Want to know what it means to ‘travel in the mayonnaise’, ‘peel the pineapple’ and ‘get the cow from the ice’? If so, ‘stop your balls’ and keep reading!
I am fortunate that, thanks to my job, I get to communicate with lovely humans from all around the world and learn from them, as well as teach.
At some point in the language learning process, most students learn that not everything can be directly translated. Or, if they try to, things can get lost in translation.
Some students and friends of mine have shared some common idioms from their countries. Some are very similar to those us Brits store in our cognitive idiomatic dictionaries, whereas others are completely different!
From around the globe, to my classroom, to your screen – here are some international idioms (directly translated) that I’d like to share with you.
1) ‘A lot of smoke but no roast meat!’
‘Tanto fumo ma niente arrosto’
This is how my student explained it: ‘Imagine that someone is cooking chicken or something… There is a load of smoke in the kitchen and you think’ wow! That must be one huge chicken!’ But then you look in the oven and realise that the chicken is actually tiny!’
It basically means that a person exaggerates things. It’s not too dissimilar from ‘all mouth and no trousers’.
2) ‘He is all pepper!’
‘È tutto pepe!’
Meaning: Someone full of life! It’s a great compliment.
3) ‘To put the fiddle in the roof’
I roi’r ffidl yn y to
Meaning: To give up.
4) It’s raining knives and forks
Bwrw cyllyll a ffyrc
Meaning: It is raining heavily. Like ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’ … But potentially more dangerous. Maybe you should wear a helmet when you visit Wales.
5) ‘I press/squeeze my thumb for you’
‘Ich drücke dir die Daumen‘
Meaning: Good luck! It is the German equivalent of ‘fingers crossed’. It is also used in other German-speaking countries, like Switzerland.
6) ‘Like an elephant in a china shop’
‘Sich wie ein Elefant im Porzellanladen Benehmen’
Meaning: To be clumsy/reckless/crazy/not so considerate of people’s things. Like ‘a bull in a China shop’.
7) ‘To ask for an extra sausage’
‘eine Extrawurst verlangen’ 🌭
Meaning: To ask for special treatment.
8) ‘Get the cow from the ice’
Meaning: Sort out your problems, find a solution, pack up your troubles and pull yourself together!
Note: Interestingly, these ‘cow on ice’ idioms are not a rarity 🐮❄️
In Scandinavia, a common idiom is ‘ingen ko pa isen’ (‘there’s no cow on the ice’); this means that there is no immediate danger.
9) ‘Leave the church in the town/village’
‘Die Kirche im Dorf lassen’
Meaning: Don’t make a big fuss of something/take it too seriously.
10) ‘Give up the spoon’
‘den Löffel abgeben’
Meaning: To die. To ‘kick the bucket’.
11) ‘Button up your blazer’
‘Abotoar o paletó’
Meaning: To die.
12) ‘Peel the pineapple’ 🍍
‘Descascar o abacaxi’
Meaning: Solve the problem
13) ‘A hurricane in a cup of water’
‘Tempestade em copo d’agua’
Meaning: To make a huge deal of something small.
14) ‘Travel in the mayonnaise’
‘viajar na maionese’
Meaning: To say something crazy!
15) ‘Pick coconuts!’
Meaning: This is used when you want to tell someone to bugger off/get lost!
16) ‘How is the peanut?’ 🥜
‘¿Cómo es el mani?’
Meaning: Basically ‘what do you want to do?’ Used informally between friends. ‘Hey man, how is the peanut? D’ya wanna hang out and have some beer?’
17) ‘Like fingernails and dirt!’
‘Son como una y mugre’
Meaning: It’s like the gross unhygienic version of Forrest Gump’s ‘peas and carrots’ collocation. To be very close with someone/get on well.
18) ‘My dwarf grew up’
‘¡Se nos creció el enano!‘
Meaning: My problem got worse / My problem is getting out of hand!
19) ‘What a bear!’ 🐻
Meaning: How embarrassing!
20) ‘Stop your balls!’ ⚾⚾
Meaning: PAY ATTENTION!
21) ‘At first raw, later ripe’
‘yī huí shēng , èr huí shú’
Meaning: Something that is new and unfamiliar at first… but you get used to it.
For example a new hobby/language /class/position at work.
22) ‘Every turnip to its hole’
‘yī gè luó boyī gè kēng’
Meaning: Every person has their own place/position in life.
23) ‘Don’t spread ashes on cooked rice’ 🍚
다 된 밥에 재 뿌리지 마라
Origin: South Korea
Meaning: Don’t spoil someone’s happiness / rain on someone’s parade
24) ‘Even a worm will wiggle if you step on it’
지렁이도 밟으면 꿈틀한다
Origin: South Korea
Meaning: Even gentle people can lose their temper!
25) ‘Give a scratch to the itchy place’
가려운 곳을 긁어 주다
Origin: South Korea
Meaning: When someone does exactly what you want or need without you having to ask for it! Like if you are craving chocolate and your best friend unexpectedly gives you some. Cute.
26) ‘My leg on your leg’
‘Rajli e rajlka’
رجلي ع رجلك/
Meaning: I’ll go wherever you will go
27) ‘My pockets are full’
Meaning: This is one of my favourites. One of my lovely adult students tearily said this to me after a few happy months in England, just before leaving. Her ‘pockets were full’ and her eyes were full of tears, saying goodbye to us.
It basically means ‘I have made many memories, I have had important experiences and I am full to the brim with gratitude’. ❤️
Which idiom is your favourite?
Feel free to share more idioms from your countries, those you have learnt teaching/travelling/befriending others and funny moments that have arisen from things being lost in translation.
Keep smiling, learning about the world and experiencing new things until your pockets are full.