Get your jaw dislocated
by Tilly Dillehay Editor
I recently picked up a fun book called “I’m Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears… and Other Intriguing Idioms From Around the World.” It’s a fun little book, a coffee table or bathroom sort of book.
All that it contains is one chapter after another filled with idioms that don’t make sense to English speakers.
We have lots of these idioms ourselves. Think of phrases like “you’re pulling my leg,” “I wasn’t born yesterday,” “head over heels,” and “sowing wild oats.” If you don’t know the phrase, the meaning won’t be apparent based on a literal translation. (“Leg? Pulling? What does this have to do with someone tricking you? I don’t understand. What does the day you were born have to do with being gullible?”)
And that is why it was such a fun exercise to try to understand how these idioms from other countries could possibly have come about.
I thought, just for fun, that you all would enjoy hearing a few of them.
If you want some new ways of talking about love, try these: In Columbian Spanish, you can say that someone is head over heels in love by saying that they are “swallowed like a postman’s sock.” Yes, that means to be deeply in love.
If you want to rekindle an old flame, say that you’re about to “reheat the cabbage.” That’s what Italians say, and they ought to know. But Italians also have a proverb that warns against the dangers of falling in love too many times: “leave women alone and go study mathematics.” That one really just confuses me.
If you’re on the street in Latin America, you may have men shouting this at you: “A bonbon, and me with diabetes,” or “what curves, and me without brakes.”
Attractive Peruvian men are called “fritters,” and a cute person in Mexico is said “to be a monkey face.” Beautiful eyes are called “lotus eyes” in Hindi, and an attractive woman is said to have “thighs shaped like banana trees” in Bengali.
Ways of saying “to stand someone up” include “to give the package” (Italian), “to put a rabbit” (French), “to give squash or pumpkins” (Spanish), or “to take a jacket” (French). In the meantime, “To burn grilled rice cakes” means to be jealous (Japanese).
If you want to dance, you could ask someone to do so in any one of the following Spanish-speaking countries: just tell them you want to “shake the skeleton” (Latin America), “wiggle your bucket” (Mexico), “buckle polish” (Venezuela), “throw a foot” (Cuba), or “get the moths off” (Mexico).
If you decided to get married, you have all the following idioms available to you. All of these mean ‘to get married’: “to solidify one’s body” (Japan), “matricide” (Costa Rica), “to hang oneself” (Mexico), or “to get under a bonnet” (German). Once you’re married, you can ironically call your wife “handcuffs” (Latin America) or “War Department” (Mexico). A wonderful unromantic proverb for the occasion can be borrowed from France: “Love is blind, but marriage restores your sight.”
And if you choose not to marry, just remember that Yiddish people call a bachelor “an old schoolboy.”
There are a whole bunch of ways that the head, neck and hair are used to communicate in other countries. “To grab someone’s hair” means to pull their leg in Spanish, and “to devour hair from head” means to eat someone out of house and home in German. “A single hair from nine oxen” means a drop in the bucket to Chinese people, and when Japanese people do something reluctantly, they do it “feeling that hair on the back of head is pulled back” (I hope the Japanese translation is shorter than that).
“To eat the brain of” means to bore somebody in Hindi, and “you’re climbing on my head” means you’re getting on my nerves in Arabic. A pregnant woman could be called “a two-headed woman” in Hindi, and in Japanese, to “get your jaw dislocated” means to die laughing.
We’ve got a few head/hair idioms of our own in English—think of “I wouldn’t harm a hair on his head” or “I’m racking my brain.”
A country will often insult other countries through their idioms:
Spain calls leaving without saying goodbye “taking a French leave.” Italians say that drinking a lot makes you “drunk as an English sailor,” but Spaniards say it means you “drink like a Cossack.” If you “speak French like a Spanish cow,” you don’t speak it well, and if you are a foreigner, you may be called “stinking hair” (Chinese). Hungarians are called pimples by the Czechs, Frenchmen are called cockroaches by the Germans, Spaniards are called lice by the French, and syphilis is called “the French disease” by the Italians.
But feel better: the Yiddish still call America “The Golden country.”
If you’re still wondering about the title: “I’m not hanging noodles on your ears” means “I’m not pulling your leg.”
And I’m not. I promise.
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