Funny lost-in-translation phrases

Have you ever told a tourist to stay indoors because it’s raining cats and dogs outside? What reaction did you get?

Some of the common phrases we use in Australia make no sense to tourists, especially if English is their second language. That same, of course, is true in reverse. If you speak a second language and have travelled overseas, you may have found yourself completely bamboozled by some of the phrases. You might have even questioned your own linguistic skills.

Here are some of our favourite phrases from around the world, and what they mean when you strip them down to their literal translation.

Canada (French Canadian)
Chanter La Pomme
Translation: To sing the apple
What it means: Chanter La Pomme describes a person who flirts. There are two mixed references in this evocative phrase: one that points to a biblical source (Eve and the forbidden apple); and the other to singing (chanter), celebration and the seductive touching of the palms of a dancing partner’s hands (paumes). The word paume eventually became pomme, meaning apple).

Les carrotes sont cuites
Translation: The carrots are cooked
What it means: What’s done is done and the situation cannot be changed. In Australia, we would say you can’t put the toothpaste back into the tube in similar situations.

Phrase: Tomaten auf den augen haben
Translation: You have tomatoes on your eyes
What it means: This German idiom is used when a person is unaware of a situation or isn’t paying attention – when they can’t see what everyone else can.

Un cane in chiesa
Translation: A dog in a church
What it means: If this phrase is directed at you, prepare to be offended as it refers to an unwanted guest.

Pagar o pato
Translation: Pay the duck
What it means: Have you ever taken the blame for something that you didn’t do? In that case, you’ve paid the duck.

Translation: Like playing piano to a cow
What it means: This phrase can be used on a person who does not listen, understand or appreciate (despite your best and sincere efforts) something you are trying to tell, teach or explain to them. For example, ‘there’s no point giving good advice to a fool, because it’s like playing piano to a cow’.

Päästää sammakko suusta
Translation: To let a frog out of your mouth
What it means: Where we would say you have put your foot in your mouth, the Finns have just as much fun describing that sensation of saying something inappropriate: ‘letting a frog out of your mouth’.

What strange phrases have you encountered when overseas?

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Written by Ben


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