Eight international idioms that sound weird in English

·2-min read
Some countries' idioms can sound crazy when translated literally.

Every country has its share of idioms and expressions for language learners to grapple with. When translated literally, these can often lose their meaning and sometimes just sound weird. Here's a selection of expressions in Italian, German, Portuguese and Spanish that sound particularly strange when translated literally.

Idiomatic expressions can't always be translated literally into other languages. In fact, they often just sound absurd or lose their meaning entirely.

These phrases can be hard to translate, and capturing their full meaning can be challenging -- especially because they sometimes have specific meanings that are acquired over time, sometimes from a specific era.

According to language learning app Babbel, there are some expressions that are virtually impossible to translate. These sometimes have equivalents in other languages and sometimes have surprises in store for language learners.

In Portuguese, watch out for rabbits

"Comprar gato por lebre" : the literal translation of this expression is "to buy a cat thinking it was a rabbit," which actually means "to be fooled." An English equivalent would be: "to buy a pig in a poke."

"Matar dois coelhos com uma tacada/cajadada só" : The rabbit returns -- this time in a phrase that literally translates as "to kill two rabbits with just one shot," meaning achieving two things with a single action. The equivalent expression in English would be "to kill two birds with one stone."

In German, food isn't always about eating

"Das ist nicht mein Bier" : this idiom literally means "that is not my beer" but actually means something like "that's not my thing, I'm not interested, I don't like it." In English, we're more likely to say "it's not my cup of tea."

"Jetzt mal Butter bei die Fische" : translated literally, this expression means "now butter for the fish!" and means "get to the point!"

In Italian, it's good to be like bread

"Buono come il pane" : this widely used Italian expression literally means "to be as good as bread," but is actually used to describe someone "who has a heart of gold."

"Non avere peli sulla lingua" : literally, this expression means "to not have hairs on your tongue," a phrase that describes someone who "doesn't mince their words."

In Spanish, watch out for bad milk

"Levantarse con el pie izquierdo" : literally, this expression means "to get up with your left foot" and means having a bad start to the day or "getting up on the wrong side of the bed." Watch out too for "estar de mala leche" or "to be in bad milk," which means to be in a bad mood.

"Tomar el pelo" : or "to take the hair," means to kid, to poke fun at or "to pull someone's leg."

Louis Bolla