It’s February 21, International Mother Language Day. What’s your favourite phrase that translates hilariously to English?

Maybe some phrases should just stay in their mother tongue.

International Mother Language Day is held on 21 February to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

Here are some international phrases that we love that translate hilariously from their mother language to English:

You’re Stir-fried squid

Chinese symbols 炒魷魚 translates as “fry cuttlefish”.  Or squid.  It means to be fired.

The folk origin is that in the “olden days” restaurant workers would live in their place of employment, and bring a rolled up sleeping mat with them. If the guy got fired, he’d have to roll up his mat and bring it with him when he left.  Stir-fried cuttlefish or squid resembles a rolled up sleeping bag, hence the term.

An irate restaurant customer might demand that a server is fired. The owner would make a big show of the worker rolling his mat up (getting fried) and leaving the place to keep the customer happy, only to let the worker back in through the back door later.


There’s no cow on the ice


The Danish phrase “Der er ingen ko på isen” translates directly as There’s no cow on the ice.  It actually means “No problem”.

It remains unknown how often Swedish cattle are milling about on frozen lakes, but it’s easy to understand that a cow on ice would be definitely worth worrying about.


I hope to eat your eye

In Albanian, Ta hangsha synin means literally “I eat your eye”. Well, hopefully figuratively.

Apparently, it’s a way of saying “You’re so cute”.


Now the monkeys come out of the sleeve

The Dutch line “Nu komt de aap uit de mouw” translates directly as “Now the monkeys come out of the sleeve”.  Used when something is revealed that was lied about or kept back.

The English equivalent is probably the “cat is out of the bag”.


You have water in your basement

In French, T’as de l’eau dans cave translates as “You have water in your basement”. Naturally, it means your pants are too short.

Maybe rolled up while you were dealing with the water basement situation?


There weren’t any pigs there

In German”Kein Schwein war da” translates as  “There weren’t any pigs there”.

If there were no pigs, it means that nobody was there.  A pigless-party is a non-party in Germany.


So that’s where the dog was buried

The Lithuanian saying “Tai štai kur šuo pakastas ” translates as “So that’s where the dog was buried”.

It’s a phrase used when you figure out the answer to a tricky/difficult problem.


You are my liver

Like the charming  ‘I want to eat your liver,’ you can endear yourself by telling your lover that you that they ARE your liver.

While this may not sound romantic in English, it has quite an effect in the Persian language. Tell someone ‘jeegaré man-ee’, and they will be yours forever.


This is when the she-pig twists her tail


In Portuguese, Agora é que a porca torce o rabo translates as “This is when the she-pig twists her tail”.  In English, it just means “This is where it gets tricky”.

She-pigs only straighten their tails as a prelude to being mounted. The default condition of a pig’s tail is twisted. You have to simulate a pig to straighten its tail. So the she-pig only twists her tail when she is no longer, shall we say, “adequately stimulated.”


Good cheese in dogs stomach

The strict translation of the Romanian “Brânză bună în burduf de câine” is “good cheese in dogs stomach”.  If someone is a “good cheese in dog’s stomach” he’s a good person in a bad situation or a ‘diamond in the rough’.


Shitting in the blue cupboard

The Swedish idiom “Skita i det blå skåpet” in english is literally “shitting in the blue cupboard”.

It means to ‘cross the line,’ as in ‘you’ve crossed the line and have pissed people off.’

The phrase originates from the comedy film, Göta Kanal, when the actor Janne Loffe Carlsson says, “Nu har de skitit i det blå skåpet, nu är det krig!” – “You’ve pooped in the blue cupboard, now it’s war!”




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