Being a professional translator often proves to be an extremely challenging profession. Stereotypically, many people assume that translators simply sit with a dictionary in front of them and always translate words literally, without a creative flare of any kind. And although, let’s be completely honest, sometimes we work with documents which indeed require just that, we also work with materials, which require not only an in-depth linguistic knowledge, but also creativity and imagination, and this is especially true for linguists specialised in translating for the multilingual marketing sector.
From translation and localisation to cultural adaptation, translators can do it all. Nonetheless, from time to time we come across content, which can truly give even the most creative of us a big headache. An example of such content are idioms.
Ted.com asked professional translators to share their favourite idioms in their native languages, with a literal meaning, which would be difficult to creatively translate into English. Here are the results!
German – Johanna Pichler:
The idiom: Tomaten auf den Augen haben.
Literal translation: “You have tomatoes on your eyes.”
What it means: “You are not seeing what everyone else can see. It refers to real objects, though — not abstract meanings.”
The idiom: Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof.
Literal translation: “I only understand the train station.”
What it means: “I don’t understand a thing about what that person is saying.’”
Thai – Kelwalin Dhanasarnsombut:
The idiom: เอาหูไปนา เอาตาไปไร่
Literal translation: “Take ears to the field, take eyes to the farm.”
What it means: “It means ‘don’t pay any attention.’ Almost like ‘don’t bring your eyes and ears with you.’ If that were possible.”
The idiom: ไก่เห็นตีนงู งูเห็นนมไก่
Literal translation: “The hen sees the snake’s feet and the snake sees the hen’s boobs.”
What it means: “It means two people know each other’s secrets.”
French – Patrick Brault:
The idiom: Avaler des couleuvres.
Literal translation: “To swallow grass snakes.”
What it means: “It means being so insulted that you’re not able to reply.”
The idiom: Sauter du coq à l’âne.
Literal translation: “To jump from the cock to the donkey.”
What it means: “It means to keep changing topics without logic in a conversation.”
Polish – Kinga Skorupska:
The idiom: Słoń nastąpił ci na ucho?
Literal translation: “Did an elephant stomp on your ear?”
What it means: “You have no ear for music.”
The idiom: Z choinki się urwałaś?
Literal translation: “Did you fall from a Christmas tree?”
What it means: “You are not well informed, and it shows.”
Japanese – Yasushi Aoki and Emi Kamiya:
The idiom: 猫をかぶる
Literal translation: “To wear a cat on one’s head.”
What it means: “You’re hiding your claws and pretending to be a nice, harmless person.”
The idiom: 猫の額
Literal translation: “Cat’s forehead.”
What it means: “A tiny space. Often, you use it when you’re speaking humbly about land that you own.”
*Apparently Japan loves cat related idioms.
Do you have a favourite idiom? Make sure to share with us in the comments!