Language is one of the best ways to experience another culture. As these idioms - and their surprising translations - show, it's the similarities and differences between us that make exploring the world such a wonderful thing. These phrases were compiled for Lonely Planet magazine by guest expert Adam Jacot de Boinod, author of The Meaning of Tingo: and other Extraordinary Words from Around the World.

It's raining cats and dogs

Afrikaans: Ou vrouens met knopkieries reen
It’s raining old women with clubs

Dutch: Het regent pijpenstelen
It’s raining pipestems

Persian: Baron mesleh dobeh asb mirized
It’s raining like the tail of the horse

Greek: Brékhei kareklopódara
It’s raining chair legs

German: Es regnet schusterbuben
It’s raining young cobblers

Taking coals to Newcastle/Selling ice to the eskimos

Russian: Yezdit’ b Tulu s svoim samovarom
He’s going to Tula, taking his own samovar

German: Eulen nach Athen tragen
Taking owls to Athens

Hungarian: Vizet hord a Dunába
He's taking water to the Danube

Spanish: Es como llevar naranjas a Valencia
It’s like taking oranges to Valencia

A sledgehammer to crack a nut

Thai: Kee chang jahb thak-a-thaen
Ride an elephant to catch a grasshopper

Mandarin: Tuo kuzi fang pi
To take your trousers offto break wind

Turkish: Pire icin yorgan yakmak
To burn the duvet becauseof one flea

When pigs might fly

Croatian: Kad na vrbi rodi grožde
When willows bear grapes

Hungarian: Majd ha piros hó esik
When it’s snowing red snowflakes

Uzbek: Tuyaning dumi yerga tekkanda
When the camel’s tail reaches the ground

Russian: Kag-da rak svist-nyet
When the crayfish whistles

Like father like son

Portuguese: Filho de peixe sabe nadar
A fish’s child knows howto swim

Hausa, Nigeria: Barewa tayi gudu danta ya yi rarrafe
How can a gazelle’s offspring crawl when its mother is a fast runner?

Arabic: Ibn al bat’awwam
The son of a duck is a floater

Out of the frying pan, into the fire

Czech: Dostat se z bláta do louıe
Out of the mud, into the puddle

Hindi: Aasmaan se gire khajoor mein atke
Down from the skies, into the date tree

Indonesian: Takut akan lumpur lari ke duri
Afraid of mud, escape to thorns

Once bitten, twice shy

Russian: Puganaya vorona kusta
A spooked crow is afraid of a bush

Swahili: Mtafunwa na nyoka akiona unyasi hushtuka
One who has been bitten by a snake startles at a reed

Portuguese: Cão picado por cobra, tem medo de linguiça
A dog bitten by a snake fears sausages

To beat about the bush

Finnish: Kiertää kuin kissa kuumaa puuroa
To pace around hot porridgelike a cat

Italian: Menare il can per l’aia
To lead the dog around the yard

Spanish: Emborrachar la perdiz
To get the partridge drunk

Further reading:


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