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Lost in translation - Idioms that make no sense in English

When you work on a contract basis, the world is your oyster! Of course, by this we mean that there are countless contracting opportunities out there for you to embrace. The English language is full of lots of interesting phrases and sayings that might not make sense when translated literally.

When you work on a contract basis, the world is your oyster! Of course, by this we mean that there are countless contracting opportunities out there for you to embrace. The English language is full of lots of interesting phrases and sayings that might not make sense when translated literally. But you may be surprised to learn that every country has quirky little sayings that make no sense when translated into English.

Unfortunately, we at 3C Global don’t offer language classes. However, we have compiled some common phrases and idioms that you might hear that don’t make sense when they’re literally translated into English.

Vive la France!

In France, if you happen hear the expression ‘J’ai d’autres chats á fouetter’ (I have other cats to whip), there’s no need to ring the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It’s similar to our saying ‘I’ve other fish to fry’, by which we mean we have better things to do. Another common French expression is ‘Le demon de midi’ which literally means ‘the demon of midday.’ It actually equates to ‘having a midlife crisis’. The French/English Dictionary won’t tell you that! The French also have an expression ‘pedaler dans la choucroute’ (pedalling in sauerkraut) which means to be getting nowhere. Hopefully, you will achieve a good work/life balance and won’t ‘avoir le cafard’ as the French say (‘have the cockroach’, or feel down) when you’re contracting in France.

Other unusual idioms

Not to ‘sauter du coq a l’ane’ (jump from the cock to the donkey, or change the subject entirely), it’s important to note that every language has idioms that won’t translate literally. You might recognise some of them, like the Polish ‘Nie mój cyrrk, nie moje malpy’ (not my circus, not my monkey), the German ‘Leben wie die Made im Speck (to live like a pig in bacon, or to live luxuriously) and the Chinese ‘to emit smoke from seven orifices’ (to be extremely angry), while others might seem off the wall.

For example, the Czechs have an expression ‘Chodit kolem horké kase’ which translates to ‘walk around in hot porridge’ – the closest English equivalent is ‘to beat around the bush’. In Spain, ‘dar calabazas a alguien’ means ‘to give pumpkins to someone,’ which translates not to giving a Halloween gift but to rejecting someone. Similarly, ‘Pᾆᾆstᾆᾆ sammakko suusta’ in Finnish translates to ‘to let a frog out of your mouth’ or to say the wrong thing; in English we might say ‘to put your foot in it.’

And when in Rome, by all means, do what the Romans do. But don’t do anything to make you ‘un cane in chiesa’, which translates to ‘a dog in church’ or an unwanted guest. When in Denmark, make sure you keep those listening ears open, as the Danes have an expression ‘at have en pind i eret’, which translates to ‘having a pin in your ear’ and means ‘to not listen to someone.’

But as they say in Sweden, ‘Det ӓr ingen ko pἀ isen’ which means ‘there is no cow on the ice’ – or don’t worry! Once you settle into your new country and culture, be it in France, Denmark, Germany or Japan, through interacting with your clients and colleagues, you’ll be fluent in no time, and as they say in Irish, ‘go n-éiri an t-ádh leat’ (the luck will rise to meet you). Don’t forget that 3C Global are here to ensure that your business is compliant with all legal requirements, no matter where in the world you roam!