Warning: Foreign language idioms don’t translate…

at least, not directly…

Just to mix things up, let’s take a look at some idioms in other languages. Every idiom you know probably has a Foreign language Idiom equal. Whether you realize it or not, your idioms are a piece of who you are. Even in your own language you don’t use every idiom. Some of them are so old that they don’t make any sense anymore. Others may be useful to factory workers, but not to entertainers. Some may be useful to entertainers, but not to housekeepers. However, when you step outside of your own language, things get strange quickly. You may be able to guess the meaning of these, but maybe not all of them.

Honest! Foreign language idioms about Truth:

Who knows more about truth than your mom, your family, or your grandparents? No one knows you better than your parents, right? Some of the first ideas and idioms we learn are about honestly. If you’re an American, there’s a good chance that you grew up singing “Liar liar, pants on fire.” Where this idea came from anyone’s guess, although some theorize it comes from Dante’s Inferno. Another common idiom is “Cross my heart an hope to die, Stick a needle in my eye.” This rather terrifying idiom is not at all unique to English. Rather, this promise of truth appears in several different languages. The French say “Wooden Cross, Iron Cross, If I lie, I go to hell”

Croix de bois, croix de fer, si je mens, je vais en enfer.

Personally, I’d rather lose an eye then meet the eternal flame.

The Cantonese chose a rather more immediate punishment for liars.
“You’ll lose your molars if you tell lies.” While Cantonese food isn’t the most difficult to chew, I’d rather keep my molars thank you.

The most graphic of all might be the Japanese curse,
“Fingers Crossed, punch you ten thousand times, when you lie, may you swallow 10,000 needles”

“I’m not finding that.” ~The Editor

Stay sharp guys, don’t tell lies.

Talking Pots, Dissing Donkeys, Foreign language idioms about Comparisons

No one likes to have their actions judged, especially by someone who is just as bad. There are several phrases in English discussing this.  “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” It seems almost true by itself. However, when this phrase is used, it means that someone who lives a transparent life of luxury (A glass house isn’t cheap, after all) should be quick to judge others. If they are, their life may crash around them.

Another popular idiom in English is “Like the pot calling the kettle black.” This has nothing to do with the quality of the item, nor the material either is made of. Think about it: If you have a tea kettle, and a soup pot, that you don’t take care of it, what color is it? The soot builds up around the edges and sides, and turns the pot or kettle black. “Like the pot calling the kettle black” means pointing out someone else’s flaws without acknowledging your own.Foreign language idioms

Several Foreign language idioms are similar sayings, including Dutch and Lithuanian. However, some cultures got out of the fireplace. Arabic, for example, says “The Camel doesn’t see the crookedness of its own neck”. Chinese, a culture which holds turtles in high regard, naturally chose the turtle for its version. “The turtle makes fun of the other turtles short tail.” Maybe it’s a good idea to mind our own business. If we don’t, our short tails could wind up in a blackened pot, carried by an apathetic camel…

It’s none of your business: Foreign language idioms about leaving people alone

There’s nothing worse than a nosey neighbor. Someone who won’t leave well enough alone, or decides to give his two cents where they’re not wanted. Humans like to respected, and especially in America, we have a lot of terms for people who won’t keep to themselves. No one wants to be rude, but sometimes you need to come out and say “Butt Out!” However, these idioms can be some of the strangest.

(To “butt in” meaning to interrupt came into use around the beginning of the 20th century. Butting out seems to follow, but has an unknown exact origin.)

In French, if you want to tell someone to “Mind your own business”, one way is to say
“Occupe-toi de tes oignons.” To mind your own onions.

Foreign language idioms
If you say this in English, you will get fresh produce… or weird looks

If you bother a Latvian one day, they will probably tell you to “Ej Bekot.”
An English translation would say “Go pick Mushrooms,” specifically, “Boletes”.

Foreign language idioms
Not these ones, these are poisonous

However, if a person decides not to leave you alone, it may be time to get more… direct.
The people of Kashmir have you covered with “Thraat Paaye” or “May lightning strike you!”
(Similar to Fuck Off). If that’s not severe enough, Mandarin has a more severe curse of “Tsao Ni zhu Hong Shi Ba Dai.” (Fuck all of your family from generations past).
If you’re looking for great Foreign language idioms, check out Mandarin or Cantonese.

(Don’t use this one unless you’re up for a fight… Just a note)

TL: DR: Idioms Across Languages

Your idioms are part of who you are. According to some more recent studies, switching languages can change your personality. The idioms you use reflect that personality. So as you learn English, or whatever language you choose, grab a handful of idioms for the road.


What’s your favorite idiom? Either in your language, or another that you’ve heard?

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