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Culture: 12 Idioms That Get Lost In Translation!

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The world is a wild and exciting place. Every country is packed with untold adventure and a trunk full of cultural weirdness to explore.

The bizarre and turbulent histories of some of the greatest nations on Earth have evolved some pretty strange peoples. The U.S. of A. is testament to that! But one of the oddnesses that might go over the head of the casual visitor to a non-English speaking country is the surreal turns of phrase that are used casually in day-to-day talk.


English speakers know what ‘Bob’s your uncle’ and ‘All mouth and no trousers’ mean, even though the phrases wouldn’t make much sense to a foreigner without being explained. Well, naturally, other languages are full of this kind of phrase, too. In fact, the designers at Expedia have created a smart new illustration set so that us mere English-speakers can get a glimpse into the secret idiomatic worlds of a dozen foreign languages.

Take Sri Lanka, for example: if you were new to the Tamil language and a local approached you and told you they’d just poured water over their girlfriend’s head, you’d probably think they were bonkers (or taking part in a charity event.) In fact, this idiom is a rather apt way to describe dumping somebody. It naturally equates to the feeling of having water poured on your head.

Now picture your Finnish friend talking in the pub. He opens his mouth and a frog climbs out. Yeah… he always says something to upset people! That’s why the Finnish have a phrase, päästää sammakko suusta, which translates as ‘let a frog out of your mouth’ – in other words, to say the wrong thing.

In French Canada, you may hear the phrase chanter la pomme. Even if your French is pretty good, you may not get what these simple words mean when put together in a sentence. You’re not to blame: they literally mean ‘to sing the apple’, the idiom implies flirting with someone, and it really doesn’t make sense in any other language. Pardon their French!

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