Greasy kneepits and small pigs

One of the things we discussed in class today was Irish idioms involving parts of the body. Some interesting ones include:

  • Bionn cluasa móra ar na muca beaga – “small pigs have large ears”, or children often hear things that adults would prefer they didn’t hear. Does anybody know an equivalent idiom in English?
  • Cuir bealadh faoi na hioscaidi – “put grease on the backs of your knees” / “grease your kneepits” or get a move on / hurry up. There is a scientific term for the backs of your knees – popliteal fossa – but is there a colloquial one? Kneepit is a possibility.
  • Bolg le gréin a dheanamh“to take the sun into your stomach” “belly to the sun”, or to sunbathe. Another way to say “sunbathe” in Irish is ag crúigh na gréine (to milk the sun).
This entry was posted in English, Etymology, Irish, Language, Words and phrases.

17 Responses to Greasy kneepits and small pigs

  1. MM says:

    ‘Little pitchers have big ears’, of course!

  2. Dennis King says:

    Bolg le gréin a dhéanamh – “to take the sun into your stomach”

    That’s going a bit far in the colorfully weird translation department. “Bolg le gréin” just means “belly to the sun”. If you want something more metaphorical in this mould, try “cúl le rath”. That’s a “ne’er-do-well”, but literally a “backside to prosperity”.

  3. Yenlit says:

    The very fact that English is lacking a specific word for the back of the knee suggests it doesn’t really need one in my opinion.
    We already have the words ‘knee’, ‘knee-joint’ and ‘kneecap’ or patella and ‘kneepit’ seems just fanciful and crude.
    We neither have common words fashioned on the same pattern for ‘elbow-pit’, the back of the ear or many other more delicate anatomical nooks and crannies?!

  4. Andrew says:

    Haha, I like the second one: yeah, just squirt some oil on the joints so they’ll move faster!


    P.S. No, I’ve never heard of a similar saying in English for the first one.

  5. TJ says:

    the “bolg” prt reminds of Cúchulainn’s weapon here, the Gae Bolga. Any relation? How is it written in Gaelic anyway?

  6. Corcaighist says:

    “Does anybody know an equivalent idiom in English?”

    Not English but Estonian has “lapse suu ei valeta” = “the mouth of a child doesn’t lie”.

    @ TJ: Wikipedia ( ) gives Gáe Bolg as “Belly Spear”.

  7. Tommy says:

    @Yenlit “The very fact that English is lacking a specific word for the back of the knee suggests it doesn’t really need one in my opinion.”

    Innovation in anything happens when creativity overcomes this kind of complacent thinking. Many companies (thinkers) would go to the customer and say “what do you want or need?”, but the few creative companies ask themselves “what can we make that hasn’t been made?”. The thing is, regular people can never imagine things other than the way they are now, which is why our grandparents couldn’t imagine communicating globally from little laptops, and why you probably think it’s a waste of time to talk about a word that doesn’t exist.

  8. Dennis King says:

    @ TJ – “gae bolga” is the Old Irish spelling. “Gae” is “ga” (= spear; ray; sting) in Modern Irish. The possible relationship of “bolga” (which is not a common noun in Irish) to “bolg” is unclear. Some scholars make a connection between “bolga” and the Belgae, a Celtic tribe.

  9. Yenlit says:

    Tommy – I don’t mean to be ‘complacent’ but we’ve had knees for a long time now and yet never needed a snappy one word standard term for the backs of them in all this time?

  10. Yenlit says:

    There’s the same idiom in Welsh:
    ‘mae clustiau mawr gan foch bach’ – little pigs have big ears.

  11. Kietl says:

    “Little cornfields have big ears.”

    My parents always used this one in the car on long trips. Especially if their conversation involved “maybe we’ll get ice-cream…”

  12. Not to go all Sapir-Whorf on yo ass, but in Dutch we have a generally accepted word for ‘kneepit’: knieholte (‘knee hollow’, our k is not silent). It is even etymologically distinct from ‘armpit’, which has a name all of it’s own: oksel. All of which just goes to show that we Dutch are much more in tune with our joints than Anglosaxons.

  13. Yenlit says:

    Was that pun on a certain Dutch stereotype intentional?

  14. Mithrennaith says:

    In Dutch we also have an equivalent of ‘little pitchers have big ears’: ‘kleine potjes hebben grote oren’ (= ‘little pots have big ears’).

    Neither means the same as “the mouth of a child doesn’t lie”, in my opinion.

  15. As any child will tell you, adults often hear things that children would rather they didn’t. Do they get an idiom too? Sounds rather discriminatory if they don’t. 🙂

  16. Drabkikker says:

    Marginally ontopic: In Dutch we have the expression iets onder de knie hebben / krijgen, literally ‘to have / get something under the knee’. It refers to getting the hang of something that takes practice, e.g., learning a language: Heb je het N!uu al een beetje onder de knie? ‘Getting N!uu under your knee already?’
    I wouldn’t know the origins of this expression, but I am curious whether it has equivalents in other languages.

  17. @Drabkikker: Maybe this expression refers to ice skating: you’re proficient when you manage to keep the skates firmly below your knees. Just a wild guess, though.

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