International Idioms

Artistically expressing yourself in other languages

Adil, 4–4–17

While taking a walking tour of Malaga this weekend, the tour guide mentioned an interesting note while telling us a hypothesis on the origin of the phrase “break a leg” used to wish performers good luck. Apparently, back in the day, people could curtsy and bow for up to like 20 minutes while the audience applauded. They would only applaud this long if you did a great job, and this is obviously taxing for your legs, so to wish someone good luck became “break a leg,” thus hoping for them to have to bow for a long time. (Wikipedia notes that the origin of the phrase is still obscure though).

Nice. But, the Germans take it to the next level. They actually say “Hals und beinbruch” or “break a neck and a leg.” Again, with all the bowing, I imagine your neck can get pretty involved too.

Even better is the Spanish version though: mucha mierda. This literally translates as “lots of shit.” Our tour guide said that this stems from the times when the audience would arrive to the theater by horse transportation. If someone was being applauded for a long time, the horses parked outside naturally have more time to shit, and hence when the show is over there is a lot of shit. Dope.

This got me thinking — what other fun idioms are there in other languages? Below, I present to you some of my favorites curated from around the interwebs. Some neatly reflect local culture, and others just make me lol.


Tomaten auf den Augen haben.
Literal: You have tomatoes on your eyes.
Meaning: You are not seeing what everyone else can see. (referring to real objects, not abstract meanings.)


Puust ja punaseks ette tegema
Literal: to make something out of wood and paint it red
Meaning: to make something really clear


Det är ingen ko på isen.
Literal translation: There’s no cow on the ice.
Meaning: There’s no need to worry.

Att glida in på en räkmacka
Literal translation: to slide in on a shrimp sandwich
Meaning: refers to somebody who didn’t have to work to get where they are

Finns det hjärterum så finns det stjärterum.
Literal: If there is room in the heart, there is room for the butt.
Meaning: If we care about you, we’ll make room for you to join us.


Kuman di seberang lautan tampak, gajah di pelupuk mata tak tampak
Literal: The bacterium across the sea is seen, but the elephant on the eyelid is not seen.
Meaning: I’m actually not sure here since I’ve seen conflicting answers. Could be either “it’s easier to see the faults of others than your own” or an equivalent to the English “can’t see the forest for its trees” (someone too concerned about the details to appreciate the whole picture).

Thai (and a couple others):

ไก่เห็นตีนงู งูเห็นนมไก่
Literal: The hen sees the snake’s feet and the snake sees the hen’s boobs.
Meaning: Two people know each other’s secrets.

ชาติหน้าตอนบ่าย ๆ
Literal: One afternoon in your next reincarnation.
Meaning: It’s never gonna happen.

^Another related favorite: in Russian, the same meaning is conveyed by “When a lobster whistles on top of a mountain (Когда рак на горе свистнет).” And in Dutch, it’s “When the cows are dancing on the ice (Als de koeien op het ijs dansen).”

Speaking of the Russians…


Хоть кол на голове теши
Literal: You can sharpen with an ax on top of this head. (you could’ve guessed this was Russian, right?)
Meaning: He’s a very stubborn person.


Słoń nastąpił ci na ucho?
Literal: Did an elephant stomp on your ear?
Meaning: You have no ear for music.
Note: Apparently in Croatian, you also use elephants in a phrase to insult musical taste: “You sing like an elephant farted in your ear (Pjevaš kao da ti je slon prdnuo u uho).” In the Latvian version, though, the ear-stomping is done by a bear.


Vivir en nube de pedos (Argentina)
Literal: to live on a cloud made of farts
Meaning: to be out of touch with reality


Nem kolbászból van a kerítés
Literal: The fence is not made from sausage.
Meaning: It’s not as good as you think.

Cheyenne (a Native American Language):

Mónésó’táhoenôtse kosa?
Literal: Are you still riding the goat? (←lol)
Meaning: Are you separated from your spouse?

Étaomêhótsenôhtóvenestse napâhpóneehéhame.
Literal: My tapeworm can almost talk by itself.
Meaning: My stomach is growling.


Avaler des couleuvres.
Literal: to swallow grass snakes
Meaning: to be so insulted that you’re not able to reply


猿も木から落ちる (Saru mo ki kara ochiru)
Literal: Even monkeys fall from trees.
Meaning: Even experts get it wrong.


бурхан оршоо бутын чинээ сахал урга (burkhan orshoo butin chinee sakhal urga)
Literal: God bless you and may your moustache grow like brushwood.
Meaning: You actually just say this when someone sneezes lol.

Literal: to put up a beer tent
Meaning: to get married

Saved a couple from my new language for last:


Nu komt de aap uit de mouw
Literal: Now the monkey comes out of the sleeve
Meaning: Used when you discover something important previously unbeknownst to you, or when you see someone’s true colors. Apparently one is supposed to conjure up an image of a monkey falling out of a magician’s sleeve.

***And my personal favorite, because I’ve actually heard people use this one here, and I thought they were trolling but they really weren’t:

Alsof er een engeltje over je tong piest
Literal translation: As if an angel is peeing on your tongue
Meaning: You say this when food tastes amazing. Definitely using this one from now on.

Hope y’all enjoyed this little foray, and also hope we can incorporate some of these into our lexicons.


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