Different Language, Different Idiom?

Idioms are phrases and fixed expressions that have often a figurative, idiomatic meaning. They are a richness in many languages and make languages more vivid, playful and fun. One could say that they are kind of an extra spice or jewel that make languages perfect. Some idioms are really culture-related and they may not make any sense in some other language. For instance, when a person from another country hears a phrase “someone should be taken behind the sauna” in Finland, the first thing that would come to his/her mind would probably not be that it actually mean that someone should be killed. And don’t be frightened, I am not saying that this is something that you hear very often in Finland. In many cases, though, there is a corresponding idiom for the same thing in all the languages, but the idioms themselves can be very different and may appear hilarious to people from different cultures. It is important to be aware of these kinds of language-related differences when traveling the world and meeting new people with various cultural backgrounds. I have come up with some popular idioms and found out their correspondents and literal meanings. Have fun reading!


1. English: To kill two birds with one stone = mean. to achieve two aims at once or to solve two problems at once with a single action

Finnish: Tappaa kaksi kärpästä yhdellä iskulla = lit. ”to kill two flies with one hit”

Swedish: Slå två flugor i en smäll = lit. “to hit two flies with one hit”

Spanish: Matar dos pájaros de un tiro = lit. “to kill two birds with one shot”

Polish: Upiec dwie pieczenie na jednym ogniu = lit. “to roast two pieces of meat on one fire”


2. English: Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched = mean. don’t be too confident in anticipating success or good fortune before it is certain

Finnish: Älä nuolaise ennen kuin tipahtaa = lit. ”don’t lick before it drops”. Wonder if eating ice-cream has something to do with this idiom? 😀

Swedish: Ropa inte hej förrän du är över bäcken = lit. “don’t yell hi before you are over the stream”

Spanish: No vendas la piel del oso antes de cazarlo = lit. “don’t sell bearskin until you’ve hunted the bear”

Polish: Nie chwal dnia przed zachodem słońca = lit. “don’t praise the day before the sunset”

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3. English: To call a spade a spade = mean. to call something by its right name

Finnish: Kutsua asioita niiden oikeilla nimillä = lit. to call things by their right names (not an idiom in Finnish really)

Swedish: Ord och inga visor = lit. “words and no songs”

Spanish: Al pan, pan y al vino, vino = lit. “(to call) bread, bread and wine, wine”

Polish: Nazywać rzeczy po imieniu = lit. “to call things by their names”


4. English: To buy a pig in a poke = mean. to buy something sight unseen or something one doesn’t know much about

Finnish: Ostaa sika säkissä = lit. ”to buy a pig in a bag”

Swedish: Köpa grisen i säcken = lit. ”to buy a pig in a bag”

Spanish: Dar gato por liebre = lit. “to buy a cat instead of a hare”

Polish: Kupować kota w worku = lit. “to buy a cat in a sack”


5. English: To fit like a glove = mean. to fit perfectly

Finnish: Sopia kuin valettu = lit. ”to fit like casted”

Swedish: Passa som handen i handsken = lit. “to fit like a hand in a glove”

Spanish: Quedar como un guante = lit. “to fit like a glove”

Polish: Pasować jak rękawiczka = lit. “to fit like a glove”





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