Modern Idioms (and where they come from)



Around the world in 80 idioms

Posted on February 9, 2022 at 11:20 AM

Idioms can be some of the most enjoyable but also the most infuriating things to learn in another language. Often they make no sense at all at face value (kick the bucket, anyone?), and might include vocabulary that is unlikely to crop up in normal, everyday conversation (how often do you use the word “hatchet” except in the context of burying one?) So in honour of the joy of idioms, here’s the first in an occasional collection of phrases from different languages that, for one reason or another, make us smile.


1. Spanish: to iron the ear (planchar la oreja) – to go to bed; roughly equivalent to the English “hit the sack / hit the hay”.


2. Chinese (Mandarin): draw a snake and add feet (画蛇添足) – to spoil something by adding too much unnecessary detail. One of a great many “chengyu” or fixed expressions that often have highly developed stories behind them (see: for more).


3. French: to fall in the apples (tomber dans le pommes) – to faint.


4. German: that’s sausage to me (das ist mir wurst) – it doesn’t matter to me; one of many German phrases relating to sausage (see:


5. Swedish: there’s no cow on the ice (ingen ko på isen) – don’t worry! A favourite to finish, and one that makes perfect sense once you know what it means (on the grounds that, presumably, if your cow wanders out onto a frozen lake then you really should be worrying!)



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