The Associated Press recently reported on the furor caused when The Weakest Link found its way onto Thai television screens. In a country where disagreements are marked by a pleasant smile, someone shouting ‘You are the Weakest Link! Goodbye!’ is scandalous – so much so that Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra said he felt ‘rather stressed-out after watching the show.’ Even after the producers toned down the content (the normal epithet was replaced with: ‘Who’s the weight dragging you down?’), Thai audiences remained outraged.
All of this got RealScreen (which is distributed internationally) thinking about culture and how it translates. What follows are expressions from around the world, how they literally translate into English, and what they mean.
Swedish: Nu har du skitit i det blå skåpet.
Literal English: Now you have shit in the blue cupboard.
Meaning: You have really made a fool out of yourself.
Swedish: Sällan pinkar en trähäst.
Literal English: Rarely does a wooden horse pee.
Meaning: Not likely. Dream on.
Swedish: Hej hopp i blåbärsskogen!
Literal English: Hello jump in the blueberry forest!
Meaning: I’m so surprised!
French: Avoir mal aux cheveux.
Literal English: To have something bad in the hair.
Meaning: To have a hangover.
French: Revenons à nos moutons.
Literal English: Let’s return to our sheep.
Meaning: Let’s get back to the subject.
French: J’ai d’autres chats à fouetter.
Literal English: I have other cats to whip.
Meaning: I have something better to do.
Thai: Bpit torng lang pra.
Literal English: Put gold leaf on the back of a Buddha.
Meaning: Do a good deed without seeking attention.
Thai: Rorng hai nam dtah bpen pao dtah.
Literal English: Cry like a turtle being grilled.
Meaning: Crying your eyes out.
Thai: Roo yahng bet.
Literal English: Know things as a duck does.
Meaning: Jack of all trades, master of none.
German: Wer zuerst kommt malt zuerst.
Literal English: Who comes first paints first.
Meaning: The early bird catches the worm.
Italian: Oggi in figura, domani in sepoltura.
Literal English: Today in person, tomorrow in a grave.
Meaning: Here today, gone tomorrow.
Italian: Quando il gatto manca, i topi ballano.
Literal English: When the cat is missing, the mice dance.
Meaning: When the cat’s away, the mice will play.
Italian: O mangiar questa minestra o saltar questa finestra.
Literal English: Either eat this soup or jump out this window.
Meaning: Take it or leave it.
Portuguese: De pequenino se torce o pepino.
Literal English: From very small the cucumber is bent.
Meaning: Character traits are developed as a child.
Portuguese: É muita areia para a minha camioneta.
Literal English: This is too much sand for my truck.
Meaning: This is more than I can handle.
Portuguese: Estás a meter água.
Literal English: You’re letting water in.
Meaning: You don’t know what you’re talking about.
Portuguese: Macacos me mordam!
Literal English: Monkeys bite me!
Meaning: I’m so surprised!