Studying language is not only an enriching process, but sometimes it can be downright entertaining. Here in the United States we have our fair share of goofy phrases. For example where did "happy as a clam" come from? What on earth could make a clam happy? Or did you know that "pipe dream" actually refers to the dreams experienced by smokers of opiates?
While there are plenty of phrases that could be dissected in American English, we picked our top 10 strangest phrases around the world:
Flat Out Like a Lizard Drinking – English (Australian): Extremely busy.
Down under, the term "flat out" is Australian slang for "busy." While the lizard isn't a particularly busy fellow, lizards move their tongues quickly when drinking and serves as the busiest they ever really get. The phrase could just as easily be "flat out like a working parent who is also trying to master French."
Rosiner i pølser – Norwegian
A Raisin in the Sausage: A pleasant surprise in something already good.
While this phrase may sound like it has less-than-wholesome roots, it actually just means a delightful surprise in something that's already great. Sure, the sausage is a not something "already good" for a vegetarian and there aren't too many people who actually love raisins, but that's what it means. Since Norway is consistently rated as one of the happiest places to live, we'll take their word for it on this one.
¡Aguas! – Spanish (Mexico)
Waters!: Be Careful!
If, for example, you are in Mexico City and you see your friend step into the street. Suddenly, you spot a car headed directly for your friend! The phrase you would shout in this situation is "¡Aguas!" Allegedly this is derived from when a woman would pour water on the sidewalk, making the path dangerous for sidewalkers. To warn friends of the slippery surface a passerbyer would shout, "water!" to help avoid disaster.
Nosom para oblake – Serbian
He's Ripping Clouds with His Nose: He's very conceited.
It's pretty common in the animal kingdom for the dominant to hold heads up high. Even more so is for those who know their superiority and hold their noses even higher. The background to this phrase is that the individual holds their head – and nose – SO high that they are breaking the clouds in the sky with their raised nose. Perhaps like the Pinocchio of conceit.
Avoir les dents longues – French
To Have Long Teeth: To be very ambitious.
In considering what it takes for a lion or tiger to successfully bring home a full meal, having long teeth could make sense as desirable equipment. This is from where around the 14th century the French took the term "long teeth" to become a reference for "hungry." It was a short logical leap from there that hungry became "hungry for success."
Te Crees Muy Muy – Spanish (Mexico)
You Think You're Very, Very: You think you're big time.
Another loose translation is, "You think you're a bad***." Either way, the speaker is being somewhat facetious in a teasing manner. Sort of like the American English, "You think you're hot stuff?" when a friend is joking with another that they think they are a big deal.
Ohrwurm – German
Earworm: Having a song stuck in your head.
Having a song stuck in your head is a less than appealing experience, however the friendly folks in Germany have found a way to make it worse. The term "ohrwurm" means earworm, providing even further reason for you to do everything you can to get that silly song out of your head, lest a worm remain in your ear!
喉から手が出る (nodo kara te ga deru) – Japanese
My Hand is Coming Out of My Throat: I really want that.
Think of those times when you really wanted that job, sweater, or house. This is the graphic expression for you in that circumstance. The phrase likely comes from a time when food was scarce and the hunger people felt was so strong they felt like a hand could reach out of their stomach to grab any food available. Now – it can refer to anything your heart may desire in that moment.
Innerer Schweinehund – German
Inner pig dog: The scoundrel inside you responsible for when you are lazy.
Those mornings when you can't be bothered to get up and go to work? Or when you know you need to go to the gym and just…won't? Don't worry, it's not your fault. The true blame is on your inner pig dog. He's that inner voice who tells you that you don't need to be productive, responsible or active today. Bummer is he doesn't take responsibility when you actually do get to work or the gym and there's a copious amount of tasks to catch up on.
Lui è come un polpo – Italian
He is like an octopus: This person is too clingy.
This phrase came from a person describing their ex partner, who allegedly became too attached and continued to do so after the termination of the relationship. This can conjure hilarious images of an octopus with oversized tentacles, desperately reaching for the poor person trying to evade capture. Yikes!
There are so many wonderful – and strange – phrases across cultures and languages that are purely idiomatic and sometimes don't make much sense. What are some of your favorites?