Tag Archives: Idiom

No longer will I get the ‘painters and decorators in’; instead ‘the English will have landed’

19 Jan

When the British Army took on the French in what we know now as the Napoleonic Wards (1812-1816), they wore scarlet coats.  The intrusion of those red-coated soldiers for that four-year window clearly left its impression on the French, as every month, every French woman of a certain age might bemoan the fact that, for her, “les Anglais sont arrivés”.

If you hadn’t already guessed, can I reiterate at this point just how much I love idioms?  In only a few words, you get an insight into a different culture, a different time, all wrapped up in a vivid image, so I was positively a-quiver to come across this article on The Guardian’s Mind Your Language blog, reviewing a new book, Idiomatics, which delves into the world of international idioms.

Some of the many delightful idioms cited in the article include the French version of ‘playing gooseberry’ or being a ‘third wheel’, which is “tenir la chandelle” (to hold the candle).  It evokes beautifully the pain of a poor soul consigned to an uncomfortable evening as the temperature rises between their dining companions.

Also featured in the article are “entre la point et le fromage” (between the pear and the cheese), which the article cites as an “off-record remark”, although I think it equates better to a phrase beloved of my Yorkshire grandmother – ‘between you, me and the lamppost’.

The comments section includes a host of cracking idioms, my favourite of which has to be “to take one’s pants off to fart”, which, according to the commentator, the Chinese use to indicate creating an unnecessary step in the process.   I can imagine many situations in which that phrase would be useful, so I will add it straight to my collection forthwith!


‘Don’t toss Granny into the begonias’ – on some fantastic French idioms

14 May

Let’s face it: idioms rock.   In English, we have so many of them (25,000 plus!), we take them for granted, literally sprinkling them carelessly throughout our conversation when we should love and nurture them as treasured insights into our language and way of life.

That’s why I particularly love discovering idioms in other languages.  What’s particularly fascinating is how idioms from different languages express the same fundamental idea, but do so using aspects of the local culture.

For instance, the English ‘Let sleeping dogs lie’ (i.e. leave an old issue alone as it may create more problems for you if you interfere) compares with the Dutch ‘don’t pull the dead cow out of the canal’ (which I think is ‘haal niet oude koeien uit de sloot’ in Dutch).  Now if there was ever a country that was going to produce idioms about cows and canals, it would be the Netherlands!

I came across this little illustrated book of French idioms, ‘Don’t Throw Granny Out with the Begonias’, in a bookshop this week, comparing French sayings to their English equivalent, so thought I’d share them as they’re so delightful.  The quality isn’t great as I was trying to take pictures surreptitiously!

The first is ‘Don’t count the eggs in a chicken’s backside’ (Ne comptez pas les oeufs dans la derrière d’une poule) – which is an almost identical to the English idiom ‘don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched’ (don’t count on things until they’ve actually happened).  It’s interesting that the French is slightly more blunt!