Lost in Language: Global Idioms Translated into English

If you’ve been traveling for awhile now, you’ve no doubt met people from all over the world who speak different languages. While we may all be able to agree on a smile being a universal language, you might be surprised at how two languages are rarely ever the same - a good reminder that sometimes situations and events are perceived differently as well, according to what language one has grown up learning about the world through.

We’ve collected some of our favorite idioms, phrases and words from around the world which don’t always translate back to English the way you would think them to. Some might give you a laugh while others will just be plain baffling… use them when you can!


English: Don’t pay any attention

Thai: เอาหูไปนา เอาตาไปไร่.

Literal translation: Take ears to the field, take eyes to the farm






English: I don’t care.

German: Das ist mir Wurst.

Literal translation: It’s sausage to me.


English: I don’t understand.

German: Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof.

Literal translation: I only understand the train station.


English: To live luxuriously.

German: Leben wie die Made im Speck.

Literal translation: To live like a maggot in bacon.



English: I have had enough.

French: Les carottes sont cuiles.

Literal translation: The carrots are cooked.


English: That was completely irrelevant.

French: Arriver comme un cheveu sur la soupe.

Literal translation: To arrive like a hair in a soup.


English: To do something useless.

French: Peigner la girafe.

Literal translation: To comb a giraffe.


English: To have a lot in common with someone.

French: Avoir des atomes crochus avec quelqu’un.

Literal translation: To have hooked atoms with someone.





English: To reject someone.

Spanish: Dar calabazas a alguien.

Literal translation: To give pumpkins to someone.





English: [Referring to] someone who didn’t have to work to get where they are.

Swedish: Att glida in på en räkmacka.

Literal translation: To slide in on a shrimp sandwich.

English: Don’t worry.

Swedish: Det är ingen ko på isen.

Literal translation: There is no cow on the ice.




English: To not listen to someone.

Danish: At have en pind i øret.

Literal translation: To have a pin in your ear.





English: He’s a very stubborn person.

Russian: Хоть кол на голове теши.

Literal translation: You can sharpen with an ax on top of his head.




English: You make the most of what you’ve got.

Portuguese: Quem não tem cão caça com gato.

Literal translation: He who doesn’t have a dog hunts with a cat.



English: Not my problem.

Polish: Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy.

Literal translation: Not my circus, not my monkeys.  

English: To pester.

Polish: Wiercić komuś dziurę w brzuchu.

Literal translation: To drill a hole in your belly.





English: Speed bumps.

Indonesian: Polisi tidur.

Literal translation: Sleeping police.

English: To bicker.

Indonesian: Silat lidah.

Literal translation: Tongue fight.



English: Something’s fishy.

Hindi: दाल में कुछ काला होना, Daal mein kuchh kaala honaa.

Literal translation: There’s something black in the lentil soup/daal.



English: Stretching the truth.

Chinese: 天花乱坠, tiānhuāluànzhuì.

Literal translation: To talk as if the heavens were raining flowers.

English: It’s a lost cause.

Chinese: 缘木求鱼, yuánmùqiúyú.

Literal translation: It’s like climbing a tree to catch fish.

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