By some estimates, the English language has more than one million words. Although impossible to establish an exact figure, it is generally agreed that there is no other language with so many words. And it’s not like any of us use all one million words, but this fact gives you reasons to believe that English must have a word for absolutely everything. No. Not even close.
Leaving aside the classic movie “Lost in Translation”, one can be literally lost in translation due to a simple mistake or as a result of the fact that one language is not quite able to capture or to seize the essence of a word’s or a phrase’s meaning in another language. But the most interesting are sayings. Some of them cannot be simply translated into another language because sayings are those phrases or words with a culturally understood meaning that differ from what their composite words’ denotations would suggest. In another definition, “a saying is a speech form or an expression of a given language that is peculiar to itself grammatically or cannot be understood from the individual meanings of its elements”.
Each language has its own wonderful idiosyncrasies: words or sayings which only make sense in that particular tongue. You will find below some of the most interesting, but still challenging sayings in different languages over the world:
Tomaten auf den Augen haben.
Literal translation: You have tomatoes in your eyes.
Actual meaning: You cannot see the things seen by everyone else, in terms of real, not abstract things.
Ich verstehen nur Bahnhof.
Literal translation: I only understand the station.
Actual meaning: I don’t understand a thing about what that person is saying.
Die Katze im Sack kaufen.
Literal translation: To buy a cat in a sack.
Actual meaning: Used when a buyer purchased something without inspecting it first.
Det är ingen ko på isen.
Literal translation: There is no cow on the ice.
Actual meaning: There is no need to worry.
Att glida in på räkmacka.
Literal translation: To slide into a shrimp sandwich.
Actual meaning: Refers to someone who didn’t have to work to get where they are.
Literal translation: To blow ducks.
Actual meaning: To talk nonsense or to lie.
Literal translation: Go pick mushrooms.
Actual meaning: Leave me alone. The equivalent in Romanian is Plimbă ursul.
Quem não se comunica se trumbica.
Literal translation: Who does not communicate gets their finger burnt.
Actual meaning: One who does not communicate gets into trouble.
Quem não tem cão caça com gato.
Literal translation: Who does not have a dog, will hunt with the cat.
Actual meaning: You make the most of what you have.
Pagar o pato.
Literal translation: To pay the duck.
Actual meaning: To take the blame for something you did not do.
Avaler des couleuvres.
Literal translation: To swallow snakes.
Actual meaning: Being so insulted that you are not able to reply.
Les carottes sont cuites.
Literal translation: The carrots are cooked.
Actual meaning: The situation cannot be changed. An equivalent in English is It’s no use crying over spilt milk.
Da vidimo čija majka crnu vunu prede.
Literal translation: Let’s see whose mother knits the black wool.
Actual meaning: Being the black sheep in the family.
Doće maca na vratanca.
Literal translation: The cat will come to the tiny door.
Actual meaning: similar to What goes around comes around. The equivalent in Romanian is Roata se întoarce.
Literal translation: The next afternoon.
Actual meaning: It’s never going to happen. There is a similar phrase in English, When pigs fly, and also a literal, but this time good translation of the English phrase in Romanian: Când o zbura porcul.
Conoscono i miei polli.
Literal translation: I know my chickens.
Actual meaning: I know what I’m talking about.
Non tutte le ciambelle riescono col buco.
Literal translation: Not all doughnuts come out with a hole.
Actual meaning: Things don’t always turn out as planned.The equivalent in Romanian is Socoteala de acasă nu se potrivește cu cea din târg.
Bułka z masłem.
Literal translation: It’s a roll with butter.
Actual meaning: It’s really easy.The equivalent in Romanian is Floare la ureche.
Sometimes it is easier to say it in another language. “Language has no independent existence apart from the people who use it. It is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end of understanding who you are and what society is like.” – David Crystal