Fascinating Idioms From Across the Globe

Idioms are fascinating and rich in culture. For those of us who love languages and cultural expressions, a well delivered idiom is “the best thing since sliced bread.” See what I did right there?

An idiom is much more than colourful speech. It can tell a great deal about a culture, a language and the way of life of people across the globe.

 Here is how an Idiom is defined in the dictionary:

·       a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words (e.g. over the moonsee the light).

·       a form of expression natural to a language, person, or group of people.

The Greek origins of the word also gives us interesting insight into the world of idioms:

Greek idiōma ‘private property’,

from idiousthai ‘make one's own’,

from idios ‘own, private’.

An idiom is thus an intimate revelation of details unique to specific cultures and dialects. People through the ages have taken ordinary words and made them ‘their own’ by affixing them with meanings, which are relevant to themselves and their cultures.

Consider the idiom “spill the beans.” The meaning of this idiom is to “reveal a secret.” What has beans got to do with a secret though? History shows that the idiom might have originated from an ancient method of democratic voting. Wiki explains: “a voter would put a bean into one of several cups to indicate which candidate he wanted to cast his vote for. If the jars were spilled before the counting of votes was complete, anyone would be able to see which jar had more beans, and therefore which candidate was the winner.” Interesting indeed!

Idioms have evolved across the globe and have become ingrained in cultures. Simpson Soft handles translations in over 300 languages and we find it fascinating to see these idioms at play. Now then, without “beating around the bush,” here is a list of commonly used idioms in different languages. We will be adding to this, so send in your contributions and join in on this incredible journey through languages around the world.

1) German Tomatoes

German idiom- tomatoes.png

Idiom: Tomaten auf den Augen haben.
Translation
: You have tomatoes on your eyes.
Meaning: You aren’t seeing what everyone else can see.

2017 saw a harvest of around 2 Million Kgs of tomatoes in Germany. Can you blame them for seeing tomatoes everywhere? Keep in mind that this idiom refers to literal objects rather than abstract meanings. If a driver cuts you on the street, for example, you would say “he’s got tomatoes on his eyes!” This means that he couldn't see you even when you were right in front of him.

2) Arab Baker

Arabic idiom - baker.png

Idiom: يعطى الخبز ل خبازه.

Translation: Give the bread to the baker.

Meaning: Don’t give someone a task they can’t do.

No Middle Eastern meal is complete without pita, is it? Bread being a staple in the Arabic diet, it comes as no surprise that it would be included in an idiom.

3) Japanese Paddy

Japanese idiom - paddy.png

Idiom: 我田引水

Translation: Pulling water to my own rice paddy.

Meaning: Doing or saying things for one’s own benefit.

Most Japanese proverbs and idioms come from agricultural customs and practices, since farming and cultivation is a traditional occupation in Japanese culture. This idiom also takes a cue from the Japanese values of hard work, encouraging people to do their own work and not rely on others to do it for them.

4) Swedish Shrimp Slide

Swedish idiom- shrimp.png

Idiom: Att glida in på en räkmacka

Translation: To slide in on a shrimp sandwich.

Meaning: It refers to somebody who didn’t have to work to get where they are.

Shrimp snowboarding - how about that? This idiom is derived from the fact that shrimp was regarded as an upper-class food item in Swedish society. The reference is thus apt for someone who is successful without the usual expected work. Silver spoon anyone?

5) Puerto Rican Croc

Puerto Rican idiom - nervous.png

Idiom: Ser como cocodrilo en fábrica de carteras

Translation: Like a crocodile in a wallet factory.

Meaning: To be very nervous.

A total of 965 caimans (of the alligator family) were spotted in different bodies of water in Puerto Rico over a 10-year period. Puerto Ricans well know the might of the caiman as a recent article brought out: “The scaly reptiles have been spotted prowling around schools and crawling into flooded yards after rains, causing both widespread fear and curiosity in the community.” Nervous crocodiles aside, this would cause us anxiety for sure!

6) Bollywood Buffaloes

Hindi idiom - power.png

Idiom: जिसकी लाठी उसकी भैंस

Translation: Whoever owns the stick owns the buffalo!

Meaning: Might is Right/Survival of the Fittest

India takes first place for the total buffalo population in the world. 105.3 million buffaloes and counting! Well, reason enough for buffaloes to be included in one of its most popular idioms.

Your Turn

Here was our roundup of fascinating idioms across the globe. We would love to hear from you and get an insight into your language and culture. Contribute to our roundup of famous idioms and sign up for our blogs for more fascinating tidbits on language, translation and culture.