12 inventive idioms from foreign languages

2 min read

Let’s not beat around the bush. You’ve heard plenty of idioms in English, but what about other languages? Foreign languages have hilarious idioms, too. Check these out and add some witty sayings from all over the world to your vocabulary.

Pulling water from my own rice paddy

我田引水 (ga den in sui) is a Japanese idiom that means to do or say something for your own benefit. You’re giving yourself advice, even though you’re the only one who needs it.

To walk around hot porridge

Chodit kolem horké kaše is a Czech phrase similar to the English idiom beat around the bush. If you’re walking around hot porridge, you’re avoiding the topic and making up distractions so you don’t have to discuss it.

He who doesn’t have a dog hunts with a cat

Quem não tem cão, caça com gato is a Portuguese saying meaning you use what’s available and make the best of it. To be fair, cats are pretty good hunters, even if they won’t listen to you.

The carrots are cooked

Les carottes sont cuites comes from French, and it means you can’t change the situation. It’s too late, and you probably have mushy carrots.

Drawing a snake with feet

If you’re drawing a snake with feet, you’re giving it unnecessary body parts and putting way more effort into that drawing than you need to. 画蛇添足 (Huà shé tiān zú) is a Chinese idiom that means to tell a story with unnecessary information.

To talk a dog out of a bush

If you can actually talk a dog out of a bush, you’re probably some kind of dog whisperer. ń Hond uit ń bos gesels means to have a great conversation (with people) in Afrikaans. Being a good conversationalist is just as valuable a skill as talking to dogs.

Not my circus, not my monkeys

Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy is a Polish idiom that you’ve probably heard spoken in English, too. If the circus and monkeys aren’t yours, then it’s not your problem.

He sold him for an onion peel

بايعها بقشرة بصلة (baa’hu beqishra basala) is the Arabic equivalent of the “he’d sell me out for one corn chip” meme. It means to throw away a relationship for nothing. Personally, we’d take a corn chip over an onion peel.

To not have hairs on your tongue

No tener pelos en la lengua is a Spanish phrase that means to speak your mind straightforwardly. And we’d like to avoid hairballs.

Train go, sorry

Even sign language has idioms. This one means, “Sorry, I won’t repeat what I said.” Kind of like when people say, “You missed the boat on that one.” You’re out of luck.

To hurl a cap

टोपी उछालना (toh-pee uh-chhahl-nah) is a Hindi idiom that means to criticize someone. Why stop at just hurling insults?

If you’re near ink, you’ll get black. If you’re near a light, you’ll get bright.

gần mực thì đen gần đèn thì sáng is a Vietnamese phrase that means you can tell a lot about someone by who they hang out with. Some idioms are universal.

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