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Idioms in foreign languages - and their translations

 
 
Reply Sun 9 Feb, 2003 01:49 pm
An idiom is an expression that usually can't be translated literally. Its meaning is often quite different from the word-for-word meaning. For many idioms, either you know what it means or you don't.

Since my best language knowledge is about German, I like to give some examples:
In English, if someone hits you, you get a black eye. In German it's blue ("ein blaues Auge"). In fact, about the only time that "blau" means the same thing as "blue" is when it refers to the color of the sky, a pair of jeans, or "blaues Blut" ("blue blood"). If a German is "blau," he's drunk, not sad. On a menu, "blau" means "boiled." "Ein Blauer" is a one-hundred-mark bill (similar to "greenback" but more specific). "Blau machen" is to not show up for work--for no good reason. "Blaue Bohnen" are bullets ("blue pills/beans").

An English-speaker may sleep like a log, a top, or a dog, but a German-speaker sleeps like a wood chuck or a marmot ("wie ein Murmeltier schlafen"). In English you're "putty" in someone's hands, while in German you're "wax" ("Er war Wachs in ihren Händen."). You pull someone's leg in English, but in German you take them in your arms ("auf den Arm nehmen").

But some German expressions are extremely good at "hitting the nail on the head" ("den Nagel auf den Kopf treffen"):
"Da bin ich überfragt" (lit., "I've been over-asked" or in other words, "you've got me there"). Another favorite is one of many German expressions for "not being all there": "Sie (er) hat nicht alle Tassen im Schrank." ("She (er) doesn't have all [her/his] cups in the cupboard.")
[The above text is -slightly altered- taken from german.about.com.]

Some nice German proverbs (from German-speaking immigrants, who brought their proverbs with them) and their (correct) translation into English are to be found here:

Proverbs

Certainly, there are more and better examples (in other languages).
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ul
 
  1  
Reply Sun 9 Feb, 2003 02:20 pm
Nice topic, Walter.

"Blau machen" is to not show up for work--for no good reason. "
I think the idiom is related to indigo dying (blue dying).
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Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Sun 9 Feb, 2003 02:31 pm
Correct, ul! (No "blauer Brief" necessariy to send to your address Smile ).

The term is known since about 1530. (It took about 14 days to colour clothes blue. Afterwards, the craftsmen had a day of, the 'blue Monday'.)

Another explanation is the wearing of blue by priests on Monday before Lent > "Blue Monday marks the day when the priests begin their fast. It is so called as the colour 'blue' signifies the dark blue cloth of the altar."
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steissd
 
  1  
Reply Sun 9 Feb, 2003 02:41 pm
masculine genderfeminine genderneuter gender
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Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Sat 8 Mar, 2003 11:21 pm
Walter, one idiomatic expression which is identical in both English and German is Blaue Montag or Blue Monday. (Speaking of blue, that is.)
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roger
 
  1  
Reply Sun 9 Mar, 2003 12:22 am
In the summer, I might say "I am warm." While in Germany, I was advised to not translate this into German.
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mamajuana
 
  1  
Reply Sun 9 Mar, 2003 12:42 am
These are the nominees for the Chevy Nova Award. This is given out in
honor of the GM's fiasco in trying to market this car in Central and
South America. "No va" means, of course, in Spanish, "it doesn't go".

1. The Dairy Association's huge success with the campaign "Got Milk?"
prompted them to expand advertising to Mexico. It was soon brought to
their attention the Spanish translation read "Are you lactating?"

2. Coors put its slogan, "Turn It Loose," into Spanish, where it was
read as "Suffer From Diarrhea."

3. Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux used the following in an
American campaign: "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux."

4. Clairol introduced the "Mist Stick," a curling iron, into Germany
only to find out that "mist" is slang for manure. Not too many people
had use for the "Manure Stick."

5. When Gerber started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same
packaging as in the US, with the smiling baby on the label. Later they
learned that in Africa, companies routinely put pictures on the labels
of what's inside, since many people can't read.

6. An American T-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish
market which promoted the Pope's visit. Instead of "I saw the Pope" (el
Papa), the shirts read "I Saw the Potato" (la papa).

7. Pepsi's "Come Alive With the Pepsi Generation" translated into
"Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back From the Grave" in Chinese.

8. The Coca-Cola name in China was first read as "Kekoukela", meaning
"Bite the wax tadpole" or "female horse stuffed with wax", depending on
the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 characters to find a phonetic
equivalent "kokou kole", translating into "happiness in the mouth."

9. When American Airlines wanted to advertise its new leather first
class seats in the Mexican market, it translated its "Fly In Leather"
campaign literally, which meant "Fly Naked" (vuela en cuero) in Spanish
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Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Sun 9 Mar, 2003 01:33 am
"Gosto é que nem cú, todo mundo tem o seu"

A Brazilian idiom meaning:

"Taste is like ass, everyone has their own"
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satt fs
 
  1  
Reply Sun 9 Mar, 2003 01:44 am
These were (direct and irrelevant) translations of original messages into English in some hotels abroad:

i) "Please leave your values at the desk."
(France)

ii) "You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid."
(Japan)

iii) "Because of the impropriety of entertaining guests of the opposite sex in the bedroom, it is suggested that the lobby be used for this purpose"
(Switzerland)

iv) "Ladies are requested not to have children at the bar."
(Norway)
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New Haven
 
  1  
Reply Tue 11 Mar, 2003 02:18 pm
"Ladies are requested not to have children at the bar."
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New Haven
 
  1  
Reply Tue 11 Mar, 2003 02:18 pm
New Haven wrote:
"Ladies are requested not to have children at the bar."


Good one!
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fbaezer
 
  1  
Reply Tue 11 Mar, 2003 05:58 pm
In Spanish, to sleep like a log is Dormir como un lirón (to sleep like a dormeuse). You give (or get) a purple eye or a moor eye ojo morado or ojo moro. You're not blue, or any color, you're depre. Monday's aren't blue, either, at least in Mexico they're ironically sanctified: "San Lunes".

One blue thing were old Mexican 50 pesos banknotes, called "Ojo de gringa" (gringa's eye).
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ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Tue 11 Mar, 2003 07:31 pm
I love this topic, thank you, thank you. It's fascinating already.
0 Replies
 
Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Tue 11 Mar, 2003 07:55 pm
In English we say that one is "in a jam" or "in a pickle" to mean that someone is in some sort of trouble or difficulty. In Latvian, the same expression is "tu esi truba" or "you're up a stovepipe."
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JoanneDorel
 
  1  
Reply Tue 11 Mar, 2003 08:13 pm
Listening in and having fun.
0 Replies
 
Mr Stillwater
 
  1  
Reply Tue 11 Mar, 2003 08:38 pm
Paul Theroux in his latest book gets into some strife with an officious type at a border crossing, it gets solved and he gets a sort of apology. He uses a local idiom that translates as "The cheeks of your buttocks can't but rub together".
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fbaezer
 
  1  
Reply Tue 11 Mar, 2003 08:39 pm
In colloquial Mexican Spanish, when someone is in trouble or difficulty, está en pedos: s/he's "in farts".
0 Replies
 
seaglass
 
  1  
Reply Wed 12 Mar, 2003 12:52 am
As they would say in the nation of Texas and applicable to our non-native son of a president -

"He's all hat and no cattle"
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seaglass
 
  1  
Reply Wed 12 Mar, 2003 12:54 am
Oops, in Texanese that means 'LIGHTWEIGHT"
0 Replies
 
JoanneDorel
 
  1  
Reply Wed 12 Mar, 2003 07:11 am
Oh I can youse Texas lingo?
0 Replies
 
 

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