26 pleasingly colourful European sayings (and their bizarre translations)

PUBLISHED: 15:55 07 July 2017

Turkish: If dogs' prayers were accepted it would rain bones from the sky

Turkish: If dogs' prayers were accepted it would rain bones from the sky


We explore the wonders of European languages with some of the continent’s quirkiest sayings

1. leben wie die Maden im Speck (German) to live like a maggot in bacon (ie, live the life of Riley)

2. van een kale kip kan je geen veren plukken (Dutch) you can’t pluck feathers from a bald hen (you can’t get blood out of a stone)

3. olla ketunhäntä kainalossa (Finnish) to have a foxtail under your armpits (have ulterior motives)

4. estar durmiendo con la mona (Spanish) to be sleeping with the monkey (be drunk)

5. eine Krote sclucken (German) to swallow a toad (to make a concession grudgingly)

6. vot gde sobaka zaryta (Russian) that’s where the dog is buried (that’s the crux of the matter)

7. avaler les couleuvres (French) to swallow grass snakes (endure humiliation)

8. karincalanmak (Turkish) to be crawling with ants (to have pins and needles)

9. l’argent ne se trouve pas sous le sabot d’un cheval (French) money isn’t found under a horse’s hoof (money doesn’t grow on trees)

10. kopeklerin duası kabul olsa gökten kemik yağardı (Turkish) if dogs’ prayers were accepted it would rain bones from the sky

And, away from the animal kingdom, many other admonishments have stood the test of time:

11. Dios es el que sana, y el medico lleva la plata (Spanish) God cures the patient and the doctor pockets the fee

12. si quieres ver cuanto vale un ducao, buscalo prestado (Spanish) if you would know the value of a shilling, try to borrow one

13. gode ord skal du hogge i berg, de dårligere i snø (Norwegian) carve your good words in stone, the bad in snow

14. człowiek strzela, Pan Bóg kule nosi (Polish) man shoots, God carries the bullets

15. los szczęście rzuca, ale nie każdy łapie (Polish) fate throws fortune, but not everyone catches

16. le diable chie toujours au même endroit (French) the devil always shits in the same place (ie the criminal always returns to the scene of the crime)

17. slicka uppåt, sparka nedåt (Swedish) lick upwards, kick downwards

18. fra børn og fulde folk skal man høre sandheden (Danish) from children and drunks you will hear the truth

19. olcsó húsnak híg a leve (Hungarian) cheap meat produces thin gravy

20. u miericu pietusu fa la piaga verminusa (Calabrian, Italy) the physician with too much pity will cause the wound to fester

21. dacă doi spun că eşti beat, du-te şi te culcă (Romanian) if two people say you’re drunk, go to sleep

22. a bocca chjusa, nè pani nè bonbucconi (Corsican) a closed mouth catches neither flies nor food

23. c’est la goutte d’eau qui fait déborder le vase (French) it’s the drop of water that makes the vase overflow (ie the final straw that breaks the camel’s back)

24. wie boter op zijn hoofd heeft, moet niet in de zon lopen (Dutch) those who have butter on their head should not run under the sun

25. Žena se plaši prvog muža, a muž se plaši druge žene (Serbian) a wife is frightened of her first husband; a husband is frightened of his second wife

26. yesli khochetsya rabotat’ lyag pospi i vsyo proydyot (Russian) if you feel an urge to work, take a nap and it will pass

Adam Jacot de Boinod worked on the first series of the BBC panel game QI. He is the author of The Meaning of Tingo and Toujours Tingo, which look at words that have no equivalent in the English language. His latest book, The Wonder of Whiffling, looks at unusual words in English

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