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.


It’s always interesting to compare the German counterparts to the many common English idioms.

– In der Not frisst der Teufel Fliegen: in times of need, the devil eats flies (ie beggars can’t be choosers)
– Ich werde dir die Daumen drücken: I’ll squeeze my thumbs for you (ie I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you; I wish you luck)
– Hals und Beinbruch: break a neck and leg (ie break a leg; good luck)
– Die Katze lässt das Mausen nicht: the cat will not abandon its habit of chasing mice (ie a leopard cannot change its spots)
– wählen zwischen Hölle und Fegefeuer: to choose between trunk and bark or hell and purgatory (ie between the devil and the deep blue sea)
– am Sankt-Nimmerleinstag: on Saint Never-ever-day (ie when pigs fly)

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

– avoir une araigneé au plafond: to be crazy (literally, to have a spider on the ceiling)
– elle coupe les cheveux en quatre: she is a difficult person (literally, she cuts hair into four pieces)
– chercher un poil aux oeufs: to nit-pick (literally, to look for a hair on eggs)
– la moutarde me monte au nez: to begin to lose one’s temper (literally, mustard is climbing up my nose)
– n’avoir plus un radis: to be stone broke (literally, to be without a single radish)

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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