Sleeve Monkeys

There’s an interesting idiom in Dutch – Nu komt de aap uit de mouw – which means ‘now the monkey comes out of the sleeve’ and is roughly the equivalent of the English idioms to let the cat out of the bag and to spill the beans. They mean to reveal a secret, or to reveal one’s true intentions.

opdracht 10 De aap komt uit de mouw DSC_1804

Other versions of the Dutch idiom include:

  1. De aap springt uit de mouw = The monkey jumps out of the sleeve
  2. De aap kijkt uit de mouw = The monkey looks out of the sleeve
  3. De aap uit de mouw schudden = To shake the monkey out of the sleeve
  4. Toen kwam de aap uit de mouw = Then the money came out of the sleeve = Then the true meaning became clear
  5. Hij heeft de aap in de mouw = He has the monkey up his sleeve = He’s sneaky (hides his true nature)

The origins of the idiom to let the cat out of the bag are uncertain, although we do know it was first used in writing in The London Magazine in 1760 [source].

The origins of the idiom to spill the beans are also uncertain. It was first used in American in the early 20th century, so it’s unlikely to have come from the Ancient Greek practice of using coloured beans to vote, as many sources claim [source].

The Dutch idioms come from the practice of performers hiding an actual monkey up their sleeves which would appear unexpectedly at a certain moment. Alternatively they might refer to our inner ape/monkey or mischievous character which is usually hidden metaphorically up our sleeve [source].

Are there any similar idioms in other languages?

Sources: Reverso, Ensie

Fiery Lakes

The French idiom Il n’y a pas le feu au lac [il n‿j‿a pa l(ə) fø o lak], or literally “There’s no fire on the lake”, is used when there is no hurry to do something. It could be translated as “What’s the big hurry?”, “What’s the rush?” or “Where’s the fire?”.

Fire Fountains

It has been used since the mid-20th century and apparently refers to Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) in Switzerland and the inability of Swiss people to hurry even in an emergency. It is also sarcastic in suggesting that water might be on fire [source].

Variations on this idiom, and phrases with similar meanings, include:

  • Il n’y a pas le feu = There’s no fire (on the lake)
  • Ya pas l’feu = There’s no fire (informal pronunciation)
  • Il n’y a pas de quoi paniquer = There’s no reason to panic
  • Il n’y a pas de quoi fouetter un chat = That’s not a reason to whip a cat
  • Rien ne presse = There’s no hurry, there’s no need to hurry
  • Ça ne presse pas = There’s no hurry / rush

Are there any interesting idioms in other languages involving fiery lakes?

Pocket Hedgehogs

If I described someone as “keeping a hedgehog in their pocket”, what do you think I meant?

hedgehog

Well, the Welsh idiom “Mae e’n cadw draenog yn ei boced”, which literally translates as “he keeps a hedgehog in his pocket”, means that he is stingy or tight with his money [source].

There are many ways to say that someone is averse to spending money in English, including: frugal, miserly, thrifty, cheap, close-fisted, economical, ironfisted, mean, parsimonious, pennywise, tightfisted [source] or to have deep pockets and short arms.

Other ways to say someone is careful with their money in Welsh include:

  • crintach = mean, tight-fisted, miserly
  • crintachlyd = miserly, mean
  • cybyddlyd = miserly, covetous
  • cynnil = thrifty, frugal, sparing, economical, parsimonious
  • darbodol = provident, thrifty, provisional
  • darbodus = provident, thrifty, careful; heedful, considerate; wary, cautious, prudent, sagacious
  • diwastraff = without waste or extravagance, without expending needlessly or carelessly, thrifty, economical, effective; concise, laconic
  • fforddiol = sparing, economical, thrifty; cunning, deceitful
  • llawgaead = close-fisted, parsimonious, stingy, niggardly, miserly, mean
  • rhadus = gracious; generous; cheap, good value, economical, useful, thrifty

Sources: Geiriadur yr Academi, Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru

In French a miserly person is said to “avoir des oursins dans le porte-monnaie / la poche” (to have sea urchins in the wallet / purse / pocket) [source].

Do you know any other interesting idioms with a similar meaning?

You could say that I usually keep a hedgehog in my pocket (idiomatically, not literally), as I do tend to be careful with my money. At the moment I’m spending quite a bit on the studio that’s being built in my garden, and I can do this because I have savings I can dip into. The walls are now more or less finished and the roof will be installed this weekend. Parts for the roof include planks up to 6m long, with were quite a challenge to get through the house into the garden.

Studio / Stwdio

Greener Grass

According to The Phrase Finder, the phrase the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence:

expresses the idea that other people’s situations always seem better than one’s own. The proverb carries an implied warning that, in reality, the grass is equally green on one’s own side and that you should be satisfied with what you have.

Sheep in Gleann Cholm Cille

It’s earliest known appearance in print was apparently on 24th February 1917 in the Kansas Farmer – The Farm Paper of Kansas:

First example of the phrase the grass is always greener from the Kanas Farmer

A song written in 1924 by Raymond B. Egan and Richard A. Whiting was titled The Grass is Alway Greener (In The Other Fellow’s Yard).

Other versions of the phrase appeared before then. For example, in The New York Times in June 1853:

It bewitched your correspondent with a desire to see greener grass and set foot on fresher fields.

However, according the English Language & Usage, the ideas expressed by the phrase are a lot older than that. For example, in Ovid’s poem Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love) Book I Part IX, which was written in 2 AD, he says:

Fertilior seges est alienis semper in agris,
Vicinumque pecus grandius uber habet.

Translations of this include:

  • The crop of corn is always more fertile in the fields of other people;
    and the herds of our neighbours have their udders more distended. [source]
  • The seed’s often more fertile in foreign fields,
    and a neighbour’s herd always has richer milk. [source]
  • A larger crop adorns our neighbour’s field,
    More milk his kine from swelling udders yield. [source]

Here are versions of the expression in other languages [source].

French:

  • l’herbe est plus verte ailleurs
    the grass is greener elsewhere
  • l’herbe est (toujours) plus verte de l’autre côté de la montagne
    the grass is (always) greener on the other side of the mountain
  • l’herbe est toujours plus verte dans le pré du voisin
    the grass is always greener in a neighbour’s field
  • l’herbe est toujours plus verte chez le voisin
    the grass is always greener at the neighbour’s

Spanish:

  • el pasto siempre es más verde del otro lado
    the grass is always greener on the other side
  • la hierba parece más verde al otro lado de la valla
    the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence
  • la gallina de mi vecina más huevos pone que la mía
    my neighbor’s hen lays more eggs than mine
  • la gallina de mi vecina siempre es más gorda que la mía
    my neighbor’s hen is always fatter than mine

Portuguese:

  • a grama é sempre mais verde do outro lado
    the grass is always greener on the other side
  • a galinha da minha vizinha põe mais ovos que a minha
    my neighbor’s chicken lays more eggs than mine
  • a cabra da minha vizinha dá mais leite que a minha
    my neighbor’s goat gives more milk than mine

Welsh:

  • mae’r glaswellt yn lasach ar yr ochr arall bob tro
    the grass is always greener on the other side
  • man gwyn man draw
    white spot over there

Irish:

  • Is glas iad na cnoic i bhfad uainn
    The far away hills are green
  • Is milse gcónaí arian na gcomharsan
    The neighbour’s money is always sweet

Scottish Gaelic:

  • ‘S e miann na lacha an loch air nach bi i
    The duck prefers the loch where it isn’t

Korean:

  • 남의 떡이 더 커 보인다 (nam-ui tteog-i deo keo boinda)
    someone else’s cake looks bigger

Are there interesting equivalents of this phrase in other languages?

Honeyed Words

Yesterday I came across an interesting idiom in Scottish Gaelic: mil air do bheul, which means “that’s wonderful/excellent news” or literally, “honey on your mouth”. Perhaps this was coined when honey was difficult to obtain, so having honey on your mouth would be considered good thing.

Honey Harvest

Meanwhile, in Welsh if you have honey on your sandwich or bread, or mêl ar dy frechdan/fara, it is considered a source of pleasure, which makes sense to me. Also, having honey on your fingers, or mêl ar dy fysedd, is music to your ears, or taking pleasure in the misfortune of others, or in other words, indulging in schadenfreude.

In Irish if there is honey on your every word, or tá mil ar gach focal agat, then you are speaking sweetly, perhaps with honeyed words. If you really enjoy your food, you could say that there is honey on your food, or tá mil ar an mbia agat. If you cover someone with honey, or duine a chlúdach le mil, you are showering them with kindness, and if there is honey on your tall-stemmed grass, or tá mil ar chuiseogach agat, then you are having a delightful time.

Sources: https://www.faclair.com/, https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/mil

More honeyed words in Celtic languages can be found on the Celtiadur.

Do you know any other interesting honey-related idioms?

Spanish Cows

comme une vache espagnole

In French if you don’t speak a langauge very well, you are said to speak it “like a Spanish cow”, or “comme une vache espagnole” [source]. For example:

  • Il parle anglais comme une vache espagnole
    He speaks English like a Spanish cow
  • Elle parle français comme une vache espagnole
    She speaks French like a Spanish cow

This expression was first used in writing in the 17th century, and possibly referred to vasces, that is Gascons or Basques, rather than vaches, or cows. At the time, Basque people from Spain probably didn’t speak French very well. Or it might come from basse (servant, maid), or from the use of comme une vache as an insult. Also, calling people and things espagnole (Spanish) was also an insult at the time [source].

In English you might say that someone speaks broken English or bad English, or that they butcher or murder English. Although, as the American author H. Jackson Brown Jr. says “Never make fun of someone who speaks broken English. It means they know another language” [source].

You could make up other ways to say you speak a language badly:

  • I speak Russian like a Pavlovian pig
  • I speak Czech like a Bohemian badger
  • I speak Romanian like a Ruritanian rabbit

Are there idioms in other languages to refer to people speaking them badly, or indeed well?

Here’s an audio version of this post.

By the skin of your teeth

An interesting word that came up in my Swedish lessons this week was hinna, which to have sufficient time to do something, to manage to do something in time, or to be on/in time, not to be late. That’s quite a lot of meaning packed into a small word!

Clock

Here are some examples of how it’s used:

  • Hinner du idag? = Do you have time today?
  • Jeg hinner inte i dag = I don’t have enough time today
  • Vi hinner inte leka lekar just nu = We don’t have time to play games right now
  • Hann du läsa alla sidorna? = Did you manage to read all the pages?
  • Om vi inte går nu så hinner vi inte till tåget = If we don’t go now, we’ll miss the train
  • Det hinns inte. Kom nu! = There’s no time. Come now!

A possibly related word is hinna, which means a coat(ing), skin (on liquids) film or membrane. So perhaps you’re doing something by the skin of your teeth when you hinna, although the meanings aren’t quite the same.

Doing something by the skin of your teeth means to barely manage to do something, or narrowly succeed in doing something. It apparently comes from the Bible (Job 19:20) “… I am escaped with the skin of my teeth”, and is a literal translation of the original Hebrew.

Do you know any other teeth-based idioms?

Sources: Wiktionary, bab.la, The Phrase Finder, The Idioms

Street Festivals at Dawn

будет и на моей улице праздник

An interesting idiom that came up in my Russian lessons this week is будет и на моей улице праздник (budet i na moey ulitse prazdnik), which is translated as “it’s always darkest just before the dawn”, and means literally “There will be a festival / celebration even on my street”.

The origins of this idiom are apparently related to the fact that many streets in Russia used to have their own churches, and they would hold celebrations in the street for the local saint. So no matter how bad things might get or seem, you could look forward to such fesitivities [source].

Some examples of how this Russian idiom is used:

  • Ну ничего, будет и на моей улице праздник
    Well I would see the feast at an end
  • Будет и на моей улице праздник
    I’ll have my day in the sun
  • Будет и на моей улице праздник
    The question is, will you?
  • Ничего, будет и на моей улице праздник!
    One of these days

Source: Reverso

The English version means “there is hope, even in the worst of circumstances”, and first appeared in writing in 1650 as “It is always darkest just before the Day dawneth”, in A Pisgah-Sight Of Palestine And The Confines Thereof, a book by the English theologian and historian Thomas Fuller. It is not known if Fuller coined it, or if he was recording a piece of folk wisdom.

In 1859 Samuel Lover wrote in his book Songs and Ballads that this idiom was popular among the Irish peasantry, who said “Remember that the darkest hour of all. is the hour before day” [source]

Are there equivalents of this idiom in other languages?

Working like a …

The Russian idiom, работать как лошадь, means to work hard, or literally ‘to work like a horse’. Another idiom with the same meaning is работать как проклятый (‘to work like the damned’) [source].

Horse Ploughing (18)

In English you might say that you’re working like a dog. Other variations on this phrase include wokring like a beaver and working like a trojan [source]. Do you know of any others?

hard working

In Welsh you might say that you’re working ‘to the marrow of your bones’ – gweithio hyd fêr dy esgyrn, which means to work for hard, or to overwork.

One equvialent in French is travailler comme un acharné (‘working like a relentless person’).

What about in other languages?

Two Left Feet / Dwy Droed Chwith

Last night I wrote a song called Two Left Feet, about someone who believes he can’t dance because he has two left feet – not literally, but in the idiomatic sense of being clumsy and awkward, especally when trying to dance.

I used to feel like this, and still do a bit when I try to learn new dances, or different styles of dancing. I don’t let this stop me though, and dance anyway, which is what the song is all about. I’ll add a link to the song here when I’ve recorded it.

I like to translate the titles of my songs and tunes into Welsh, so I looked for Welsh equivalents of this idiom. These include:

  • bod â dwy droed chwith = to be with two left feet
  • bod yn drwstan eich traed = to be clumsy of foot
  • bod yn drwstan ar eich traed = to be clumsy on one’s feet
  • bod yn lloglog = to be clumsy / awkward

Drwstan [ˈtrʊstan] is a mutated form of trwstan which means clumsy, awkward, unsteady, bungling, unpolished, shoddy, unfortunate, unlucky, unhappy, sad or wretched.

Lloglog [ˈɬɔɡlɔɡ] means clumsy, awkward, untidy or baggy.

Trwstan and Lloglog might be good names for characters in a story or song – maybe I’ll use them in my next song.

Incidentally, trwstan is not related to the name Tristan, which comes, via Old French, from the Celtic name Drystan, from drest (riot, tumult).

Other Welsh words for clumsy and awkward include:

  • trwsgl, afrosgo, lletchwith, trwstan, ysgaprwth, clogyrnaidd, anfedrus, di-lun, annehau, anneheuig, ysgafnrwth
    annosbarthus, annechau, clemog, sgrongol, siagal

The word awkward comes from the awk, an old word meaning odd, wrong, clumsy or uncomfortable, and the adjectival suffix -ward.

Awk comes from the Old Norse ǫfugr / ǫfigr / afigr (turned backwards, unkind, harsh).

Sources: Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (A Dictionary of the Welsh Language), Geiriadur yr Academi (The Welsh Academy English-Welsh Dictionary Online), Wiktionary