “To hell!”

 

Tommi

Finnish is rich with idioms…

Like “Katosi kuin pieru saharassa” – “Disappeared like a fart in the Sahara”…. Most recently used by film director Aki Kaurismäki to describe the leaders of the Brexit leave campaign who, when faced with any real responsibility, “disappeared like a fart in the Sahara”….

Or “Ei oo kaikki muumit laaksossa” – “To not have all the Moomins in the valley” – i.e. “One can short of a six pack”

Or “Juosta pää kolmantena jalkana” – “To run with your head as a third leg” – or to be in a massive rush but not really be very effective at it…

 

Rose

My favourite Somalian phrase, which I feel is my life’s motto:

“Canjeelo siday u kala korreyso ayaa loo cunaa” – As the pancakes are piled, so they should be eaten.

 

Elinor

My favourite Spanish idiom is: “El mundo es un pañuelo” which literally means “The world is a handkerchief” meaning “It’s a small world”.

In German, I like the phrase: “Man kann nicht auf zwei Hochzeiten tanzen” which literally means “You can’t dance at two weddings” or “You can’t have your cake and eat it.”

 

 

 

For more information about Idiomatic Mastery in a First and Second Language please see our website.

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