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  #1  
Old 06-20-2010, 12:21 PM
Cisco Cisco is offline
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Funniest idioms in other languages (that don't translate)

My doctor is from Montenegro. Recently while getting a checkup, he noticed that I had a very subtle, benign heart murmur. After listening to me express concern, he went out of his way to make sure I was comfortable and knew I had nothing to fret about.

"Why, just look how healthy you are, what shape you're in. Look at your body. You could pull the ox's tail!"
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  #2  
Old 06-20-2010, 01:01 PM
kasuo kasuo is offline
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AFAIK, in Mexico 'codo' means "elbow" and used to refer to people who are cheap. The usage I've seen is when a person is being a stingy, another person would tap their elbow and give a knowing look.
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  #3  
Old 06-21-2010, 10:49 AM
wolf-alice wolf-alice is offline
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Good-natured Hungarian toast:

"Baszom a szd szlt, Sanyikm!"

SPOILER:
I fuck the corner of your mouth, my dear Alexander!
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  #4  
Old 06-21-2010, 10:50 AM
wolf-alice wolf-alice is offline
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I dunno if that's strictly an idiom, actually, but you can tell I've been wanting to share it for some time.
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  #5  
Old 06-23-2010, 08:48 AM
auRa auRa is offline
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There are a lot of these in Finnish that are really great to hurl around when mad but lose their brevity and effectivity in translation. For example, the phrase "kyrp otsassa" means "cock on your forehead". When something annoying or irritating is happening for a lengthy period of time and you get increasingly annoyed and pissed off by it, you say you are growing a cock on your forehead. A slightly censored version of this expression is "tatti otsassa", tatti being a boletus mushroom, which somewhat resembles a penis.

Now imagine going through the above explanation with a foreign-exchange student who recognized the word "tatti" and wanted to know why we were talking about mushrooms. It was not a very enlightening conversation apparently.

Another one which I love is "pilkunviilaaja", which means someone who files away at a comma. This means a person who is overly nitpicky over details. A more crude version is "pilkunnussija", comma-fucker.
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Old 06-23-2010, 09:32 AM
Septima Septima is offline
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In Norwegian, if something is really ugly, effed up or shoddily made in some way, it "does not look like the pig".

Not just "a", but "the" pig. I have no idea which pig is being referred to.

And strangely enough, saying that something *does* look like the pig is not a compliment, although it logically should be.
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Old 06-23-2010, 10:20 AM
tdn tdn is offline
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Originally Posted by Septima View Post
And strangely enough, saying that something *does* look like the pig is not a compliment, although it logically should be.
Pigs is cute!

And if you say they're not, I'll burn down your fish pond! (Czech insult.)
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  #8  
Old 06-23-2010, 10:39 AM
matt_mcl matt_mcl is offline
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Some good ones:

enculer des mouches: to pick nits. literally, "to sodomize flies."
accouche qu'on baptise!: Get on with it! or Spit it out! literally, "give birth so that we can baptize!" Often shortened to Accouche!
coiffer sainte Catherine: of a young woman, not to be married yet (with the implication that time is of the essence). Literally, "to give a hat to Saint Catherine": in certain places, the church had a statue of Saint Catherine that was furnished with a new hat every year, and changing the hat was the privilege of unmarried women over 25.
esprit de bottine: simple-minded reasoning; literally, "the mind of an ankle-boot."
peter plus haut que son cul: to be stuck-up; literally, "to fart higher than one's ass."
avoir le front tout le tour de la tte: to be audacious/impertinent/arrogant/chutzpah, to have gall/effrontery/some nerve; literally, "to have a forehead that goes all the way around one's head."
brasse-Canayen: turbulence, frantic activity: literally, "[French]-Canadian-shaking."
s'habiller comme la chienne Jacques: to be dreadfully dressed; literally, "to be dressed like James's bitch" (although whether in the sense of "female dog" or another sense, I do not know).

And a very creepy one:

faiseuse d'anges: a woman who provided illicit abortions, or (in even further bygone days) "disposed" of unwanted infants. Literally, "angel-maker."

Last edited by matt_mcl; 06-23-2010 at 10:41 AM..
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  #9  
Old 06-23-2010, 10:56 AM
Nava Nava is offline
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Two Spanish ESL teachers wrote a book consisting completely of direct translations from Spanish into English; it was so succesful that they did a follow-up. I do wish they had bothered add actual translations to the list of literal ones, though!

The books are called Speaking in Silver (hablando en plata; "calling a spade a spade") and From Lost to the River (de perdidos al ro; "from the frying pan into the fire").

Spanish has a sentence similar to that coiffer sainte Catherine: an unmarried woman who's over marriageable age is said to be "dressing saints", se ha quedado para vestir santos. Another expression is se le ha pasado el arroz, "her rice has been cooking for too long."

Last edited by Nava; 06-23-2010 at 10:57 AM..
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  #10  
Old 06-23-2010, 12:51 PM
Walpurgis Walpurgis is offline
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Spanish has a sentence similar to that coiffer sainte Catherine: an unmarried woman who's over marriageable age is said to be "dressing saints", se ha quedado para vestir santos. Another expression is se le ha pasado el arroz, "her rice has been cooking for too long."
In Swedish, that same woman would be described as hon sitter p glasberget, "she's sitting on the glass mountain."

Some other expressions:
st med skgget i brevldan
, to be stumped or have one's plans dashed. Literally to "stand with your beard (caught) in the mailbox".
f arslet ur vagnen, to get your shit together: "to get your ass out of the pram". Another common phrase with the same meaning is f tummen ur rven, "to get your thumb out of your ass".
ha tomtar p loftet, "to have gnomes in your hay loft". In other words, bats in the belfry.
du ska f dina fiskar varma "you're going to get your fish warm" - you're in trouble!
nu r det kokta flsket stekt: "now the boiled pork has been fried" - we're in trouble!
nu har han satt sin sista potatis: "now he's planted his last potato" - he's done for.

Last edited by Walpurgis; 06-23-2010 at 12:52 PM..
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  #11  
Old 06-23-2010, 01:00 PM
pravnik pravnik is offline
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The most common insult in Czech is "do prdele," which roughly translates to "go to an ass."
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  #12  
Old 06-23-2010, 01:12 PM
Leaffan Leaffan is online now
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Originally Posted by matt_mcl View Post
Some good ones:

enculer des mouches: to pick nits. literally, "to sodomize flies."
accouche qu'on baptise!: Get on with it! or Spit it out! literally, "give birth so that we can baptize!" Often shortened to Accouche!
coiffer sainte Catherine: of a young woman, not to be married yet (with the implication that time is of the essence). Literally, "to give a hat to Saint Catherine": in certain places, the church had a statue of Saint Catherine that was furnished with a new hat every year, and changing the hat was the privilege of unmarried women over 25.
esprit de bottine: simple-minded reasoning; literally, "the mind of an ankle-boot."
peter plus haut que son cul: to be stuck-up; literally, "to fart higher than one's ass."
avoir le front tout le tour de la tte: to be audacious/impertinent/arrogant/chutzpah, to have gall/effrontery/some nerve; literally, "to have a forehead that goes all the way around one's head."
brasse-Canayen: turbulence, frantic activity: literally, "[French]-Canadian-shaking."
s'habiller comme la chienne Jacques: to be dreadfully dressed; literally, "to be dressed like James's bitch" (although whether in the sense of "female dog" or another sense, I do not know).

And a very creepy one:

faiseuse d'anges: a woman who provided illicit abortions, or (in even further bygone days) "disposed" of unwanted infants. Literally, "angel-maker."
And this is why, after four years of (A+) high-school French, I barely have a clue what you guys are talking about.
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  #13  
Old 06-23-2010, 06:54 PM
Hypnagogic Jerk Hypnagogic Jerk is offline
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Originally Posted by matt_mcl View Post
peter plus haut que son cul: to be stuck-up; literally, "to fart higher than one's ass."
I heard it as "pter plus haut que le trou", actually.
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  #14  
Old 06-23-2010, 07:34 PM
Bosstone Bosstone is offline
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Originally Posted by matt_mcl View Post
peter plus haut que son cul: to be stuck-up; literally, "to fart higher than one's ass."
The OP said idioms that dont translate, but I'm totally stealing the English translation of this.
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  #15  
Old 06-23-2010, 08:31 PM
kidneyfailure kidneyfailure is offline
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I've always been amused by the fact that "bragging" in Chinese ("吹牛") literally means "blowing the cow." I'd like to hear the story behind that one.
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  #16  
Old 06-23-2010, 09:09 PM
Cub Mistress Cub Mistress is offline
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German:

Mach' nicht so ein Theater= don't make drama, or as my sister freely translated: Don't turn it into a three-act opera. I use this daily!
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  #17  
Old 06-24-2010, 07:35 AM
EinsteinsHund EinsteinsHund is offline
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Another German:

Du hast nicht alle Tassen im Schrank - You don't have all the cups in the cupboard, meaning: You are crazy. Don't know where it comes from.
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  #18  
Old 06-24-2010, 08:04 AM
flodnak flodnak is offline
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Norwegian: Hun har ben i nesen - She is strong-willed, she doesn't give up easily, she's a fighter - but literally, she has bone in the nose! It seems to be used about women much more than about men, and it is intended as a compliment.
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  #19  
Old 06-24-2010, 08:07 AM
Walpurgis Walpurgis is offline
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Norwegian: Hun har ben i nesen - She is strong-willed, she doesn't give up easily, she's a fighter - but literally, she has bone in the nose! It seems to be used about women much more than about men, and it is intended as a compliment.
Ha! Swedish has the same idiom in hon har skinn p nsan - she has skin on her nose.

Makes you wonder whether noses with skin and bone were outside the norm with our common ancestors.
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  #20  
Old 06-24-2010, 08:42 AM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is online now
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The journal Maledicta apparently ran an article many years ago about cursing in some island (I can't recall which -- I think it was in Southeast Asia), in which "You're Lying!" was given in idiomatic form as "Your asshole is full of blue mud!". It's not all that different from the english equivalent "You're full of shit!", but more picturesquely expressed.



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  #21  
Old 06-24-2010, 08:44 AM
Wallenstein Wallenstein is offline
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Originally Posted by EinsteinsHund View Post
Another German:

Du hast nicht alle Tassen im Schrank - You don't have all the cups in the cupboard, meaning: You are crazy. Don't know where it comes from.
That's kinda similar to various English phrases - "You're one sandwich short of a picnic" etc.

The German one that confused me was "der Hahn im Korb" - it literally means "the cock in the basket", but it means to be a single male in the company of many females (i.e. the only rooster in the henhouse)
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Old 06-24-2010, 09:04 AM
Gustav Gustav is offline
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Originally Posted by flodnak View Post
Norwegian: Hun har ben i nesen - She is strong-willed, she doesn't give up easily, she's a fighter - but literally, she has bone in the nose! It seems to be used about women much more than about men, and it is intended as a compliment.
Isn't that just the same as "she's hard-nosed"?
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  #23  
Old 06-24-2010, 09:46 AM
Frodo Frodo is offline
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"Se agrand Chacarita": extremely hard to translate, used when a an underdog starts winning, or thinks is going to start winning, literally "Chacarita got bigger", Chacarita Juniors being a small second division Football club, that sometimes gets into the first division, and some time in the past defeated the "big ones" the great teams of Argentinian Futbol.
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  #24  
Old 06-24-2010, 10:30 AM
Nava Nava is offline
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Originally Posted by Cub Mistress View Post
German:

Mach' nicht so ein Theater= don't make drama, or as my sister freely translated: Don't turn it into a three-act opera. I use this daily!
Huh, Spanish has deja de hacer teatro (stop turning this into a theater play), used most often to refer to... people who behave like soccer players do after somene has looked at them wrong (Mr referee, Mr referee, he gave me a dirty look! waaaaah!)
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  #25  
Old 06-24-2010, 10:44 AM
Paul in Qatar Paul in Qatar is offline
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tenir un nopale in su frente (Mexican Spanish)
to have a cactus growing from your forehead
to be uncultured, to be a rube.
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  #26  
Old 06-24-2010, 01:11 PM
TruCelt TruCelt is offline
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I don't know what the German translation would have been, but once when my German (ex)Step-Mother got really angry at her first husband, she was heard to yell into the phone "Well, you should lick your hand backwards! ! !"

anybody know what she meant?!?
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  #27  
Old 06-24-2010, 01:27 PM
Johnny Angel Johnny Angel is offline
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In Latin there is an expression Faenum habet in cornū, literally "he's got hay in his horns." Apparently, back in the day they used to tie hay to the horns of bulls that were particularly prone to violence, as a warning. As a metaphor, this meant a person was crazy. But it makes me wonder. Who's job was it to tie hay to the horns of psychotic bulls?
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Old 06-24-2010, 02:11 PM
EinsteinsHund EinsteinsHund is offline
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I don't know what the German translation would have been, but once when my German (ex)Step-Mother got really angry at her first husband, she was heard to yell into the phone "Well, you should lick your hand backwards! ! !"

anybody know what she meant?!?
That would translate to "Du solltest deine Hand rckwrts lecken!", but as a native German speaker, I've never heard that phrase and don't have a clue what it means. Maybe it's a local idiom.
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  #29  
Old 06-24-2010, 02:14 PM
Kyla Kyla is offline
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"Lama cova?" is a Hebrew phrase that means, essentially, "what the heck?". It literally means "why hat?" or maybe "why a hat?"

Why a hat. Indeed.
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  #30  
Old 06-24-2010, 02:21 PM
EinsteinsHund EinsteinsHund is offline
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In Latin there is an expression Faenum habet in cornū, literally "he's got hay in his horns." Apparently, back in the day they used to tie hay to the horns of bulls that were particularly prone to violence, as a warning. As a metaphor, this meant a person was crazy. But it makes me wonder. Who's job was it to tie hay to the horns of psychotic bulls?
Well, in German there is the phrase "Er/Sie hat Stroh im Kopf" (he/she has straw in the head) for a not so bright person, expressing the misfortunate lack of a brain. Maybe there's a connection.
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  #31  
Old 06-24-2010, 03:03 PM
Polly Glot Polly Glot is offline
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The German phrase that stuck with me from my college 101 class was Du liebes bischen. Literally: You love little? Or, you love a little? I can't recall what the figurative meaning is even supposed to be!

And the Spanish idiom I like best: De Guatemala a Guatepeor! From bad (mala) to worse (peor).
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  #32  
Old 06-24-2010, 03:06 PM
Frodo Frodo is offline
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"No rompas las pelotas", meaning "dont bother me", litterally "dont break my balls (testicles)"
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  #33  
Old 06-24-2010, 03:30 PM
mufatango mufatango is offline
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From Brazilian portuguese:

Quebrando o galho: "Breaking the branch" - can mean either "shooting the bull" or "skinning the cat" as in getting something done in an unconventional way.

Ou fode ou sai de cima: "Either start fucking or get off"

Buraco velho tem cobra dentro: "Old holes have snakes in them" - old people can be the trickiest to deal with

Mouros na costa! : "Moors on the coast!" - watch out, someone might hear what you are saying about them, someone might be trying to deceive you

Egua! "Mare!" - darn it!

Droga! "Drug!" - darn it!
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  #34  
Old 06-24-2010, 05:03 PM
Death of Rats Death of Rats is offline
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From Yiddish:

Vahksin zuls du vi a tsibeleh, mitten kup in drerd - May you grow like an onion, with your head in the ground!

I am not sure how this is supposed to be insulting, but my wife and her Jewish friends and family all think it is the most wonderful insult to use. I think it must sound better in Yiddish.

Gai kakhen afenyam - Go shit in the ocean. This one I get, at least.
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  #35  
Old 06-24-2010, 05:30 PM
BwanaBob BwanaBob is offline
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Originally Posted by pravnik View Post
The most common insult in Czech is "do prdele," which roughly translates to "go to an ass."
pravnik-
Do you know of some odd idiom my (Czech) Dad spoke of that is used when you see a dog taking a crap? You're supposed to say it if you see that happening. I believe it's a hex on the dog to make it constipated.

It starts with "pes", which I believe is "dog".

Last edited by BwanaBob; 06-24-2010 at 05:31 PM..
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  #36  
Old 06-24-2010, 05:36 PM
Spavined Gelding Spavined Gelding is online now
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My German National secretary laughed herself breathless when she heard me tell some visitor asking for direction Ich bin Frempt. That she told me translated I am a homosexual. The phrase I wanted was Ich gehe hier Frempt,literally I go here [as a] stranger.
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  #37  
Old 06-24-2010, 06:58 PM
Superhal Superhal is offline
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Korean/meaning/literal

ne podgi haltala/worst insult, like son of a bitch/eat my pussy
geseki/son of a bitch/puppy
yong-ge/beautiful young woman/spring chicken
no-ge/dirty old man/old rooster
nappun yeon/bitch/bad girl
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  #38  
Old 06-24-2010, 07:14 PM
JoseB JoseB is offline
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I have a nice example from Spanish, which is related to the soccer-mania gripping a large portion of the world right now

"Tiene ms moral que el Alcoyano". Literally meaning, "(He/She/It)has more morale than the Alcoyano". Applies to someone who fights tooth and nail for something, never even contemplating the possibility of giving up.

"Alcoyano" is the name of a Spanish soccer club, and this comes from something that supposedly happened many years ago... The whole saying is, actually:

"Tiene ms moral que el Alcoyano, que perda 12 a 0 y an peda la prrroga": "More morale than the Alcoyano, that was losing 12-0 and still was asking for extra time".
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  #39  
Old 06-24-2010, 08:29 PM
dangermom dangermom is online now
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I don't know very many in Danish, but:

at g agurk--to go cucumber, or in English, go bananas
at vre en dd kartoffel--to be a dead potato, or a dead duck
jeg er en heldig kartoffel--I'm a lucky potato, or I'm a lucky guy

I think there are a lot of idioms built around potatoes. I about died laughing the day someone said to me "If we had been on that side of the road we would have been dead potatoes." To the American ear--no matter how Danified--the phrase "dde kartofler" sounds hysterical.

You also have to be very careful, when speaking of skiing, to say "stand on skis," not just talk about skiing. Because if you say you can't ski and don't put in the standing part, you'll say you can't s***.

Last edited by dangermom; 06-24-2010 at 08:30 PM..
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  #40  
Old 06-25-2010, 12:01 AM
Zyada Zyada is offline
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Originally Posted by Nava View Post
Huh, Spanish has deja de hacer teatro (stop turning this into a theater play), used most often to refer to... people who behave like soccer players do after somene has looked at them wrong (Mr referee, Mr referee, he gave me a dirty look! waaaaah!)
I read a lot of regency period romances, and a common idiom used in those novels is "to enact a Cheltenham tragedy" with the same basic meaning. I don't know if it's still in use in modern England.

Last edited by Zyada; 06-25-2010 at 12:02 AM..
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  #41  
Old 06-25-2010, 12:30 AM
kidneyfailure kidneyfailure is offline
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There's another Chinese one, "niu bi," which is some pretty vulgar slang meaning that something is really awesome. It means "cow cunt." I can't figure that one out. How does cow cunt=awesome?

Maybe they know something I don't know...
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  #42  
Old 06-25-2010, 12:35 AM
Siam Sam Siam Sam is offline
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These sort of do translate okay but are fun anway. In Thai, chuck wow literally means "to fly a kite" but is also slang for male masturbation, due mainly to the tugging action on the string. They even have a little song for it, about how the kite rises and such.

Kep dawkmai literally means "to pick flowers" and is slang for female urination, meaning that is what a girl does when she squats down.

Ying kradai is "to shoot a rabbit" and is slang for male urination.
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  #43  
Old 06-25-2010, 12:50 AM
Pyper Pyper is offline
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Some Spanish ones, particular to Spain, as far as I know:

Como una cabra
. "Like a goat." To be crazy. "Don't pay any attention to her, she's like a goat!"
De pata negra. "Black foot." Something really, really good; the best. The breed of pigs that the best Spanish ham comes from are called "pata negra." What's funny is that guys trying to pick up girls frequently refer to themselves as "de pata negra." So you're comparing yourself to ham? That's...persuasive.
Como Manolo con la guitarra. "Like Manolo with the guitar." Always with someone/something. "She's so obsessed with her new boyfriend. She's like Manolo with the guitar." Who's Manolo? I have no idea.

One I read about, but have never actually heard anybody say:

No me frias huevos a mi. "Don't fry eggs at me." Don't make tsking sounds at me.
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  #44  
Old 06-25-2010, 02:25 AM
Nava Nava is offline
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Originally Posted by Johnny Angel View Post
In Latin there is an expression Faenum habet in cornū, literally "he's got hay in his horns." Apparently, back in the day they used to tie hay to the horns of bulls that were particularly prone to violence, as a warning. As a metaphor, this meant a person was crazy. But it makes me wonder. Who's job was it to tie hay to the horns of psychotic bulls?
The same person who le pone el cascabel al gato, hangs a bell on the cat. I understand this one comes from an ancient fable, where the mice, tired of being hunted down by the cat, had a general meeting and, after much toing and froing, decided to hang a bell on the cat so they'd hear her coming. But then someone asked, "ok, so who will do it? Who will hang a bell on the cat?"

The cat still doesn't have a bell, and the idiom refers to facing a scary person (for example, telling the boss that "uh... we'd all like to take off early on Christmas Eve if that's ok, I mean, we don't wanna be a bother but it would be nice...").

Last edited by Nava; 06-25-2010 at 02:27 AM..
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  #45  
Old 06-25-2010, 02:33 AM
Nava Nava is offline
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Related to one of Pyper's, Spanish is full of expressions relating sex or attraction to food. In Pe's first movie, Bardem "eats her tits" (not literally!) saying "this one tastes like potato omelette... and this one, like ham". A good-looking guy est como un pan de kilo (is like a big baguette, and no, it's not a reference to his third leg), if you love someone a lot te lo comeras a besos (you'd eat them with kisses). Oral fixation anybody?

Last edited by Nava; 06-25-2010 at 02:33 AM..
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  #46  
Old 06-25-2010, 02:35 AM
matt_mcl matt_mcl is offline
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The same person who le pone el cascabel al gato, hangs a bell on the cat. I understand this one comes from an ancient fable, where the mice, tired of being hunted down by the cat, had a general meeting and, after much toing and froing, decided to hang a bell on the cat so they'd hear her coming. But then someone asked, "ok, so who will do it? Who will hang a bell on the cat?"
We have the same fable and the same expression in English: "who shall bell the cat?"
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  #47  
Old 06-25-2010, 03:30 AM
Mops Mops is online now
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Originally Posted by Spavined Gelding View Post
My German National secretary laughed herself breathless when she heard me tell some visitor asking for direction Ich bin Frempt. That she told me translated I am a homosexual. The phrase I wanted was Ich gehe hier Frempt,literally I go here [as a] stranger.
That surely must be a misunderstanding between you and her (or she pulled your leg, or she set you up - see below).

Ich bin fremd hier = I am a stranger here (more commonly: Ich bin nicht von hier)

Ich gehe hier fremd = I am committing infidelity here (from verbal phrase fremd gehen = to cheat on one's SO)
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Old 06-25-2010, 03:35 AM
Mops Mops is online now
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Originally Posted by Polly Glot View Post
The German phrase that stuck with me from my college 101 class was Du liebes bischen. Literally: You love little? Or, you love a little? I can't recall what the figurative meaning is even supposed to be!

...
The literal meaning is "You dear little bit" but the 'you' is not another person - it's an expression of astonishment or mild dismay, like 'Oh dear.'
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Old 06-25-2010, 04:32 AM
Crowbar of Irony +3 Crowbar of Irony +3 is offline
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Originally Posted by kidneyfailure View Post
I've always been amused by the fact that "bragging" in Chinese ("吹牛") literally means "blowing the cow." I'd like to hear the story behind that one.
Courtesy of Google's counter-part in China , this idiom comes from Mongolians who rely on inflating ox skin into some sort of inflatable boat to cross rivers. Hence 'blowing the cow'. Somehow it comes to refer to boasting.
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Old 06-25-2010, 04:47 AM
kidneyfailure kidneyfailure is offline
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Originally Posted by Crowbar of Irony +3 View Post
Courtesy of Google's counter-part in China , this idiom comes from Mongolians who rely on inflating ox skin into some sort of inflatable boat to cross rivers. Hence 'blowing the cow'. Somehow it comes to refer to boasting.

Hmmm, I don't know how either. Blowing hot air, maybe?

Last edited by kidneyfailure; 06-25-2010 at 04:48 AM..
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