20 Funny Everyday Phrases in Different Languages
As a polyglot and avid traveler, people often ask me “What are some common sayings in other languages?” or “What are funny phrases in other countries?”
And the grammar monster in my head screams “They’re called idioms!”.
They’re 50% cultural, 50% historical, and 100% hilarious. Let’s break them down and then look at some hilarious ones.
What Are Idioms and Where Do They Come From?
Idioms are groups of words that, when established together, form a meaning which can no longer be deduced by the individual words themselves.
In other words, “It’s raining cats and dogs.” is a common English idiom, along with:
- Beat around the bush
- Bite the bullet
- Break a leg
Native speakers use idioms much more than they are actually aware of. Other languages have different idioms (and some are downright hilarious) to describe cultural phenomena or beliefs.
But here’s the catch: most idioms stem from literal meanings that most people in pop culture have completely forgotten about.
Let’s take a look at where these idioms come from and then see how quotes in other languages differ from our own.
For Language Lovers: Why Do Idioms Differ By Country?
Idioms are also known as figures of speech or expressions that once had literal meanings but have now become figurative.
For example, I bet you didn’t know that the idiom “To cost an arm and a leg.” has its origins in 18th-century art when the wealthy (but stingy) would have their portraits painted without certain limbs because it was less expensive.
Like most people, I was unaware of this origin when I first started looking into idioms, but at least I knew figuratively what it meant.
In England and Australia, however, there were idioms I had never even heard of in my own language.
Funny Idioms that Differ Across English-Speaking Countries
Take “Bats in the belfry.” for example. Figuratively, it means someone who is crazy or eccentric.
Literally, it means that bats, who are notorious for flying erratically, are loose in the belfry, which is the uppermost part of a church, implying that someone has loose bats flapping around in their mind.
In Australia, this same idiom would look like this:
“He’s got a kangaroo loose in the top paddock.” otherwise known as → “He’s got a screw loose”.
Idioms Represent Unique Cultural Elements
Idioms and expressions are windows to a culture.
When you learn them, you begin to understand the world that surrounds the native speakers who use these expressions.
Here’s an example:
When walking through the streets of Havana, you may hear one of the many famous Spanish idioms like:
“¡Se formó tremendo arroz con mango!”
…which literally translates to “This turned into a serious bowl of rice with mango.”
But this exact sentence would sound ridiculous in Stockholm because mango doesn’t grow in Sweden.
Instead, try this Swedish expression on for size:
“Skita i det blåa skåpet.”
…which roughly translates to “Answer nature’s call in a blue locker.” in which the “blue locker” allegedly refers to what one could interpret as the most prestigious piece of furniture in a Swedish home due to the expensive nature of Prussian blue paint in the 1800s.
Bottom Line: What Do These Foreign Idioms Have In Common?
Both of these idioms refer to making a mess out of things, to do something completely useless or nonsensical.
However, behind their direct meaning, both of these idioms reflect the environment of their respective regions, including their food, history, and climate.
Clearly, words in different languages carry unique cultural significance – the idiom itself is just the tip of the cultural iceberg. When you start to understand and apply idioms in another language, you’ll be able to effectively break the ice with native speakers. *pun intended*
20 Hilarious Idioms and Expressions in 20 Different Languages
Check out some funny phrases in Spanish, French, and even Japanese! *Please note that the English equivalents below come close to expressing the sentiment of these idioms, but not every idiom has an exact correlation in another language for the reasons mentioned above!
Idiom: Morgenstund hat Gold im Mund.
Literally: The morning hour has gold in its mouth.
English equivalent: The early bird gets the worm.
Idiom: Coûter les yeux de la tête.
Literally: To cost the eyes of the head.
English equivalent: To cost an arm and a leg.
3. Portuguese (Brazil)
Idiom: Estou cagando e andando.
Literally: I’m shi*ing and walking.
English equivalent: I couldn’t care less.
See more Brazilian soccer expressions here.
Idiom: Tomar el pelo.
Literally: To grab someone’s hair.
English equivalent: To pull someone’s leg.
Idiom: 手のひらを返す (Te no hira wo kaesu).
Literally: To turn over the palm of your hand.
English equivalent: To turn a cold shoulder.
Idiom: Skägget i brevlådan.
Literally: Caught with your beard in a mailbox.
English equivalent: To be caught with your pants down.
Idiom: التكرار يعلّم الحمار (At-Tikraar yu’allem al- Himaar.)
Literally: Repetition teaches the donkey.
English equivalent: Practice makes perfect.
Idiom: Jedním uchem tam, druhým ven.
Literally: Like water on a duck’s back.
English equivalent: In one ear, out the other.
9. Farsi Persian
Idiom: Gooreto gom kon!
Literally: Go lose your grave!
English equivalent: Get the hell out of here!
Idiom: Lyja kirviais.
Literally: It’s raining axes.
English equivalent: It’s raining cats and dogs.
Idiom: Binyagan na yan!
Literally: Baptize it already!
English equivalent: Get it over with (use it already)!
Idiom: Over koetjes en kalfjes praten.
Literally: To talk about little cows and little calves.
English equivalent: Small talk.
Idiom: Mieć muchy w nosie.
Literally: To have flies up one’s nose.
English equivalent: To have one’s panties/knickers in a twist.
Idiom: Mèo khen mèo dài đuôi.
Literally: Cat praises the cat’s tail for being long.
English equivalent: Every cook praises his own broth.
Idiom: Ogni morte di papa.
Literally: Every death of a pope.
English equivalent: Once in a Blue Moon.
17. Haitian Creole
Idiom: Gate san.
Literally: Rotten blood.
English equivalent: Makes blood boil.
Idiom: Å snakke rett fra leveren.
Literally: To speak directly from the liver.
English equivalent: To speak without sugar-coating.
19. Chinese Mandarin
Idiom: 抛砖引玉 (pāo zhuān yǐn yù).
Literally: To cast a brick to attract jade.
English equivalent: Tossing an idea.
Idiom: Að leggja höfuðið í bleyti.
Literally: To lay your head in water.
English equivalent: To sleep on it.
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