+
upworthy
Culture

Idioms from around the world that become hilarious when translated into English

idioms, language, phrases, phrases around the world, etymology
Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash

Two donkeys are better than one—'repetition teaches the donkey.'

You probably know what it means to hit the hay, tie the knot or buy a lemon. Maybe you’ve already killed two birds with one stone today, so effortlessly that it was a piece of cake. But to a non-English speaker, using these phrases would probably make you sound crazy … or should I say gone crackers?

That’s the fun thing about idioms. They change depending on the time, place and culture creating them. In other words, they usually sound ridiculous to anyone except those who normally use them.

Looking at turns of phrase in different languages helps us see the world through different eyes. And man does it seem impressive at a party.

Just think, instead of saying “it’s raining cats and dogs,” next time you could incorporate a more Lithuanian take, and say “it’s raining axes.” How metal is that?

It can also be raining old women, barrels, buckets, pipe stems, frogs, female trolls, fire and brimstone … depending on where you’re from.

Some of these idioms from around the world make a lot of sense. Others get so lost in translation, you can’t help but get tickled pink.


Swedish

”Nu ska du få dina fiskar värmda.”

Literal translation: Now your fishes will be warmed.

It's another way of saying someone’s in trouble, or their “goose is cooked.”

The Swedish language is definitely not lacking in the threats department. They also have a saying, “nu har du satt din sista potatis,” which translates to “now you have planted your last potato.”

Imagine hearing Batman say “You’ve planted your last potato, Joker.” Doesn't have quite the intended effect.

Italian

“Avere gli occhi foderati di prosciutto.”

Literal translation: To have one’s eyes lined with ham.

Leave it to the Italians to have food-related phrases. You can use this when someone can’t see what’s right in front of them. It can also be used when someone is blinded by love. Sadly, there is no “ham-colored glasses” idiom.

Icelandic

Að leggja höfuðið í bleyti.”

Literal translation: To lay your head in water.

You say this when you “need to sleep on something,” or “put your thinking cap on.” This one is hilarious because I cannot fathom getting any mental clarity from holding my head in the water.

Arabic

"At-Tikraar yu’allem al-Himaar.”

Literal translation: Repetition teaches the donkey.

Practice makes perfect, but it especially does for donkeys. Animal-themed wisdom at its finest.

German

"Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof."

Literal translation: I only understand train station.

It's another way of saying “it’s all Greek to me.”

The history of this one is a bit mysterious. One theory is that it originated from WWI soldiers who had only one thing on their mind after getting discharged: returning home. Meaning, they could only comprehend the train station that would lead them there. Others say it refers to tourists new to Germany who have really only learned the German word for “train station.” Which would indicate that everything else is foreign to them.

And let’s not forget “nicht mein bier, nicht meine sorgen,” translating to “not my beer, not my worries.”

(Fun fact: The term “not my circus, not my monkeys” actually stems from a Polish proverb, not an English saying at all.)

Norwegian

Å snakke rett fra leveren.”

Literal translation: To speak directly from the liver.

When you say something without sugar-coating it, you are speaking directly from the liver. This dates back to a time when the liver was thought to be the magical organ that produced courage. So speaking from the liver is just like speaking from the heart, only down and to the right a little.

Chinese

“Mama huhu.”

Literal translation: Horse horse, tiger tiger.

You can use it to say something is just okay. Not good, not bad, just … meh.

As the story goes, a Chinese painter who, not very good at his craft, created a drawing of an animal that looked sort of like a tiger, and sort of like, you guessed it, a horse. That story actually has a tragic ending that serves as a cautionary tale against carelessness. But nowadays it takes on a lighter connotation.

And like “comme ci, comme ca” in French, “horse horse, tiger tiger” isn’t quite as commonly spoken as non-native speakers would assume.

Language continues to be an ever-evolving and always entertaining way to not only appreciate other cultures, but also note the similarities. Words might change slightly, but ultimately we're all expressing the same things.

Family

Dad takes 7-week paternity leave after his second child is born and is stunned by the results

"These past seven weeks really opened up my eyes on how the household has actually ran, and 110% of that is because of my wife."

@ustheremingtons/TikTok

There's a lot to be gleaned from this.

Participating in paternity leave offers fathers so much more than an opportunity to bond with their new kids. It also allows them to help around the house and take on domestic responsibilities that many new mothers have to face alone…while also tending to a newborn.

All in all, it enables couples to handle the daunting new chapter as a team, making it less stressful on both parties. Or at least equally stressful on both parties. Democracy!

TikTok creator and dad Caleb Remington, from the popular account @ustheremingtons, confesses that for baby number one, he wasn’t able to take a “single day of paternity leave.”

This time around, for baby number two, Remington had the privilege of taking seven weeks off (to be clear—his employer offered four weeks, and he used an additional three weeks of PTO).

The time off changed Remington’s entire outlook on parenting, and his insights are something all parents could probably use.

Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

Nazis demanded to know if ‘The Hobbit’ author was Jewish. He responded with a high-class burn.

J.R.R. Tolkien hated Nazi “race doctrine” and no problem telling his German publishing house about it.

In 1933, Adolf Hitler handed the power of Jewish cultural life in Nazi Germany to his chief propagandist, Joseph Goebbels. Goebbels established a team of of regulators that would oversee the works of Jewish artists in film, theater, music, fine arts, literature, broadcasting, and the press.

Goebbels' new regulations essentially eliminated Jewish people from participating in mainstream German cultural activities by requiring them to have a license to do so.

This attempt by the Nazis to purge Germany of any culture that wasn't Aryan in origin led to the questioning of artists from outside the country.

Nazi book burning via Wikimedia Commons

In 1938, English author J. R. R. Tolkien and his British publisher, Stanley Unwin, opened talks with Rütten & Loening, a Berlin-based publishing house, about a German translation of his recently-published hit novel, "The Hobbit."

Keep ReadingShow less

Christine Kesteloo has one big problem living on a cruise ship.

A lot of folks would love to trade lives with Christine Kesteloo. Her husband is the Chief Engineer on a cruise ship, so she gets to live on the boat pretty much for free as the “wife on board.” For Christine, life is a lot like living on a permanent vacation.

“I live on a cruise ship for half the year with my husband, and it's often as glamorous as it sounds,” she told Insider. “After all, I don't cook, clean, make my bed, do laundry or pay for food.“

Living an all-inclusive lifestyle seems like paradise, but it has some drawbacks. Having access to all-you-can-eat food all day long can really have an effect on one’s waistline. Kesteloo admits that living on a cruise ship takes a lot of self-discipline because the temptation is always right under her nose.

Keep ReadingShow less
Health

Artists got fed up with these 'anti-homeless spikes.' So they made them a bit more ... comfy.

"Our moral compass is skewed if we think things like this are acceptable."

Photo courtesy of CC BY-ND, Immo Klink and Marco Godoy

Spikes line the concrete to prevent sleeping.


These are called "anti-homeless spikes." They're about as friendly as they sound.

As you may have guessed, they're intended to deter people who are homeless from sitting or sleeping on that concrete step. And yeah, they're pretty awful.

The spikes are a prime example of how cities design spaces to keep homeless people away.

Keep ReadingShow less
Family

13 comics use 'science' to hilariously illustrate the frustrations of parenting.

"Newton's First Law of Parenting: A child at rest will remain at rest ... until you need your iPad back."

All images by Jessica Ziegler

Kids grab everywhere.


Norine Dworkin-McDaniel's son came home from school one day talking about Newton's first law of motion.

He had just learned it at school, her son explained as they sat around the dinner table one night. It was the idea that "an object at rest will remain at rest until acted on by an external force."

"It struck me that it sounded an awful lot like him and his video games," she joked.

Keep ReadingShow less

When the attack on Pearl Harbor began, Doris "Dorie" Miller was working laundry duty on the USS West Virginia.

He'd enlisted in the Navy at age 19 to explore life outside of Waco, Texas, and to make some extra money for his family. But the Navy was segregated at the time, so Miller, an African-American, and other sailors of color like him weren't allowed to serve in combat positions. Instead, they worked as cooks, stewards, cabin boys, and mess attendants. They received no weapons training and were prohibited from firing guns.

Keep ReadingShow less