Idiomatic Expressions That Need Explaining


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Let's chew the fat — unless you have other cats to whip (autres chats à fouetter)though, if so, you could always borrow a cat's paw (猫の手も借りたい), if you will pardon my French. Anyhow, that's enough walking through hot porridge (chozeni kolem horké kaše); if we don't stop soon you will be telling us where lobsters spend the winter (где раки зимуют). So here's where the dog is buried (Вот, где собака зарыта): Browser readers told us about idiomatic expressions in any language which are completely incomprehensible until you have them explained to you.

Douglas Gray wrote in to tell us that, in Mexico:

dando tres pies al gato means, very roughly “ giving three feet on the cat" – that is, a dangerous or impossible or unnecessarily complicated situation.

Charales Troob informed us that:

"to have a bee in one's bonnet" is derived from the Scottish idiom a head full of bees, first found in a translation of Virgil’s Aeneid from the mid-1500s: “Quhat bern be thou in bed with heid full of beis?”

Stephen B. Fry writes in to tell us that:

In Brazil, until quite recently when you walked into a shop, or e.g. building it was normal for the shop assistant or receptionist to say "Pois não?", which literally means "Therefore no?"

This has no explanation at all.

The phrase is amiably Shakespearian, and somehow reminds me of
"Will you dine with me tonight?"
"Aye, if I be alive, and your mind whole, and the dinner worth the eating."

Drew Harman mentions:

“that’s a nice new whistle you’re wearing” . (Whistle->whistle and flute->rhymes with suit)

Just one of many cockney rhyming expressions that are pretty much incomprehensible unless you’ve been indoctrinated.

An anonymous reader tells us:

My patriotic favourite is the French Canadian warning to ne pas s’enfarger dans les fleurs du tapis (don’t get stuck on the flowers in the carpet).

It means to not get stuck on insignificant details. You can sort of imagine someone being tripped by/distracted by a highly-patterned carpet. It translates very confusingly and in a bilingual nation that can be kind of fun.

Graham Marshall explains:

I like Thai idioms. They have a different feel to English language idioms and yes, some of them I have to see the explanation.
So here are some favourites.

ชาติหน้าตอนบ่าย ๆ Cha-dti naa dtoon bai-bai
“One afternoon in your next reincarnation.”
means "it’s never going to happen."

กินข้าวต้มกระโจมกลาง
kin khao tom krachom klang
"eat boiled rice from the middle of the bowl"
Means to do something in a hurry and without deliberation, resulting in harm

And I hope this one does not apply to me:
น้ำท่วมทุ่ง ผักบุ้งโหรงเหรง
Nam Tuam Tung Pak Boong Rong Reng
"The water floods the field, but the water spinach is sparse."
Speaking a lot, but the content is small.

Charles Taylor gives us:

'Eramos poco y pues pario la abuela': we were few and then Granny gave birth.

Used when a small group is in a difficult situation which suddenly and inexplicably becomes much worse.

Rory O'Callaghan writes in with:

(Gaelic) Is maith an t-iománaí an té a bhíonn ar an gclaí.
(English) A hurler on the ditch is good.

Someone watching a game of hurling on the sideline (rather than playing the game), who thinks he is an expert.

And Dugald Ross submits:

The wierdest Dutch one I heard was 'As if an angel is peeing on your tongue' = describing someone really enjoying a meal.

As for other odd sayings its hard to beat Australians as so many people seem to not understand many of their sayings. My favorites include 'flat out like a lizard drinking' = extremely busy

As we say at the Browser: a reader with idioms delights the giraffe.

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