Foreign idioms: a fun look at the sayings of the world

A fun new book out this summer takes a sideways look at the idioms and sayings of the world.

“I’m Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ear and Other Intriguing Idioms from Around the World” takes its title from a Russian saying which is broadly similar in meaning to the English phrase “I’m not pulling your leg”. Often, we are so used to these absurdities in our own languages that they pass us by in everyday speech – although of course they often present a challenge to the foreign language translator!

The book is best viewed as a something to dip into, considering idioms from the Russian “To look like September” (to look miserable) through to the French “to fart in silk” (be very happy).

The chapters are arranged by subject matter (love, health, work, and so on) with a short introduction to each, and translations from a range of languages including French, Italian, German, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, Chinese and Arabic. Several of the idioms are illustrated in cartoon form, adding to the entertainment value.

Sadly the book doesn’t really delve into the background of the idioms. An academic study would have been out of place, but you can’t help but wonder if a more thorough exploration of a phrase and its etymology would have added to the fun. Also, as foreign language typesetters and translators, we would have liked to see more emphasis on the original saying rather than just the literal translation.

That said, it’s all good fun. Even better, it’s inspired the Guardian newspaper to produce a fun quiz of foreign language idioms. Give it a go and, as they point out, you can find out if you’re “a walking donkey killer or simply carrying owls to Athens”