1. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Fun with idioms

    Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by Mckk, May 31, 2015.

    Just came across this list of untranslatable idioms and some of them are brilliant :D thought I'd share.
    http://blog.ted.com/40-idioms-that-cant-be-translated-literally/

    What's your favourite? Is there a fun idiom in your language that can't be translated?

    Chinese has a bunch.

    1. to have half a bucket of water
    Meaning: to know a skill only partially and not be very good at it

    2. to play the piano to a cow (this one's technically a four-worded saying)
    Meaning: there's no point explaining, that person won't understand

    3. to ask a monk for a comb
    Meaning: it's obvious that person doesn't have what you need, and yet you ask

    4. if I die, I die
    Meaning: to go ahead with something that may scare you or is a big challenge - kinda like "let me face whatever is to come, I'm going for it!"

    5. for every mountain, there's one that's higher
    Meaning: there's always someone better at something than you are (my parents used to use this to essentially tell me there's no point comparing yourself to other people)

    6. to make a pot of foam
    Meaning: make a mess of things
     
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  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I love the bucket of foam.

    Here's a link to some Spanish idioms.
     
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  3. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I rather enjoy the image of throwing a house through the window :supergrin: I do wonder of it implies the person who paid didn't care about the money, or if he cared but it was no obstacle?

    We should make up our own crazy idiom! Would be great as a writing exercise, don't you think?
     
  4. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    To ask a monk for a comb... :D But that's perfectly translatable, actually. It's weird, sure, but it's understandable, and you could say "that's like asking a monk for a comb, you numbnuts." In fact, all of your examples make sense, and I think I could've figured out the meaning or the right context where to use them without an explanation. Suppose that's a sign of a good idiom? ;)

    As for the list, yeah, some of those are some obscure idioms! To slide in on a shrimp sandwich? Say what? I love the Russian idiom for a hard-headed person: you can sharpen an ax on top of his head. :D

    There are some impossible idioms in Finnish. Literal translations would go something like:

    There were people like beanies. (=the place was crowded) Porukkaa kuin pipoa.
    To take a spoon to one's beautiful hand (=yield to something you didn't want to do out of some stupid reason) Ottaa lusikka kauniiseen käteen.
    To file/saw someone in the eye/lens (=to fool someone) Sahata silmään / viilata linssiin
    To have a rabbit go into your pants (=to get scared) Mennä pupu pöksyyn.

    And so on... Even I don't get the beanie thing. I think it's because people and beanie alliterate in Finnish, so it may not have a semantical purpose at all.
     
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  5. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Oh yeah, I really liked "to slide on a shrimp sandwich" actually :D

    To have a rabbit go into your pants sounds hilarious, and very vivid. Can you imagine a character rolling her eyes with a sigh and saying to her friend, "He's got a rabbit in his pants again..." :D

    I think these idioms would make your prose (not you specifically) much more colourful. I was reading some old poems I wrote as a teen and there was this line, "I have no eyes to see", which is another idiom in Chinese (basically, like the English, "I can't watch!") and it fitted perfectly.

    I also love this Czech one and it goes like this: "You die of a thousand paper cuts." :supergrin:You can probably guess what that means.
     
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  6. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd Rather Go Blind Lyrics

    "I'd Rather Go Blind" is track #15 on the album Definitive Collection. It was written by Butterfield, Paul V..
    I would rather, I would rather go blind boy
    Than to see you, walk away from me,



    Read more: Etta James - I'd Rather Go Blind Lyrics | MetroLyrics
     
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  7. bumble bee
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    bumble bee Member

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    I've adopted the Polish saying (maybe not quite an idiom?) "Not my circus, not my monkeys"
    Roughly: I didn't create this problem so I'm not going to sort it out. Useful for a former work colleague who was forever running out of time on deadlines due to poor organisation, then expecting everyone else to drop what they're doing to help. So glad I've changed jobs!

    Slight twist: what English idioms are strange to foreign language speakers? I love "losing my religion" which I believe is an idiom for going insane but works so well as existential angst in the REM song.
     
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  8. Woof
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    Woof Contributing Member

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    @bumble bee I'm going to gift that one to my partner tonight. He works in middle management and it will make his day!

    Many a mickle makes a muckle seems like it should be fairly incomprehensible to foreign language speakers, but I bet it isn't. I'm guessing it would be easy enough to infer that a mickle is a small thing, a muckle large and that pretty much gives you the meaning. The English equivalent would be Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. It's not quite as good, I think.

    I have a bit of a fondness for mad as a box of frogs, being almost self-referencing when used because it makes very little sense!
     
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  9. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @bumble bee - 'it's not my cup of tea' comes across as rather strange to most foreigners :)

    @Woof - the mickle muckle thing I've never heard of actually. I thought maybe it meant 'too many cooks in the kitchen' or something on those lines! You know, many small creatures together mucking things up :D
     
  10. Woof
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    Woof Contributing Member

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    Portuguese: don't feed the donkey sponge cake... apparently! Wasting effort doing something/treating someone better than you need to. I'm unsure if this is always viewed as foolish, or if there's some moral high-ground attached to doing it out of kindness?
     
  11. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Sounds like something you'd only say if you were telling the kinder person that what he's doing is pointless. Reminds me of what Jesus said with "Don't cast pearls to the pigs".
     
  12. Woof
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    Woof Contributing Member

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    That would make sense... it's a way of commenting on inefficiency in resourcing then perhaps?

    I'm a sucker for this stuff, including six syllable German words that have absolutely no equivalent. Like fingerspitzengefuhl (umlaut over u) which is 'fingertips feeling' and means the natural intuition some people have to always know the best to respond in situ... or thereabouts.
     
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  13. SethLoki
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    SethLoki Unemployed Autodidact Contributor

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    A hundred smacks on a foreign bottom do not hurt.

    ^ That's a Greek one; I've never been given the explanation, but I don't believe one is needed.
     
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  14. bumble bee
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    bumble bee Member

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    Mmm tea!

    I'd always thought the mickle/mickle one implied some kind of problem too- I think it's the 'muck' bit

    @Woof your partner might also like Japanese word "majime" a reliable person who gets the job done without creating a lot of fuss!
     
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  15. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    All idioms are translatable. The fact that we are talking about them and understanding them is testimony to the fact. Their meanings may simply not seem intuitive in other languages or other cultures. Spanish idioms (I see @GingerCoffee gave a link to some) are often a bit opaque and are what I think of as two or three layers deep in that you need to do some mental gymnastics to come to the meaning.

    In Puerto Rico, if you do or say something con las muelas de atras, it means very much against your will or volition. Literally with your back molars. It makes reference (or so I have been told) to pulling a horse against it's will using a bit.

    When someone is a bombero (fireman) it means they are a serious party pooper. To get that one, you need to know that the normal term for party pooper is aguafiestas (water on the party, think rain on the parade), so it's an extension of what is already a metaphor.
     
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  16. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The fireman one is funny - it makes perfect sense when you think about it!

    The "doing something against your will" reminds me of the 4-worded saying/idiom in Chinese, which says, "My body is not my own". They actually had the genie in Disney's Aladdin say that after Jafar took the lamp, replacing the original English line of "I have another master now."

    To this day, I still far prefer the Chinese translation of that line - it just feels so apt, so perfect, so succinct that the English, despite being the original, simply doesn't have.
     

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