There are many words and phrases out there that have no exact translation into English. Some make a bit of sense, but there are also certain idiomatic phrases and expressions that are downright mind-boggling when translated into English. Here are a few of the latter:
#1 “The old lady with cakes has already passed by.”
This Croatian gem means that an opportunity has passed: you missed your chance. The next time you see an old lady carrying a tray full of cakes, you’d best tackle the woman. Get those cakes!
#2 “There are many wonders in a cow’s head.”
Now, there are many fabulous aspects of Icelandic culture, and their sprightly language is certainly one of them. This expression is roughly equivalent to: “Well, doesn’t that beat all.” Should you come home to find that a troll has moved into the space beneath your sink, this would be the appropriate saying to blurt out.
#3 “The pot that is full does not splash.”
The general idea of this expression, taken from the Kannada tongue of southern India, is a description of someone who isn’t merely conceited and pompous, but is insufferable because he or she is unaware of their jackassery. Most of us probably know at least one person who fits that description.
#4 “To fart off your suspenders.”
Here in Quebec, there are a number of interesting expressions and this one is no exception. It means “to burst with pride”, which would undoubtedly cause one’s suspenders to snap off. Considering this region’s fondness for beans, I have little doubt as to its origins.
Speaking of Quebecois French…
#5 “The Devil’s in the cows”
This apparently means that the weather will be changing soon, but what weather has to do with cows, I have no idea. I apologise on behalf of everyone in this province.
#6 “Wearing a cat.”
A Japanese expression that implies that someone is putting on a facade of being cute, meek, and quiet, while really being none of those things. Considering that my cat is a mouse-murdering, neurotic weirdo, I don’t think that wearing him would give quite the impression of sweetness that this saying would imply.
#7 “Don’t let someone else eat the cheese off your bread.”
I’ve heard a few different explanations for this Dutch expression, and although the one that makes the most sense has to do with not allowing someone else to take credit for what you’ve done, I have to wonder if that’s the real meaning. If you know it, please don’t hesitate to explain it in the comments section below.
#8 “It fit like ass on a bucket”
Where would we be without subtle, gentle German phrases? This colourful and illustrative expression means “a perfect fit”, much like one would achieve by wedging one’s backside into a bucket.
#9 “That breaks my clog.”
Considering the clog reference, you may have inferred that this is another Dutch gem, but the idea behind it is akin to: “Well, that takes the cake.” It’s an expression of amazement that’s reserved for occasions when something really unexpected happens… like seeing a sheep behind the wheel of a neighbour’s car, or noticing that the windmills have been replaced with spinach.
#10 “Stop your chariot!”
Although one would have little need to yell at someone to stop their chariot nowadays, this French expression (from France, rather than here in French-Canadian land) is a request for another to stop bluffing/bullshitting. The next time someone claims to have done something and you know it’s a load of bollocks, just yodel “Arrête ton char!” at them and see how they react.
#11 “To become a goat.”
This is another one that hails from France, and it means to be driven mad. If you’ve ever seen an angry goat, you can well understand how this saying came to be.
In all honesty, I think that some of these phrases should make their way into common vernacular, so please—don’t hesitate to pepper your daily speech and written exchanges with them. Before we know it, they’ll have worked their way into everyone’s vocabulary, and English as a whole will be a much more colourful language because of them.
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