Writing Wednesday: 10 Great Idiomatic Expressions from Other Languages

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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

Language: Polish

Literal Translation: Not my circus, not my monkeys.

Idiomatic Meaning: Not my problem.

Handschuh-schneeballwerfer

Language: German

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

Language: Swedish

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)

Language: Armenian

Literal Translation: Stop ironing my head!

Idiomatic Meaning: Stop repetitively annoying me!

猿も木から落ちる (Kun’yomi)

Language: Japanese

Literal Translation: Even monkeys fall from trees

Idiomatic Meaning: Everyone makes mistakes

Abrir la caja de los truenos

Language: Spanish

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”)

Pūst pīlītes

Language: Latvian

Literal Translation: To blow little ducks

Idiomatic Meaning: To talk nonsense

Sambil menyelam, minum air

Language: Indonesian

Literal Translation: When diving, drink water

Idiomatic Meaning: Do two things at once (killing two birds with one stone)

Conoscono i miei polli

Language: Italian

Literal Translation: I know my chickens

Idiomatic Meaning: I know what I’m talking about

Quem não tem cão caça com gato

Language: Portuguese

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?

About Paperblanks: 25 years ago, we created Paperblanks to help keep book heritage alive and vital in our modern age, and to offer an inspiring space for people to express themselves. Thanks for joining us on this journey! For more about Paperblanks, go to our website at paperblanks.com.

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2 comments on “Writing Wednesday: 10 Great Idiomatic Expressions from Other Languages

  1. 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.

    • Hi Ursula,

      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!

      Cheers,
      The Paperblanks Team

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