Untranslatable idioms from around the world
As a regular user of Reddit – the best news aggregation and social bookmarking site on the internet – I’m often filled with a sense of glee when a topic like this arises. One user asked Reddit what their favorite “culturally untranslatable phrase” was, and it prompted an outpouring of fantastic idioms from other users – some hilarious, some witty, some downright weird.
Some of my picks (thank you to the individual users who submitted these!) included the original poster’s Bangladeshi phrase, “gacche kathal gophe tel”, which roughly translates to “oiling your mustache in anticipation of the jackfruit tree bearing fruit” (a similar synonym in English would be “don’t count your chickens before they hatch”).
Another excellent one was the Spanish “no te peines, que en la foto no salís”: “don’t comb your hair, you’re not going to be in the picture”. This would be used to tell somebody not to get too excited as the matter under discussion doesn’t concern them.
Another excellent Spanish addition was “cuanto mas alto trepa el mono, más se le ve el culo”: “the higher the monkey climbs, the easier it is to see its rear end”. This comes to mean that the more famous you become, the more the dirtier aspects of your private life will become known. Good advice!
The Pakistani phrase “mera damagh kharahayho” literally means “you’re eating my brains!”, and is used to tell somebody that they’re being particularly annoying!
One with particular significance to me since I’m currently learning Mandarin Chinese was “mă mă hū hū” (馬馬虎虎), literally translates to “horse horse tiger tiger”. Somehow, it comes to mean that something is “so-so”, or “passable”.