I'm always interested in stuff to do with language, and how we use it, so was pleased when a friend sent me a link to a blog post in the Guardian called The Idiotic Joys of Idiom. The writer is Jag Bhalla who is apparently an amateur idiomologist and author of I'm Not Hanging Noodles on your Ears, a collection of over 1,000 idioms from 10 languages, published by National Geographic Books. Did you know there was such a thing as an idiomologist? My spellchecker certainly doesn't.
Anyway, the post lists a number of various curious sayings, pointing out that making idiomatic phrases is by no means limited to the English, but is common to all languages. In the recent posts in which I briefly discussed David Tammet's Embracing the Wide Sky, I didn't mention his discussion about the peculiarities in language being common everywhere; think of something odd you say in English, and there will be equal odd things said in other languages. Language is far more amazing than we think, not just because almost everyone learns it with relative ease, but because the sheer brainpower required to do it is inbuilt. Evolutionists claim of course we developed language for various reasons (one of them being because our brains got bigger, which seems a bit of pseudo-science, if you ask me), but however it 'developed' it's quite phenomenal when you sit down and consider its complexity.
Back to Mr Bhalla. Here are some of the non-English idioms he quotes:
To seize the moon by the teeth: attempt the impossible (French).
To reheat cabbage: to rekindle an old flame (Italian).
When the crayfish sings in the mountain: never (Russian).
Cleaner than a frog's armpit: to be poor, broke (Spanish).
To think one is the last suck of the mango: to be conceited (South American Spanish).
I'm considering using some of these in my own conversations. 'That Brian, he thinks he's the last suck of the mango!' It almost works without needing translation. And somewhere, I'm sure, there's an idiom about womens shoes, but a quick search on the Net failed to bring anything likely up.
As an adjunct to the post, there's a quiz in which genuine idioms are included with pseud ones. Quite honestly, it's hard to tell the difference. Check it out and have a good laugh! And don't forget to look at the comments section below the blog post itself. There are some superb and hilarious examples of both English and foreign idioms.