Posted by: hmillic | November 1, 2007

Weird and Wonderful Foreign Phrases

Weird and wonderful foreign phrases..

..that just don’t translate

By Nick Webster

English is a rich and wonderful language – but sometimes it’s just not good enough.

For example, have you ever searched around in vain for a word to describe someone who gets excited by eating garlic?

Or wondered why there isn’t a nice pithy term for a person who is only attractive if they’re standing quite far away?

Other languages do have such words. The extraordinary variety of international speech is captured in Toujours Tingo, a new book which draws on more than 300 languages exploring the areas where English fails us.

So try these words for size…

Kaelling – Danish: a woman who stands on her doorstep yelling obscenities at her kids.

Pesamenteiro – Portuguese: one who joins groups of mourners at the home of a dead person, apparently to offer condolences but in reality is just there for the refreshments.

Okuri-OKAMI – Japanese: literally a “see-you-home-wolf”. A man who feigns thoughtfulness by offering to see a girl home only to try to molest her once he gets in the door.

Jayus – Indonesian: someone who tells a joke so unfunny you can’t help laughing.

Spesenritter – German: a person who shows off by paying the bill on the firm’s money, literally “an expense knight”.

Kamaki – Greek: the young local guys strolling up and down beaches hunting for female tourists, literally “harpoons”.

Kanjus Makkhicus – Hindi: a person so miserly that if a fly falls into his cup of tea, he’ll fish it out and suck it dry before throwing it away.

Giri-GIRI – Hawaiian pidgin: the place where two or three hairs stick up, no matter what.

Pelinti – Buli, Ghana: to move very hot food around inside one’s mouth.

Dii-KOYNA – Ndebele, South Africa: to destroy one’s property in anger.

Hanyauku – Rukwangali, Namibia: walking on tiptoes across warm sand.

Tartle – Scottish: to hesitate when you are introducing someone whose name you can’t quite remember.

Vovohe Tahtsenaotse – Cheyenne, US: to prepare the mouth before speaking by moving or licking one’s lips.

Prozvonit – Czech and Slovak: to call someone’s mobile from your own to leave your number in their memory without them picking it up.

Hira Hira – Japanese: the feeling you get when you walk into a dark and decrepit old house in the middle of the night.

Koi No Yokan – Japanese: a sense on first meeting someone that it is going to evolve into love.

Cafune – Brazilian Portuguese: the tender running of one’s fingers through the hair of one’s mate.

Shnourkovat Sya – Russian: when drivers change lanes frequently and unreasonably.

Gadrii Nombor Shulen Jongu – Tibetan: giving an answer that is unrelated to the question, literally “to give a green answer to a blue question”.

Biritululo – Kiriwani, Papua New Guinea: comparing yams to settle a dispute.

Poronkusema – Finnish: the distance equal to how far a reindeer can travel without a comfort break.

Gamadj – Obibway, North America: dancing with a scalp in one’s hands, in order to receive presents.

Baling – Manobo, Philippines: the action of a woman who, when she wants to marry a man, goes to his house and refuses to leave until marriage is agreed upon.

Dona – Yamana, Chile: to take lice from a person’s head and squash between one’s teeth.

Oka/SHETE – Ndonga, Nigeria: urination difficulties caused by eating frogs before the rain has duly fallen.

Pisan Zapra – Malay: the time needed to eat a banana.

Physiggoomai – Ancient Greek: excited by eating garlic.

Baffona – Italian: an attractive moustachioed woman.

Layogenic – Tagalog, Philippines: a person who is only goodlooking from a distance.

Rhwe – South Africa: to sleep on the floor without a mat while drunk and naked.

Shvitzer – Yiddish: someone who sweats a lot, especially a nervous seducer.

Gattara – Italian: a woman, often old and lonely, who devotes herself to stray cats.

Creerse La Ultima Coca-COLA EN EL DESIERTO – Central American Spanish: to have a very high opinion of oneself, literally to “think one is the last Coca-Cola in the desert”.

Vrane Su Mu Popile Mozak – Croatian: crazy, literally “cows have drunk his brain”.

Du Kannst Mir Gern Den Buckel Runterrutschen Und Mit Der Zunge Bremsen – Austrian German: abusive insult, literally “you can slide down my hunchback using your tongue as a brake”.

Tener Una Cara De Telefono Ocupado – Puerto Rican Spanish: to be angry, literally “to have a face like a busy telephone”.

Bablat – Hebrew: baloney, but is an acronym of “beelbool beytseem le-lo takhleet” which means “bothering someone’s testicles for no reason”.

Vai A Fava – Portuguese: get lost, literally “go to the fava bean”.

Rombhoru – Bengali: a woman having thighs as shapely as banana trees.

Tako-NYODU – Japanese: a baldy, literally an “octopus monk”.

Snyavshi Shtany, PO VOLOSAM NE GLADYAT – Russian: once you’ve taken off your pants it’s too late to look at your hair.

Mariteddu Tamant’e Un Ditu Ieddu Voli Essa Rivaritu – Corsican: a husband must be respected even if he is very short.

Bayram Degil (SEYRAN DEGIL ENISTE BENI NIYE OPTU? – Turkish: there must be something behind this. Literally “it’s not festival time, it’s not a pleasure trip, so why did my brother-in-law kiss me”?

Original article here, found on Look at This.


  1. […] hmillic placed an interesting blog post on Weird and Wonderful Foreign Phrases.Here’s a brief overview:Weird and wonderful foreign phrases.. ..that just don’t translate. By Nick Webster. English is a rich and wonderful language – but sometimes it’s just not good enough. For example, have you ever searched around in vain for a word to … […]

  2. Wow, these phrases are great.. we have a section on our blog titled ‘Travel Term Du Jour’ – some of these are definitely worth featuring :).

    Keep on writing!

    -Lil’ Boozie
    (a.k.a. Suz)

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