Top English Idioms and Their Analogues In Other Languages
“Piece of cake!” you might think for the first time you read the topic of this post. Maybe so, if you are a native English speaker. However, we believe that even if you are, we still can get you interested. Get on with the unique essay editor online, having in reserve the answer to any question regarding English you might have! The present article is not only the review of the English idioms, the most unusual for the foreign ear. It also provides a smart analysis of each idiom, its analogues in the other European languages, as well as some Asian ones. In this way, we can compare the way of regarding the things in different cultures, as well as the way of the mind work inherent to different nations. Exciting, right? Scroll down now, this post is quite a different kettle of fish with regard to everything you’ve ever heard about idioms!
The idioms as they are. Why’s and how’s
Every language in the world has the phrases that, though consisting of the well-known words, convey quite a different meaning than the one prescribed by these words (if they are considered separately). For example, a dime a dozen, hit the sack, miss the boat. Understood to the letter, these expressions usually have a different sense. The reward was there but I missed the boat does not mean the person didn’t manage to come aboard some boat and navigate somewhere, but simply notifies that some opportunity has been wasted. When your friend says I feel like hitting the sack now, do not hurry off to bring an old sack from the pantry. He or she just lets you know of the intention to go to sleep. When someone regards his good deed as a dime a dozen, he is not talking about the price for his efforts but just states that was a common, usual thing to do. Just the same common as to write your essay for A+, if you follow the student advice from our editors! Check the recent entries to our electronic blog now!
Such constructions having the different meaning than just the assembly of their components bear the name of the idioms. You can check the definition and the functions of the idioms here. Usually, they originate from the distant past, which explains their meaning being different from what the inexperienced person might think it to be. The reason is that the words and their combinations are wont to change their meaning with the flow of the time. It happens partly due to the changes in the real world (some things disappear, some new ones come forward and need the names for themselves), partly due to the fact that the language itself represents a unique source of the collective mind that absorbs everything happening around people, and is changing together with them. (Do not let any linguistic modifications catch you unawares! Select the smartest proofreading and editing services online!) Some object, event or action, being once named in a certain fashion (for example, to pull someone’s leg), gets this name fixed in the collective mind. This name is got used to by the language speakers; it is always used for describing the similar events (for example, playing a joke on someone). Time passing by, the initial event that gave the name to an action (when somebody actually pulled someone else’s leg, and it has been considered a joke) becomes forgotten, while the phrase preserves itself in the language. People start to use it without any reference to the initial event or object. That is the process of the idioms’ formation.
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As we already mentioned, usually the components of the idioms just summed up do not make the sense of the idiom. However, the change of some components leads to the destruction of the idiom. This, though, concerns only the basic components. If you wish to let somebody know that you have been long trying to understand something difficult like Molecular Chemistry, you can say you wrapped your head around Molecular Chemistry. However, there is no need to indicate that if you choose to apply to the competent essay editor and proofreader. If you replace the words “molecular chemistry” with any other words, the idiom will still do. However, if you change an essential component like in the following passage, I bound my head around this equation, you might be misunderstood or reproached for the incorrect wording. The idioms preserve their basic construction at all the situations of usage and thus, are considered the set expressions.
Meanwhile, this does not mean you are not allowed to use the other words in the idiom, in order to describe some particular situation. However, watch your grammar while experimenting with the idioms. We post the reviews on many the grammar issues in English, including the peculiarities of the present tense’ grammar. Coming back to the idioms, sometimes the modification of the phrase, to the contrary, adds a particular zest and a humorous effect to your speech. For example, if you are going to use an idiom Call it a day in order to persuade your friend to stop working at last at five o’clock in the morning, you can well say Hey, call it a night, won’t you? The close meaning and the similarity to the set pattern, as well as the strong reference to the actual events will all play your game in this case, and add a humorous effect to the phrase.
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Thus, we have described the main features of the idioms that make them stand out among the other word-combinations in the language. Let us summarize them briefly. The idioms can be characterized by the following parameters:
1. They have the considerable time of usage elapsed since their formation. Some of the idioms come from the biblical times, e.g. Can a leopard change his spots? This idiom stands for the things that go unchanged; however, it might be pretended that they are subject to change. The never changed is also the low level of our prices for editing. Consider the high-quality cheap proofreading service and forget about any troubles with your texts!
2. They make the set expressions. The essential components of the idiom do not get replaced with other words, unless the situation permits so. In any case, the humorous effect in the case of replacement is provided by the fact that usually the idiom is regarded as an unchanged combination of words. For instance, speaking about the man who is cutting corns of the bulls that he is cutting corns with his job in order to catch his last train home will be well understood as an allusion to the idiom cutting corners meaning the poor performance of the job aimed to save some time or funds at it. There will be no such thing happening to your paper, if you contact the essay-editing service of a high-quality. All the license and recommendations are in place!
3. The idioms have the meaning of their own that is not derived in the most of the cases out of the sum of the meaning of its components. If, being offered an easy and short-term job, you exclaim, “That’s a piece of cake!” no native speaker would think you regard the job as something sweet and creamy, or that you are going to eat any part of it. Remember, that if any part of your essay, including the professional and regular idioms, needs verification, the efficient professional in the college writing http://essay-editor.net/blog/college-essay-editor-the-manual is available round-the-clock. Select the service you need and receive the fairest quotation, along with the free consulting!
4. The idioms concern different spheres of life, yet their usage can be characterized as universal. Originally, the phrase To cast a first stone comes from the biblical scene of dealing with the sinner. However, then the phrase became an idiom and started to be used in all the situations where some blame was to be charged, irrelevant of the actual guiltiness of the person. See the classification of the idioms by the thematic affiliation. The idioms concern all the important spheres of life, they can be found in any area the people are used to talk about.
Here above we have described the general parameters of the idioms that outline their specific place in the language. Yet, as any other linguistic phenomenon, the idioms have their specific features that will be the subject of the next clause of the present post. Coming further, we shall analyze the top 10 extraordinary idioms in English. Scroll down there now or follow our lead!
What kind of idiom is that? Types of the idioms
If you are not a native English speaker, you most probably already noticed that the English idioms differ from the ones you have in your mother tongue. Eliminate the deficiencies of the cross-cultural translation by requesting the quality college essay editing and proofreading service! If you are a native speaker and happened to travel abroad, you most obviously could not but wonder how differently people percept and express the world in their language. Let’s take an example. In English, we call the movable parts of the hand fingers, the same parts of the foot – toes. In Russian, both these parts of the body are called by one word [‘palets]. It does not mean, certainly, that the Russian people do not make a difference between fingers and toes. You would hardly meet anyone mixing up these concepts and wearing the gloves on their feet. Yet, somehow, this difference has not been indicated in the language.
In the mid-XXth century, the eminent linguists E. Sapir and B. Whorf have formulated the theory of the linguistic relativism. By this theory, human beings percept the world mainly through the language and by means of the language. Discover the particulars with the help of our skilled linguists having many years of experience in the academic papers’ editing services! Thus, the notions well elaborated within the language, become the subject of the constant attention and regard. In the meantime, the objects and events that are not expressed in the language clearly are usually skipped by the mind and do not attract much attention of the language speakers. As an example, the scientists presented the facts about their linguistic experiments, and also mentioned the Eskimo language having more than forty words for defining the color of the snow. The scientists made a hypothesis that the language reflects the most important sides of the objects and events. As different people and nations live in different geographic, climate etc. conditions, their languages would necessarily differ from each other. For the Eskimo people, the color of the snow reflects the features of the landscape, allowing making the weather forecast and getting prepared for the further activities (hunting, migrating etc.). For people inhabiting the hot climate areas like Africa this information is unnecessary, thus, it misses from their languages (so does the very word “snow” in many African dialects).
All this concerns the idioms in the first place. The idioms, as we already mentioned above, reflect the important events in the particular culture that became popular and widely used. Meanwhile, their specifics is such that they serve for cultural and language “fencing” processes, separating one language and culture from another. If you belong to the culture, different from the British or American culture, some difficulties might be encountered while writing the papers required by your college. We know the place where you can receive a full support for editing and revising of your course paper! We say about someone that he has shaken the things up, in order to indicate some crucial changes have been made to the situation. The picture popping into mind is someone taking the physical action to shake everything around him. The Germans, meanwhile, would say da hast du (uns) eine schöne Suppe eingebrockt! (What a soup you’ve brewed!). You see that the mindset would be quite different in this case, namely someone cooking the soup. The comprehensive studies and the light humorous posts on the peculiar issues of the English syntax and grammar are presented in the collection of articles written by our best writers. If you are interested in the cross-cultural exchange, are keen on learning the linguistic specifics of the ethnic groups or simply love the English language (as we do), sign up to Essay-editor without delay!
Therefore, the idioms reflect the cultural specifics of the nation and secure its traditions by preserving the way of regarding the world and life in the linguistic patterns. However, there are idioms that are understood in almost every corner of the world today. Whether it happens due to the expansion of the Christianity, Western culture and the English language or thanks to the universal structure of the mind and the language in general, it is hard to say. Such Biblical idioms as the blind leading the blind (meaning the one who does not know the way showing it to others), eye for eye, tooth for tooth (meaning the punishment must be equal to the harm done), forbidden fruit (something that is forbidden becomes desirable) and many others are understood today almost all over the world. When performing a writing work, it sometimes happens that the overall meaning of your essay or a course work is fine, yet the execution of the text must be further adjusted. Do not hesitate to lodge a request like “Revise my course paper online!” even if it is midnight! We are working by 24-hours schedule, 7 days a week!
There are also idioms that, though not coinciding in the actual wording, convey the same pattern of thinking and thus, are well comprehensible by different nations. For example, not my circus, not my monkeys proverb in the Polish language does not need to be matched by the Russian idiom That’s not my horse in order to be understood properly (it’s not my problem). Just the word-by-word translation would suffice for the person speaking any language to grasp the principle and understand the meaning. Such idioms can also be called universal. Learn about the universal principles of the linguistic science and the methods of their application to your studies. Get global with your approach to the language!
In this regard, we can characterize the idioms by their geographical (and cultural) area of application:
- Universal idioms. The ones generally known or the ones with the meaning easily derived out of their components (for example, nothing but skin and bones (weathered, exhausted, starving man), face to face (to see someone close, in privacy), a wolf in sheep’s clothing (someone pretending harmless yet conceiving the evil), when the pigs fly (something impossible to ever happen)). These idioms are present in all the versions of the English language: from the conservative British to free Australian (by the way, there is a comprehensive and animated article on our blog’s board regarding the ways to master the Australian English language. We do recommend!).
- Culturally specific idioms. These set phrases reflect the unique view and mindset of the people of a certain culture. Need some help to learn your English efficiently? Welcome to the webpage of our company! The situation when someone possesses the things or preferences he does not need and does not make use of, yet is not willing to share them with others, is described differently in the different languages. The English people (and the Russian ones) would say like a dog in a manger, the French would describe the situation like neither eating, neither giving, the Chinese would say he sits in the hen house but does not lay eggs. The same situation is described differently because of the distinctions present in the mindset of the different nations.
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Another linguistic classification of the idioms is drawn basis such features of these linguistic phenomena as transparency and rigidity. Do not waste your chance to receive a considerable discount for proofreading your scientific papers! We have short-term lucrative offers for you! This classification was first proposed by Ch. Fernando. Under the “transparency”, the possibility to derive the meaning out of the idiom’s components is meant. The “rigidity” implies the possibility / impossibility of introducing changes into the structure of the idiom, to exclude one or several components out of it. By these criteria, three types of idioms are defined:
1. Literal idioms. These are transparent non-rigid word combinations. Such idioms represent the flexible combinations of words, each of the latters having their conventional meaning unchanged. They can be freely used both within the idiom and separately from it. These are such idioms as to see the light (to see something clearly, to understand it well), to be no fool (not to be a fool, not to let anyone cheat on you), better late than never (it is preferably to do something too late than not to do it at all) and so on. The meaning of these idioms can be clearly derived out of just a literal translation of them into any language. Meanwhile, each word of these idioms is an independent unit having its own patterns of the usage. Thus, they can be easily disassembled and their meaning is not difficult to grasp.
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2. Semi-idioms. These constructions have semi-transparent structure that is formed by the metaphoric meaning. They can be disassembled into the components, yet the person who is not aware of such idioms cannot grasp their meaning at once. A certain knowledge of the cultural tokens and traditions is required, as well as of the way of thinking and of building up the metaphoric transformations. This class of idioms is represented by such phrases as add fuel to the fire (get some quarrel or another process be developed and gaining bigger scope), to know the ropes (realizing the way something has to be done and which mechanism should be used for it), breaking the ice (relieving the tension, mollifying the situation of the distrust or exclusion).
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3. Pure idioms. These word-combinations have the most rigid structure and the least transparent structure. They are formed on the basis of the cultural transformation of the meaning, when some events or objects are observed from some specific point of view, which is specific for a definite culture. The meaning of such idioms cannot be derived out of summing up the meanings of its components. These idioms can be illustrated by such phrases as burn one’s boats (take a final decision, leaving no alternative or retreat), bless you (a phrase used when someone sneezes), spill the beans (disclose some secret information to the people it was not intended for). Such idioms make the core of the cultural specific of the nation as well as constitute the peculiarity of its language.
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We have listed the basic classifications of the idioms. There are many more of them based on the different factors (formal structure, grammatical and syntactic properties of the phrase, thematic orientation, pragmatic reference and so on). If you’d like to go deeper with your research on the nature of the idioms, check the short yet smart review on the basic principles of the idioms’ formation. For the needs of the present post; however, the above-listed classification would suffice.
Next, we shall examine the idioms of the English language that can be classified as the pure idioms transmitting the meaning of the English culture. Follow us in this analysis and let’s draw conclusions together! Don’t forget, for any editing needs you can use the low-priced cheap student editing services and enjoy one of our individual discounts!
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English idioms as the mirror of the English culture
What are the first things that come to your mind when you think of English? Most probably, the tea, the Queen, the English sense of humor, double-decker buses, punctuality and so on. Among these things will necessarily be the English language, too. Though in the modern world English serves as the global language understood and spoken almost at all the corners of the world, yet it still retains a lot of spirit of the British people – its original speakers.
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No wonder, then, that the English idioms still hold a part of the British world. They convey the peculiar perception of the world and the particular metaphoric transitions characteristic for the British. In this post, we offer to lift a curtain a bit and peer at the vast scope and uniqueness of the British culture through its heart – the English language. Consult the experienced pros who know everything about English http://essay-editor.net/blog/looking-for-essays-editing-for-cheap and for the most democratic price in the market! The idioms, as we already determined above, serve the best for this goal. They reflect the way of thinking and the way of regarding the world imminent to the British people. They also provide the means of the analysis for the other cultures’ peculiarities, as it is always by comparison that we analyze some objects of the spiritual nature. Thus, the idioms make the mirror that we are able to look both at and through: through the authentic patterns of thinking imminent to the British culture, and at our own culture that immediately lets us see any distinction from the cultural patterns and traditions we are accustomed to. Check the connection between the language and the culture that can be best conceived through the notion of a concept – the unit of the mind, language and culture at the same time.
We shall examine the most extraordinary and authentic English idioms that represent the pure idioms by the above-mentioned classification by Ch. Fernando. During our investigation, we shall try to find out the circumstances of their origin, outline their meaning and the linguistic characteristic of the expression, and compare them to the similar idioms in the French, German, Spanish, Russian, Chinese languages, if applicable.
So, the unique ten goes as follows:
1. Kick the bucket – this expression stands for the meaning “to die”. He participated in the riot, and then was told to kick a bucket short afterwards. The appearance of this idiom is first fixed in year 1785, it bears the characteristic of the vulgar, euphemistic expression. The origin of this phrase is explained in the several ways, the most conventional one going as follows. The people sentenced to death through hanging had to stand on the bucket turned upside down during the persecution. Afterwards, the bucket had to be “kicked away” by the hangman or the person himself (in case of the suicide).
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The French analogue of this phrase sounds as lâcher la rampe that literally means “to let go of the railing”. We see that the French analogue is semi-idiom, not the pure one, as the meaning is easier to be derived yet cannot be clearly stated out of the components (the logical sequence letting go the railing – falling – dying).
The German phrase goes as Die Radieschen von untenanschauen/betrachten, which stands for “seeing the radishes from underneath”. It is not the complete analogue as the expression stands for “being dead” instead of the process “to die”. Can be considered a pure idiom.
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The Spanish idiom presents itself as estirar la pata that can be translated as “to stretch one’s legs”. That’s also a vulgar expression serving as a pure idiom.
The Russian analogue sounds as сыграть в ящик that is translated literally as “to play a box” meaning to be placed into the coffin. It also refers to the pure idioms.
The approximate analogue in Chinese goes like 翘辫子 (qiào biàn zi), which can be translated as “to stick a scythe into the earth, perching up in the sky [vertically]”. It implies that all the work is over for the person here on the Earth. A pure idiom as well.
As we see, the meaning “to die” can be represented by the different set expressions relating to the pure idioms. Each of the nationalities listed is using the different images and word patterns in order to describe it. The common component to be stated is the active role of the person in the process – the process of dying is described as the one actually performed by the Subject.
2. Piece of cake - this phrase means that something is really easy to do, without much effort. Thanks for fixing my car. – You’re welcome, it was a piece of cake! The first mention of this phrase comes from 1936, from the lyrics of the American poet Ogden Nash. Yet this phrase is quite frequently used in Britain and it may be assumed that it was originated there. This expression belongs to the informal language, yet it is used almost on all the levels of the social communication. The metaphor of the cake is quite a powerful one in the English culture (compare such expressions as a cake-walk, easy as a pie), and stands for something pleasant and not difficult to do.
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The French analogue of this phrase sounds as c’est un jeu d’enfant that means “it’s a kid’s game”. That is also a pure idiom, standing as well for the enjoyable and non-complicated process.
The German phrase goes as Das schaffe ich mit links, which stands for “I could do that with my left hand only”. The “non-difficulty” component, thus, is underlined, as most of the people are right-handed, while doing some actions with the left hand might present more difficulty. However, the tint of enjoying the process is missing from this phrase. This idiom can be considered a pure one.
The Spanish idiom presents itself as estar chupado that can be translated as “being licked over”. While it is used frequently, that’s a vulgar expression serving as a pure idiom.
The Russian analogue sounds as плевое дело that can be translated literally as “as easy as to spit”. That is the semi-idiom, as it is not fully metaphorical. Besides, while the easiness of process is marked, the “pleasure” component is ambiguous in this phrase.
The Chinese set expression is written as 举手之#劳 (jŭs hŏu zhī láo) that can be related as “that takes no more effort than to raise a hand”. This is a pure idiom stating the characteristic of the process that makes it easy to perform, while the component of the willing performance is absent.
The English idiom describes the particular cultural pattern connected with the pleasant emotions connected with the cake / pie, also stressing the easiness of the achievement of the goal. As we see, the correspondent idioms in other languages also contain the component of easiness, though expressed by different images, yet only the French analogue mentions the emotion of joy and pleasure.
3. Bite the bullet – the expression describes the action taken forcedly in order to do something that is of the high necessity or cannot be avoided; the unpleasant or unwilling character of the action is stressed upon. They tried to cheat on me so I bite the bullet and called their boss. The first fixation of the idiom dates back to the novel by R. Kipling written in 1891. The image standing behind the phrase describes the particular situation. It implies that someone is shooting at you and you either catch the bullet with your teeth or let it tear your flesh. The difficult and unpleasant character of such a situation is obvious. However, the historians and linguists assert it most probably refers to the surgical procedures of the XIXth century, when due to the absence of the proper anesthesia, the patient was forced to keep the bullet among his teeth in order not to cry out during the surgery.
The French analogue of this phrase sounds as mordre la poussière that is literally translated as “to swallow the dust”. That’s a pure idiom; however, it differs from the English one, having an additional component of “being forced by someone from outside to do the unpleasant thing”. It is also often used in association with taking the defeat in some action or argument.
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The German phrase goes as in den sauren Apfel beißen that means, “to swallow a bitter pill”. This idiom can be called a semi-idiom, as the component of unpleasant and forced action can be detached quite easily.
The Spanish idiom goes as enfrentarse el toro that means “confronting the bull”. This is a pure idiom describing the tense character and the difficulty of the task. At the same time, the sense component of the forced character / necessity of the action is not represented.
The Russian analogue is represented by the expression стиснув зубы, the translation of which goes as “clenching the teeth”. As we see, it is the semi-idiom; its meaning follows the meaning of its components. It particularly accentuates of the forced and displeasing character of the foreseen action.
The similar Chinese set expression says 秀才推磨-不得已而为之。(Xiu Caituimo bude yier weizhi). Literally, it means that "a person named Xiu Cai turns the millstone and does that because of the necessity to do it”. Here we have a pure idiom with a lengthy description. To decipher it properly, the knowledge of the Chinese folklore is required.
The mental image of “biting the bullet” consists of the components of the undesirable yet inevitable action the person is about to undertake. As we see, the most fully this meaning is revealed in the English idiom. The other languages examined usually stress on some components while skipping the other ones.
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4. Bob’s your uncle – this idiom serves as an interjection. It means “something that has become completed easily and naturally” or simply “and that’s it”. Go left at the first intersection, then enter the parking area on your right and Bob’s your uncle! You’re in the marketplace. It is an informal idiom. Official science states the origin of the phrase is unknown. However, there is quite a credible version that the expression appeared and got fixed upon the year 1887. At this time, Robert Gascoyne, the British Prime Minister have favored his nephew with several benefits, including the title of the Prime Minister of Ireland. Since the latter referred to the Prime Minister as “Uncle Bob”, the expression has gotten widespread implying the easiness to reach a high position and material benefits when Bob is actually your uncle.
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The French phrase analogous to the mentioned expression, is the worldwide known Voila! (that can be translated like “and that’s it!”). Unlike to the English phrase, it can be used in any style of communication. Strictly speaking voila is not an idiom, but an interjection, yet it almost completely translates the meaning, similar to that of the English idiom.
The German idiom sounds as schwuppdivupp that can be approximately translated as “fast and unexpected, out of the blue”. This phrase is also classified by the vocabularies as an idiom; however, its functions rather correspond with those of the interjection. Thus, it can be considered a literal idiom that serves as the informal phrase.
The Spanish analogue is y se acabó that literally means “and it is done”. A literal idiom again, applicable in any style of the communication. It repeats the component of completeness, also present in the English phrase.
The Russian analogue is represented by the expression дело в шляпе, which literally means “and the thing is in the hat”. It refers to the XVIIth century, when the messengers used to sew up the important documents into their hats in order to avoid their discovery by robbers. It stands for the successful completion of the action. A pure idiom, of the informal usage.
The Chinese similar idiom is lacking in this case. There is an approximately close idiom going like 怪不得 (guài bu de). It means that is how it’s gotten completed, no wonder. It is the semi-idiom, missing the component of the successful and quick ending of the action, essential in the English idiom.
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As you see, the idioms in other languages also feature different grammar constructions used to represent the similar meaning. Be on guard of your grammar with the comprehensive grammar check service and make use of all the types of the editing services!
Thus, when we say Bob’s your uncle, we imply something has happened quite easy and highly favorable for the recipient. This meaning is not described in much detail in the other languages, in many, it is transmitted by the interjections. Meanwhile, the similar idioms in Spanish and Chinese lack the components of success and fastness of the action. The closest to the English idiom is its Russian analogue.
5. Cat got your tongue? – this idiom is used widely to point out somebody’s unusual quietness and silence. It can be explained by the questions “Why are you so silent? Why do you talk so little?” Why didn’t you say anything in your defense? Cat got your tongue? This idiom’s roots are also unclear. Some researches state it might date back to the times of the sailors’ punishment with the multi-tails whip called “cat o’nine”. However, it is more credible that if someone would be punished in this way, there’d rather be more shouting than silence. The essential meaning components of the idiom are “unusual or unexplainable silence”, “silence or quietness when another reaction is expected”.
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The French analogue of this phrase sounds as tu as avalé ta langue? that means “have you swallowed your tongue?”. As we see, the meaning is more explicit here, as this is a semi-idiom. It provides, in the meantime, a component of the urgency of the expected yet not received reaction. It is considered informal and rather non-polite.
The German phrase goes as Du hast wohl die Spracheverloren? which stands for “have you lost your language?”. Here there is no allusion to the physical action, but to the lack of the talking capacity. It is the semi-idiom as well, of the informal usage. Similar to the French analogue, it puts the responsibility for silence on the person itself.
The Spanish idiom presents itself as Non lo sacaran ni con pinzas that can be translated as “cannot take out anything [of someone] with the tongs”. That’s an informal yet widely used pure idiom. However, it has a bit different meaning, stating the silence of the person is a decisive one, most probably in order not to reveal some important information.
The Russian analogue sounds as язык проглотил? That is similar to the French idiom “have you swallowed your tongue?” That is the semi-idiom as well, and it also can be considered rude to address someone with such a question. It relays rather an aggressive approach on the part of the asking party, implying another person is expected to say something.
The Chinese approximate analogue goes as 装聋作哑 (zhuang long zuo ya) that can be translated as “to pretend to be deaf and mute”. This is a literal idiom having the “silence” component, yet missing the active approach of another party and lacking the component of “expectation for action”.
As we see, the English idiom Cat’s got your tongue? is the most picturesque pure idiom among the mentioned analogues. It represents a vivid picture, yet to disclose the meaning without having a substantial knowledge of the language and culture does not deem possible. Though this idiom contains a component of the appeal from another party and presumed reaction of the addressed one, it does not take the aggressive outline, as in the French, Spanish and Russian analogues.
6. Pardon my French! – it is another curious pure idiom that is used widely, both in formal and informal speech, but being closer to the informal lexis. Sometimes it can be used for a comic effect. Actually it is used for indicating the speaking person has used or is going to use an obscene expression, and provides excuses for it, “I’m sorry but I’m going to swear”. Those politicians are going to ruin the country. Damn them, pardon my French! The origin of this phrase comes from the XIXth century. Then the French language was the conventional language of the aristocracy, and was used widely. This phrase came as an actual apology for using the French word in the English speech, while it could be unknown to the listener. The essential meaning components are “apology, sometimes of the mocking nature”, “swear”, “saying something inappropriate”. See more ways to use the polite words in your speech and soften the expressions while writing your essay in Basic Math or a literature essay. Tolerance goes first!
The French analogue of this phrase does not refer to anything French. It goes as si vous me passez l’expression that can be relayed as “if you permit me to use the expression”. It is the semi idiom, used both in formal and informal styles of the language, yet being more polite than the English phrase. Here the speaking person is not asking for the apology directly, but relays it in the form of the conditional sentence. The other meaning components are similar to those of the English idiom.
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The German analogue does not provide an idiom in this case. The corresponding phrase is Verzeihen Sie meine Ausdrucksweise that actually means, “pardon my expression”. It is not used frequently and does not bear an idiomatic flavor.
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In the Spanish language, there is also no special idiom for this case. If someone wishes to spare himself of his listener’s wrath, he is to say Perdón por la expression, which means “sorry for using the expression”. More interesting, there is a Spanish idiom for the description of the people too straightforward and sometimes impolite and even rude in their talk. It goes like ser ruso (like a Russian). Curious, that in the situation of indicating the offensive lexis, the English idiom refers to French, while the Spanish language points out to Russians.
The Russian similar idiom is also absent. The traditional phrase in the similar situation (swearing) would sound like прошу прощения за выражение; literally “forgive me my expression”. It does not bear any stylistic remark and is also used widely.
The Chinese correspondent idiom is also not present. The expression similar to many of the above 对不起，我讲了粗话 goes as “apologies for using inappropriate words”. Can be used in any style of the language.
As we see, displaying the situation of swearing in form of the idiom is the prerogative of the English language. Besides, the phrase has a lot of the tints of the meaning adding a peculiar zest to it. It refers to the humorous, comic situation and does not provide a real apology for using offensive lexis.
7. In donkey’s years – this idiom is used when someone wants to accentuate on quite a long period of something, “in a very long time”. Lisa hasn’t been to Alaska in donkey’s years. The exact origin of this phrase is unknown. There are suggestions as to the actual age of donkeys who are able to live quite long (over 30 years), to the biblical character of the Valaam’s donkey (the donkey was wise and believed to live for long), to the mixing up with the word “ears”. Considering the length of the ears of a donkey, the latter seems to be quite a reasonable theory.
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The French idiom similar to the English one is quite peculiar: depuis la belle lurette. It does not have a literal translation, as the word-combination “belle lurette” is not used otherwise than inside the idiom. It means “for / since a very long time”. It is the pure idiom of the wide, both formal and informal usage.
The German phrase goes as Eine Ewigkeit, which means “a whole eternity”. That’s a literal idiom, with no restrictions as to its usage. It points out not only to the long period of some action, but also to the small chances of the thing ever happening in the future.
The Spanish idiom presents itself as edades incontable that can be translated as “incalculable years”. That’s also a literal idiom, bearing rather an informal character. Similar to the German one, it also serves for the expressing the meaning of the infinity and for tiny opportunity for the event to ever happen.
The Russian analogue sounds as целая вечность that is translated literally as “the whole eternity”. It has exactly the same meaning and the area of usage as the German phrase, and also represents a literal idiom.
The Chinese set expression is written as 长年累月(cháng nián lĕi yuè) that can be translated as “year in, year out”. That is a semi-idiom meaning that a lot of years have passed since the mentioned event. It is used widely, in the different styles of the language.
The English phrase is the only pure idiom among the listed analogues. Curious, that other languages provide more or less identical phrases for expressing the same meaning. Meanwhile, the English phrase due to its imaginary capacity also represents a tint of the humorous meaning, stating the somewhat free attitude to the time.
8. Cold turkey – this peculiar idiom is used to describe a particular process of giving up the malevolent habit like drinking or smoking. The meaning of this expression is “stopping indulging the habit abruptly, without gradual leaving or any auxiliary means”. Ii is used with the action verbs go / quit. The chocolate consummation grew up to the dangerous habit, and she went cold turkey. The first appearance of this idiom is fixed in year 1951; it bears the characteristic of the informal, specific expression. Yet, it has been used widely afterwards, and today it is quite acceptable in any style of the English language. The origin of this phrase is explained in the several ways, from the comparison of the addict suddenly dropping his habit, to the plucked turkey (all gooseflesh and trembling), to the similarity to the American expression “talk turkey”, implying talking straightforward, without preparation.
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The French analogue of this phrase sounds as décrocher that literally means “to tie up with something”. It also stands for giving up the bad habit, yet there is no detailed account of the ways of performing the intention. That is the semi-idiom, bearing an informal character.
The German language describes the situation as ein kalter Entzug that stands literally for “cold withdrawal”. As we see, it has a lot of common with the English idiom, yet represents the notion with less figurative construction. That’s a semi-idiom, of the narrow usage (rather informal).
The Spanish idiom presents itself as de un solo golpe that literally means “in one hit”. This is the pure idiom, used in the informal communication. It relates the meaning component of abruptness, yet does not refer to any sense of the preceding preparation.
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The Russian analogue sounds as завязать and is identical in meaning to the French phrase. It means “tying up” implying to cease doing something inappropriate or malevolent. A semi-idiom of the informal usage.
There is no analogue for this phrase in Chinese, the approximate translation going as follows 突然完全停用 (tū rán wán quán tíng yòng) that means “abandoning the bad habit abruptly”.
As we see, there is a peculiar meaning component relevant only for the European languages mentioned in our list. It is the curing of the bad habit by abandoning it abruptly. In some of them, there are similar analogues for the meaning “stopping suddenly, without preparation”; in others, some sense components are dropped. The process is usually described by the semi-idioms of the informal usage.
9. Chew the fat – this idiom stands for the meaning “to talk in a friendly, free manner; to talk gossip”. I haven’t seen him for ages. His train was due at two, so we chewed the fat a bit. This expression was first fixed in the year 1885; it bears the characteristic of the informal, colloquial phrase. The origin of this idiom is not determined, yet several versions exist. Some of them draw the idiom out of the alleged habit of the sailors of chewing the salted fat during their job; others refer to the farmers and the ethnic societies of the North (like Inuit). There is also a version standing for the metaphoric rethinking of the phrase, defining the process as something pleasant to do for a long time.
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The correspondent idiom in French goes as tailler une bavette that literally means, “to cut out the pieces of meat”. We see that the French analogue is a pure idiom as well, also referring to some actions with the parts of the animal flesh. However, the scientific researches suggest the word “bavette” actually descends from the “bave” meaning saliva. Thus, the phrase should be translated literally as “catch and wipe the saliva”. The idiom is used in the informal styles of the language.
The German analogue sounds as Über Gott und die Welt reden, which means “talking about the world and the God”. It is not the complete analogue as this expression is attributed to the literary, lofty style. It is the semi-idiom, having the meaning of rather a polite communication than an intimate gossip.
The approximate analogue in Spanish goes as darle a la sinhueso that literally means “to give way to the boneless (implying the tongue)”. That’s an informal colloquial expression serving as a semi-idiom.
The Russian idiom sounds as точить лясы, which is an informal pure idiom standing for “making a small talk, gossiping”. That’s quite a peculiar phrase as literally it means “to refine or hew the small columns at the porch”. It is implied that such a job required a considerable skill, so the image was transmitted onto the art of handling a small talk.
The Chinese expression is written as 侃大山 (kǎn dà shān) that can be related as “talking in a friendly manner”. It is not an idiom, and can be used in the different styles of the language.
Therefore, the English phrase has a lot of analogues in the other Western languages. However, the metaphoric images used for representation of the meaning, describe quite different notions. Besides, the particular sense component of “intimateness” is presented only in the English idiom.
10. All mouth and no trousers – this expression is also frequently used as all mouth and trousers. It describes a person who “boasts a lot but cannot prove his words by any deed or action”. He says he’s been a champion in the Winter Games, but he’s all mouth and no trousers. The origin of this phrase is unknown, there are several versions existing. Several disputes have been held regarding the usage of the phrase. Some linguists suggest it should be used in the positive mode (All mouth and trousers), others argue the negative mode (All mouth and NO trousers) represents the original phrase. Presently, these two variants have acquired different meaning: the positive one goes for describing someone in the sexual context, while the negative one goes for all the neutral examples. The general meaning of the “unfounded boasting or threat”; however, stays the same. This expression is used in the informal speech.
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The French similar idiom goes as brasser beaucoup d’air that can be translated as “stirring the air violently / a lot”, implying there is no actual deed behind the words. That’s also a pure idiom of the informal usage, yet providing the different image for the metaphor. There is no direct allusion to the sexual context in this analogue.
The German analogue sounds as groβe Klappe und nichts dahinter, which stands for “a large door and nothing behind”. A pure idiom of the informal usage, meaning a person who does a lot of boasting yet provides no real action / possession / skills. Thus, though the image is different, the German idiom is almost completely identical to the English one by its meaning.
The Spanish phrase sounds as se le va la fuerza por la boca that stands for “having a power [only] in the mouth”. That’s a pure idiom, used in the informal contexts. Its meaning is similar to the meaning of the English idiom, yet is more general, describing all the typical contexts, without specification.
The Russian language does not provide the adequate idiom in this case. There is a characteristic of the person “пустозвон” that can be translated as windbag, babbler, smooth talker. It is used in the informal styles of the language.
The approximate Chinese analogue goes as 夜郎自大 (yè láng zì dà) that can be related as “shameless boasting”. It refers to the prince who was haughty and boasting while governing only a very small territory. This is a semi-idiom, used in both the formal and informal styles. Unlike the other mentioned idioms, it stands for some, though feeble, ground for boasting. Thus, its meaning differs from the English analogue.
In this regard, the English idiom, apart from providing quite a vivid and comic impression, also has additional tints of meaning and thus, the more specific context of usage. Meanwhile, it also can be used as a general description of the groundless boasting. Interesting, that the boasting is referred to as “all mouth” while the other languages provide the metaphors referring to something large in size or volume (“large door”, “a lot of air”, “having a power”).
Above we have examined ten of the most peculiar English idioms. They provide quite an unusual view of the notions and events, and may well serve as an introduction into the cultural specifics of the British world. The comparison to the correspondent idioms present in the other languages allows tracing the points of the cultural crossing and mutual enrichment, as well as to represent the specifics of each culture and each language more brightly.
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