When I saw the title “40 brilliant idioms that simply can’t be translated literally,” I rolled my eyes and prepared to move along after a brief glance, because I’ve gotten pretty sick of supposedly untranslatable words and phrases (usually the same collection of hyggeligs and saudades, passed around from one book and column to the next). But this turned out to be different:
As our Open Translation Project volunteers translate TED Talks into 105 languages, they’re often challenged to translate English idioms into their language. Which made us wonder: what are their favorite idioms in their own tongue? Below, we asked translators to share their favorite idioms and how they would translate literally.
So it’s not just the usual suspects; in fact, most of them I’d never seen before, even the Russian ones: Галопом по Европам ‘Galloping across Europe,’ i.e. “To do something hastily, haphazardly”; Хоть кол на голове теши ‘You can sharpen with an ax on top of this head,’ i.e. “He’s a very stubborn person”; and my favorite (for obvious reasons), На воре и шапка горит ‘The thief has a burning hat,’ i.e. “He has an uneasy conscience that betrays itself.” I didn’t know any of the French ones (I particularly like Les carottes sont cuites! ‘The carrots are cooked!’ = “The situation can’t be changed”), and it goes without saying that the Thai, Latvian, and Tamil ones are new to me (and probably you). A very enjoyable collection; thanks, Paul!