In this column, author Adam Jacot de Boinod explores the weird and wonderful world of German and French vocabulary, and discovers some rather interesting terms. Let us take a look at what he has found.


People misunderstand each other all the time. It’s certainly interesting, however, to compare the German counterparts to the many common English idioms.

klar wie Kloßbrühe: as clear as potato dumpling water (i.e. as clear as crystal)
Ich kenne es wie meine Westentasche: I know it like my waistcoat pocket (i.e. like the back of my hand)
Der Apfel fällt nicht weit vom Stamm: the apple does not fall down far from the tree (like father like son)
Ein Esel schimpft den anderen Langohr: a donkey calls the other a rabbit (i.e. the pot calling the kettle black)
Ein gebranntes Kind scheut das Feuer: a burned child shuns the fire (i.e. once bitten, twice shy)
Eulen nach Athen tragen: taking owls to Athens (i.e. taking coals to Newcastle)
Wenn der Bauer nicht schwimmen kann, liegt es an der Badehose: if the farmer can’t swim, it’s due to his swimming trunks (i.e. a bad workman blames his tools)
Du sollst den Tag nicht vor dem Abend loben: you shouldn’t praise the day before the night (i.e. don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched)
Es regnet Bindfäden: it’s raining thread and Es regnet Schusterbuben: it’s raining young cobblers (i.e. it’s raining cats and dogs)

French is highly imaginative in her adoption of phrases from their literal definition to be given a whole new metaphorical sense:

tout baigne dans l´huile hunky-dory: literally, everything is bathing in oil
avoir le cafard: to be down in the dumps (literally, to have the cockroach)
avaler les couleuvres: to endure humiliation (literally, to swallow grass snakes)
mettre des queues aux zeros: to add tails to noughts (i.e. to overcharge)
se mettre sur son trente et un: to get all dressed up (literally, to place thirty-one)
y aller par quatre chemins: to beat about the bush (literally, to get there by four paths)

Adam Jacot de Boinod worked on the first series of the BBC panel game QI for Stephen Fry. He is a British author having written three books about unusual words with Penguin Press.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Scan Magazine Ltd.’

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