7 mins

14 strange phrases from around the world and what they mean

Why old cows are best left in the ditch. Words of wisdom, strangely phrased, from the four corners of the globe

An old cow in a ditch (Shutterstock.com. See main credit below)

One of the most enjoyable aspects of learning a new language is picking up the idioms, the funny little sayings, often steeped in local history and culture, that explain the meaning of life and how to live it. (Well, in that particularly country anyway).

Here are fourteen explains of peculiar idioms from around the world that on closer inspection are really quite wise. 

Pulling an old cow out of the ditch

Bring up an old argument in Holland. Presumably, the argument, like an old cow, should be just left there.

There is no cow on the ice

Therefore there is no reason to panic, say the Swedes.

Pretend to be an Englishman

That is, pretend that you are innocent and have no idea what is going on. The Serbs, it seems, have trust issues with the English.

Straighten the horns and kill the bull

Stuffing something up completely by insisting on correcting a minor flaw. The Japanese are not as pernickety as you thought.

A troublesome circus money (Shutterstock.com)

A troublesome circus monkey (Shutterstock)

Not my circus, not my monkeys

Hence, it is not my problem, say the Poles.

God gives nuts to the man with no teeth

An old Arabic saying that comments on the inherent irony of life. Or the poor state of dental hygiene on some parts of the peninsula.

To set the dogs on someone

... is to flirt with someone in Latin America. Sounds terrifying.

Going where the Czar goes on foot

Going to the toilet in Russia. Apparently, it was the only place the Czar wasn't carried to.

Feeding the donkey sponge cake

Giving special treatment to someone who doesn't need it, according to the Portuguese.

Maggots in bacon (Shutterstock.com)

Maggots. In bacon. (Shutterstock)

Live like a maggot in bacon

With their unapologetic love for meat, is it any wonder that the Germans regard living like a maggot in bacon as an enviable state of being?

I'm not hanging noodles on your ears

Russian for 'I'm telling you the truth.' Personally, I'd rather they hang the noodles.

A camel cannot see its own hump

An old Arab saying that is the equivalent of a pot calling a kettle black.

Give someone a pumpkin

In Spain, that's how you stand someone up.

Main image: A cow in a ditch (Shutterstock)

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