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Just as a person has a unique characteristics, each language has unique idioms.

I found this difficult to understand sometimes. Idiom comes from the Greek root idio, meaning a unique signature.


Languages contain expressions that make no sense when translated into another tongue.

One can sympathize with a foreigner if you say something like "don't buy a pig in a poke" or "you'll have to bite the bullet" and they don't understand, even if they know the literal meanings of the words.


One example from Spanish was "echar los perros", or "let the dogs out", which was an idiom for being interested in a muchacha :eek:


Idioms are great, because if you can understand and use them, you will show a nice cultural literacy which will strengthen your communications.


Idioms in English include such sayings as "chip on ones shoulder", "damn with faint praise", "jump down someones throat", or "throw the book at someone" :eek2:


My question is since there are members from around the world here @ Hypo, are there idioms that you find difficult to translate, or that you have learned?


Are there idioms that you use that might be regional?

What are your opinions regarding the verbage and usage of idioms?



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I *love* idioms! Great thread Rac!


The sources can be wierd too, there's a famous restaurant in Paris frequented by many of the Parisian gliteratti of the early/mid 20th century that has become an idiom: "Boeuf sur le Toit", literally "beef on the roof" but meaning something that is "really cool" or "the tops" or something like that. Like most idioms, its really impossible to translate completely...


Je ne sais quoi,


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Some of these idioms are very regional indeed, and some tend to get forgotten after a number of generations.

I remember that fruit jellies (used in sandwiches) were referred to as - I translate - "orchard ham" (or "orchard bacon"). The expression is still used by children in rural areas, but harly understood in town.

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  • 4 weeks later...

In English, you call them "traffic lights"; maybe locally or colloquially there are other expressions.

In French, they are "feux de circullation" (traffic fires) or colloquially "feux rouges" - and even in other things than treffic "feu vert" is simply a go-signal.

In German, they are simply "die Ampel" (the bulbs), and in Dutch "de lichten" (the lights), officialy "verkeerslichten" (as in English) and colloquially to some still "rode lichten" (red lights).

When abroad, we are bound to have to deal with them, so what are they called, officially and colloquially in other languages ?

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Odd you should mention traffic because I was just thinking about the German word for intercourse Verkehr, literally translated it means traffic.


And when there is talk about "red lights" in English, it is almost always in connection with that German meaning of "Verkehr".

In Dutch we have the word "geslachtsverkeer" but you will only read it in police reports and the like, you won't hear it in colloquial language. I'm not sure wether the German "Verkehr" is still widely used in colloquial language either.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Little seems to be happening on this thread, but I found this in the "Quirky Historical Facts"

Re: Quirky History facts! - 01-30-2007, 11:21 PM

The phrase "rule of thumb" is derived from an old English law which stated that you couldn't beat your wife with anything wider than your thumb.



"Rule of thumb" is translated in Dutch as "vuistregel" (litterally "fist rule") Would that mean that we were so much more violent than the English ?


In Dutch we also have other idoms with "vuist" Sometimes they are harder to translate litterally than to give the meaning; the origin of such expressions is often forgotten. e.g. "voor de vuist weg" means "without much preparation", and the most probable litteral translation would be somethin like "gone before the fist". But while "weg" as an adverb means "gone" or "away" it is also the substantive "road"; "voor" can be "before" or "in front of" or "for" ("one more for the road" is translated in Dutch as "eentje voor onder weg").

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I grew up on a small island in the Firth of Clyde, on the West coast of Scotland. Those few individuals unfortunate enough to suffer from mental health problems were sent to the mental assylum (that's what they were called then) in Lochgilphead. The journey there was on a small steamer of MacrBrayne's Steam Packet Company with its distinctive red funnel, not the yellow and black of the more common Caledonian Steam Packet Company which would carry us to the mainland proper. The ship ran up and down and around the sea lochs of the Firth eventually arrving in Lochgilphead.


To anyone on the island whom one wished to accuse of being half mad one would simply say "you'll be ready for the red funnelled boat then.", an idiom restricted to fewer than 10,000 people.


In Indonesian, at least in Jakarta, people will refer to 'makan angin', literally eating the wind. It translates rather nicely as 'shooting the breeze'.

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About "rule of thumb" in the general sense, the weird legal etymology is very likely to be urban legend. It more probably comes from the use of the thumb to do approximative measurements, or the painters using their thumb on their stretched out hand to estimate the proportions of their model at a distance. I found a document that presents a similar explication: World Wide Words: Rule of thumb


See also the funny page False etymology - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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The Australian language is full of great idioms.


A popular one is "happy little vegemite" which came from a jingle used in a vegemite commercial in the 1950s. It usually refers to a happy child, but often it's in reference to an adult.


"Spit the dummy" is commonly used when someone (usually an adult) has suddenly lost their temper and is having a tantrum like a child.


A "tall poppy" is a person who stands out from the others because of their great success. From this we get "tall poppy syndrome" which is where all the others demean the "tall poppy" in order to bring them down to the common level.


I love using and hearing idioms. It makes the language colourful and at times more humorous.

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