Translating slang terms

I think that’s overstating things. It’s a common enough expression in American media over several decades that I’m sure most English speakers would have some familiarity with it. And the meaning is evident from the context, even if the entire socio-historical shading isn’t.

The song itself isn’t exactly unknown, either, for that matter.

I’ve never heard the expression before and needed the explanation for it to make sense even in context. And I probably consume more American media, and talk to more Americans, than the average Brit.

I have heard the song as recorded by Johnny Cash, because I love Johnny Cash, but had no idea of its history and woudn’t have connected it with “whistling Dixie.” I don’t think it’s a well-known song in the UK.

That one is circular enough to be understood without the American reference, though. You don’t need to know who Stonewall Jackson was; being familiar with those yard-thick-stone-walls farmhouses whose bombshell holes have been turned into potted-plant holders would work equally well. IOW, the people who hears it without knowing about Jackson can simply make the same connection as the people who nicknamed Jackson. And this is coming from someone who recently read a reference to “putting lemons on a grave” in a place with a name similar to Manases and went and searched for “Stonewall lemons” - I was actually surprised when my subconscious connection came up aces.

Well, I’ll go to the foot of our stairs.

Knowing the song has nothing to do with understanding the expression. The song is irrelevant to the expression.

And it’s precisely because most or all non-Americans, and certainly most or all non-anglophones, would not understand the expression that the OP asked for an equivalent saying in Spanish. He wasn’t asking for “Usted no sólo silbar “Dixie”.” He was asking for Spanish expressions, such as the ones Nava gave him.

I’m Australian and I would understand it. It was frequently used in WB cartoons, and lots of 60s - 70s era TV shows.

Yes. I admitted I may have been a little vague and I clarified it in a subsequent post.

I did mean

this IS whistling “Dixie.”

I disagree the song is irrelevant to the expression, though. You can’t understand the expression without being familiar with the song.

Yes, you can. That’s the very nature of idioms: When they are encountered in enough meaningful contexts, their opacity stops being an obstacle to meaning.

I’m not reading all 38 pages of that. If it’s not relevant,why is it whistling “Dixie” and not whistling “Camptown Races” or “Old Susanna”? What would we say otherwise if the expression had nothing to do with the song? Color me unconvinced.

Of course there’s a historical reason why that song is part of the idiom, but it’s not necessary to be familiar with the song itself to understand the idiom, because of how you hear it. Isamu demonstrated that upthread. Do you need to know where Newcastle is to understand carry coals to Newcastle? How many people know who Riley was? Yet they still understand what it means to lead the life of Riley. Likewise with McCoy–who knows who he was?–yet everyone knows what the real McCoy means.

I found an interesting equivalent to an expression in English, in a Spanish translation of a book I had read in English. The original expression was “dead as a doornail.” The Spanish translation used "dead as Christopher Columbus. "* I’m willing to bet that Spanish has a rich collection of idioms of its own, although, of course, I cannot expect to find one that is an exact match for "whistling Dixie. "

*Tal muerto que Cristobal Colón.

Do you have a cite for that? I’ve never heard it before, and a quick search turned up nothing but wiki-dictionaries and any-schmo-can-type-an-answer sites.