Here at the Vancouver-based Endpaper Blog we write our posts in English, but we appreciate literature written in a variety of languages from around the globe. After all, just because we aren’t fluent in all the world’s languages doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate some great foreign expressions.
In the past, we’ve taken a look at untranslatable words that perfectly capture the hard-to-describe emotions that make us human and also suggested some words and phrases English writers should consider borrowing. Today we have uncovered ten idioms that are commonly used in other languages but may be unfamiliar to English speakers. Try mixing one of these into your next piece of writing and really impress your polyglot readers!
Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy
Literal Translation: Not my circus, not my monkeys.
Idiomatic Meaning: Not my problem.
Literal Translation: A person who wears gloves to throw snowballs
Idiomatic Meaning: A coward, someone who criticises from afar
Att glida in på en räkmacka
Literal Translation: To slide onto (or in on) a shrimp sandwich
Idiomatic Meaning: Someone who didn’t have to work to get where they are (like the English expression “born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth”)
Գլուխս մի՛ արդուկեր (klookhys mee artooger)
Literal Translation: Stop ironing my head!
Idiomatic Meaning: Stop repetitively annoying me!
Literal Translation: Even monkeys fall from trees
Idiomatic Meaning: Everyone makes mistakes
Abrir la caja de los truenos
Literal Translation: Open the box of thunder
Idiomatic Meaning: Doing something to cause a lot of problems (like English speakers would say opening “a can of worms” or “Pandora’s box”)
Literal Translation: To blow little ducks
Idiomatic Meaning: To talk nonsense
Sambil menyelam, minum air
Literal Translation: When diving, drink water
Idiomatic Meaning: Do two things at once (killing two birds with one stone)
Conoscono i miei polli
Literal Translation: I know my chickens
Idiomatic Meaning: I know what I’m talking about
Quem não tem cão caça com gato
Literal Translation: He who does not have a dog, hunts with a cat
Idiomatic Meaning: You have to make do with what you have
What’s your favourite non-English idiom?
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From Bernese German:
Chrigu, la d’Gitzeni usä, diä Frömdä wei Gemschäni gschouä!
= Chrigu, let the kids loose, those strangers want to see chamois!
(Chrigu being the familiar form of the male first name Christian and very frequent, especially among farmers; kids being young goats of course, not children; and strangers meaning tourists coming to the mountains.)
Bernese German doesn’t have standardized orthography. So when we write in our mother tongue occasionally, everbody does it phonetically according to his or her personal ear or region. That’s why it’s awfully hard to read in our own language. Nevertheless, we do have written literature too, our own pantheon of singers, poets, and even novelists, next to a very rich oral tradition and flourishing spoken word scene.
Thanks for sharing this with us (and for translating the keywords). It is hard enough to learn the standards of a more widely spoken language, so we can only imagine the intricacies of mastering a mainly spoken dialect like Bernese German!
The Paperblanks Team
Chelului tichie de mărgăritar îi lipseşte
Literal translation: A hat made of diamonds is all a bald man needs.
Meaning: One is focused on decoration and embellishments instead of addressing the critical issues.
I forgot to mention the language of the saying above – is Romanian.
This is great… and so true! Thanks for sharing, Cami.