1. Jump from the cock to the donkey (French - Passer du coq à l’âne)
Meaning: to abruptly move from one topic in a conversation to another.
We've all talked to people who have a habit of hopping abruptly from one topic to another. The French describe such instances as jumping from the cock (rooster) to the donkey. Interestingly, this idiom is also used when a speaker knowingly changes the subject in a conversation. For example, “I know I’m jumping from the cock to the donkey, but this is important.”
2. To buy a cat in a bag (Polish - Kupić kota w worku)
Meaning: to do something in haste.
This Polish expression is believed to have given rise to the English idiom ‘let the cat out of the bag,' but it isn’t similar in meaning. Rather, it refers to buying or doing something in haste, without checking it properly. This implies that if you don’t check what you’re getting into, you might end up being deceived.
3. Slide in on a shrimp sandwich (Swedish- Att glida in på en räkmacka)
Meaning: someone who did not work for what they have.
This peculiar Swedish phrase is used to scoff at people who are thought to have earned their riches or achieved success without having to work hard towards it. This basically describes how some people tend to look down on those who are born to rich parents or those who stumble upon unexpected and quick riches.
In Swedish society, shrimp was once regarded as an upper-class food. Hence, it was included in this saying. Its English equivalent can be the idiom “born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth.”
4. When hens have teeth (French - Les poules auront des dents)
Meaning: a time that will never come to pass.
Don’t be alarmed by the bizarre image that might have popped up in your mind after reading this phrase. It simply intends to show skepticism towards a hypothetical situation. A person would use this phrase when they believe that there’s absolutely no chance of something happening. Apparently, this French saying has been in use since the 18th century, but it’s unclear exactly why they chose toothy chickens for it. The English equivalent of this phrase is ‘when fish fly.’
5. Cat’s Tongue (Japanese - Neko Jita)
Meaning: someone who can’t handle hot food or drinks.
Many people have trouble eating food that’s too hot. The Japanese have a playful term to describe them - Neko Jita - or ‘a cat’s tongue.' This expression is likely to have come from the fact that cats do not enjoy tasting spicy foods, in general. So, the next time you find someone having trouble chowing down on something too hot, you can hit them with this funny phrase.
6. “How can a monkey appreciate the taste of ginger?” (Hindi - Bandar kya jaane adrak ka swad?)
Meaning: Someone who is unaware of the existence of something cannot appreciate its true value.
The initial meaning of this saying was to playfully mock someone who’s not well acquainted with a particular taste and so they can’t appreciate it. Over time, however, it has evolved to attest to someone as uncouth or rustic, as they are incapable of appreciating the intricacy of culture. In essence, the English equivalent of this phrase is the idiom ‘to cast pearls before swine.’
7. Like a crocodile in a wallet factory (Puerto Rico - Ser como cocodrilo en fábrica de carteras)
Meaning: being very nervous.
Don’t think of the image of a menacing crocodile prowling through a wallet factory while the workers scurry for cover. Think how a croc’s skin is used to make various luxury leather items and imagine how nervous the reptilian would be if it was inside such a factory. That’s what the idiom implies – to be nervous, very nervous. In English, we have similar phrases, but they don't involve animals. ‘Made my blood run cold’ is one good example.
8. Rats jumping in the stomach (Hindi - Pet mein chuhe kudna)
Meaning - feeling very hungry.
This one’s a hilarious and common expression used in India when someone’s extremely hungry. In English, we might say “I am so hungry, I might eat a horse,” but Indians favor jumping mice to explain their hunger.
9. Like a chicken who’s found a knife (French - Comme une poule qui a trouvé un couteau)
Meaning: to be completely confused.
No, don’t worry. When someone uses this expression, they don’t literally mean an angry chicken out on the streets with a knife, looking for blood. It simply means to be confused or at a complete loss. Since, well, a chicken wouldn't really know what to do with a knife, would it?
10. A jeering horse (Japanese – Yaji-uma)
Meaning: an onlooker who stares or a rubbernecker.
Horses tend to often raise their noses in the air, curling back their upper lip and exposing their front teeth. While this looks as if they're having a good laugh, they are actually doing a Flehmen response which eases the transfer of pheromones and other scents into their vomeronasal organ. This is where the Japanese phrase “a jeering horse” might have come from. Curiously, though, it’s used to explain someone who just stares at something or when someone is rubbernecking.
Share these wonderful idioms and phrases with your friends and family!