5 Expressions That Don’t Translate

One of the most difficult things to really get a good feel for is casual language. When you learn another language, in some ways, you are learning to speak the “wrong” way. You’re learning perfect grammar, correct and full pronunciation, and the most literal, plain speaking style of expression possible. In other words, you are learning to speak like a textbook. Of course, in the real world, people do not speak like this amongst themselves, especially with friends. Casual or informal language is the real language of actual verbal communication, with slang, corruptions and derivations of words, and metaphor, analogy and pop culture references that have little to do with what’s taught in the classroom. So, for fun, we’ve got five idioms—that is, sayings or phrases—in other languages that, when literally translated to English, make about as much sense as translating the English “Let’s chill in your dope crib,” into Japanese and expecting that person to understand what you just said.

To Buy A Cat In A Sack

This German phrase means that you bought something, but didn’t actually inspect the goods beforehand, and so don’t know what you’ve really got. There is speculation that there may be a relation to the English phrase “let the cat out of the bag,” which itself refers to revealing a secret.

The End of The Beans

This phrase comes from the French language, and it means… the end of the beans. Figuratively, it simply means that something has reached the end. While it may seem nonsensical, so does “the last straw” in English, and yet people use that without even thinking about it. There’s a strong likelihood that this has its roots in farming lore.

One Afternoon In Your Next Incarnation

This is a Thai phrase that relies on the fact that the majority of Thais are of the Buddhist faith, and therefore believe in the cycle of reincarnation. This phrase is a particularly cynical remark normally used to describe extremely low odds of something happening. The English equivalent of this might be something along the lines of “when pigs fly” or “when hell freezes over.”

The Thief Has A Burning Hat

This Russian phrase is actually all about guilt, and refers to the tendency that guilty people have to betray that guilt in some manner due to the unease in their conscience. While the image is strange, the sentiment is very true.

As you can see, simply taking a literal translation of anything from one language to another often yields confusing results. But with professional translation services, the culturally obtuse can be made much clearer. Contact us today and see how we can help you with your language needs.

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