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”

Strategy for surviving recession?

It seems like every day there are new headlines of doom, gloom and forthcoming recession. Whilst the American recession has perhaps had less of an impact on the global economy than it would have done in the past, the overwhelming evidence of global recession casts a grey cloud over small businesses.

Earlier this month, an OECD report suggested that Britain’s economy would fare worst amongst those of the G7 in the last two quarters of 2008. This gloomy message was reinforced yesterday when the European Commission also predicted that the UK would fall into recession in the second half of this year.

The web is flooded with “recession help” sites. It would seem that everyone wants to put in his or her piece on how to avoid economic doom, and I’m afraid I’m no exception! But here I want to consider one way of keeping company finances healthy that is often overlooked: translation into one or more foreign languages.

Although the downturn is global it’s by no means uniform – for a small outlay you can tap into an international market, effectively “recession proofing” your company. Even near-by in Europe, you can find more reasons for optimism. France and Italy, for example, look set to be spared recession, while Poland is considered to have one of the fastest growing economies at present, with an annual growth rate of 6.0%.

On top of that, the weak pound may have been painful during our summer holidays – but it makes UK goods and services attractive to global consumers.

It seems almost paradoxical to expand in order to avoid recession, but business strategist Richard Denny disagrees: “When the going gets tough, business owners should step up their sales and marketing activity rather than cut back”. And what better way to do this than to break into a market less burdened with downturn?