Wednesday, 16 September 2009

I'm Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears

This fits nicely into my series of helpful posts about things you can put into or on your ears (pins, candles, your little finger) but is in fact the title of a book I have just acquired. To a Russian the expression means I'm not pulling your leg.

Other idioms from around the world which are featured in the book are When dogs were tied with sausages (= very long ago, in Uruguayan Spanish), To distribute cardamoms (= to invite to a marriage, in Hindi) and To walk around hot porridge (= to beat about the bush, in German).

The book is amusing in a quiet way but not really of much practical use: it would be foolish to learn any of the quainter idioms in the hope of impressing a native speaker of the language, because the chances are that you would misuse them or that they are desperately old-fashioned or hackneyed expressions which would give away the fact that your knowledge comes from a book and that you don't actually speak the language at all; either way you would look silly.

The compiler cheats a bit by including a few proverbs; the English translation of some of these would make good conversation-stoppers, particularly as they are mostly incomprehensible. Come out with "Don't look for yesterday's fish in the house of the otter" and you are bound to get a mystified silence, unless there is a Hindi-speaker present who will recognise it.

So you could invent your own idioms which no-one could challenge. Having checked that there are no Albanians listening, you might say of someone you are discussing: I bet his elbows smell of horseradish and then explain that in Tirana this means that he is a man not to be trusted.


Froog said...

One of my favourites of these obscure foreign idioms is "I have carpenters in my head", which is apparently what they say - or used to, once upon a time - in Norway when they have a hangover.

W.H. Auden was an enthusiast of unlikely proverbs. He sneaked a couple of "Icelandic proverbs" (possibly of his own invention?) into the Faber Book of Aphorisms. The one that lingers in my mind so many years on is "The man who pisses in his own shoes will not have warm feet for long."

Tony said...

I think our "mouth like the bottom of a birdcage" describes a hangover better than the Norwegian carpenters.
I never thought of old Wystan as much of a joker but I just love his supposed Icelandic proverb; do you know any more gems of his?