Ernest Inventory Article: Idioms from Around the World


Idioms: A Jaunt through Europe


The idiom: ’De perdidos, al río.’

The literal translation: ’From lost, to the river.’

The explanation: One captain’s final epic words during an ancient Spanish

war, this idiom was coined to rally the troops against insurmountable odds.

In for a penny, in for a pound, I suppose.

        Our translation: ’We’re screwed either way, for glory lads.’


The idiom: ’Estar en el ajo.’

The literal translation: ’To be in the garlic.’

        The explanation: As the cheekiest and most sort after of the culinary

ingredients, this phrase means ‘to be clued up’ or ‘know the score’.

Often, if you’re in the garlic, you’re partial to information of a nefarious nature.

Our translation: ’In the know (shifty eyes, nose-tap and secret handshake required).’


The idiom: ’Se le llena la boca.’

The literal translation: ’It fills the mouth (with righteous words).’

The explanation: ‘A mouth full of righteousness’; for the moments that fill

you with such conviction that you must let out a yell of justice.

Our translation: ’The pen is mightier than the sword, but an ear-full is

much worse.’


The idiom: ’Andando, que es gerundio.’

The literal translation: ’Let’s get going, which is the gerund.’

The explanation: ‘Let’s get going because it’s happening’ is easiest for

Anglican speakers, but to get a real feel for the phrase try this word made

from the suffix that forms the gerund in English.

Our translation: ’Let’s get going, because we’re ing-ing.’



The idiom: ’In bocca al lupo/ In culo alla balena.

The literal translation: ’In the mouth of the wolf/ In the ass of a whale.’

The explanation: ‘Usually caveatted with the response ‘I hope it doesn’t

eat you’ or ‘I hope it doesn’t s**** on you’, it is traditionally a way of saying

good luck. The pelagic version of this idiom is only pertinent to certain

regions of Italy, so use it sparingly.

Our translation: ’Good luck, I hope s*** doesn’t hit the fan or you!’ 


The idiom: ’Fare troppi atti in comedia.’

The literal translation: ’To make too many acts in a comedy.’

The explanation: Putting a lighter spin on some wise words, to try to take

on too much in one moment is only funny for a short time.

Our translation: ’Careful with those plates you’re balancing,

mum won’t find it funny when you drop them.’


The idiom: ’Farsene un baffo.

The literal translation: ’To make a moustache.’

The explanation: It would appear that the humble lip warmer is

of little interest in Italy, as this phrase means to consider something

as insignificant or, to simply, not care.

   Our translation: ’Everyone has a moustache these days.’



The idiom: ’Das Leben ist kein Ponyhof.’

The literal translation: ’Life isn’t a pony ranch.’

The explanation: Something you are likely to hear echoing in the hallways

of schools, staff rooms and offices alike, it’s a nice way of saying that

life is going to be a bit tough.

        Our translation: ‘Life isn’t all pony rides and sunshine.’


The idiom: ’Was der Bauer nicht kennt, frisst er nicht.’

The literal translation: ’What the farmer doesn’t know, he doesn’t eat’

The explanation:  We all ave one friend who wouldn’t dare expand their culinary palette beyond scrambled egg and toast. This phrase is for them.

Our translation: ’Stop counting your chickens and try this avocado.’


The idiom: ’Alles hat ein Ende nur die Wurst hat zwei.’

The literal translation: ’Everything has an end, only the sausage has two.’

The explanation: A rather humorous way of saying that everything has to come

to an end, one thing is clear, we have much to learn from the humble sausage.

Our translation: ‘Everything must end, so have a sausage.’



The idiom: ’Tirer des plans sur la comète.’

The literal translation: ’To draw plans on the comet.’

The explanation: A wonderful way of expressing the ephemeral joy and

uselessness of making plans around future successes. You might say it’s

as silly as building castles in the air.   

Our translation: ‘Life happens when you make plans, so don’t get

carried away now.’

The idiom:
’Se prendre un râteau.’

The literal translation: ’To hit a rake.’

The explanation: Rejection is never easy. Some would say it’s a real slap in

the face. In France, it’s the equivalent of stepping on a rake – that’s going to sting.

Our translation: ‘You really should see a dentist for that.’


The idiom: ’il ne faut pas pousser mémé dans les orties.’

The literal translation: ’you shouldn’t push your grandmother in the stinging nettles.’

The explanation: We all have a wicked side, but if you’re thinking you can get one over on old grandma, you’ve got another thing coming. A black-humoured way of

saying don’t push your luck, it’s no wonder nan is always one step ahead of everyone.

Our translation: ‘Watch it, your gran is tougher than a navy seal.’

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