12 Idioms That Get Lost in Translation

Learning a new language is about more than cracking a code. A foreign language is a fresh way to look at things; a cultural filter. Different emphases and nuances in the meanings of certain words reveal what is important to the culture that calls that language their mother tongue.

Likewise, a language is more than learning words and grammar. There are whole groups of words – phrases, clichés, quotes – that mean something special to a language’s native speakers. And many of these can be shared, used, and enjoyed with those hardworking people who’ve taken the time to learn it as a second language.

One particular sub-category of this is the “idiom” – a sequence of words that together mean something different to their separate, literal meanings. For instance, in English you might say, “it’s raining cats and dogs outside.” It doesn’t mean there’s an uprising of domestic pets. It means there’s heavy rain. A translation app wouldn’t be much use, in this case, to someone who doesn’t speak English!

Of course, every language has idioms. While their users may take them for granted, they can be delightful to encounter for the first time as a foreigner. So much so, that our friends at Expedia have created a new series of illustrated idioms from around the world to celebrate the diverse beauty of language.

The German phrase “Tomaten auf den Augen haben” – “you have tomatoes on your eyes” – becomes a pair of tomato spectacles. This is, of course, not quite what the Germans have in mind: the idiom actually means that the tomato-eyed target of the phrase is unable to see what is clear for everyone else.

One of my favorite idioms is the Brazilian Portuguese expression “Pay the duck”, whose meaning has actually nothing to do with the bird. It’s used in situations where you take the blame for something you didn’t do.

These idioms make for a surreal set of pictures to be enjoyed by themselves or to help you memorize a handy phrase in the language that you’re learning. What local idioms of your own mother tongue would make for a charming illustration?


German Idiom


Argentina Idiom France Idiom Portugal Idiom China Idiom Poland Idiom Canada Idiom Japan Idiom Finland Idioms Mexico Idioms Italy Idiom Sri Lanka Idiom