Carry owls to Athens (and other amusing idioms in foreign languages)

Whenever I need copy translating for a client I whizz it over to Tongue Tied to do the biz. All their translators are native speakers and understand the nuances of advertising copy. They also know their idioms from their elbows. So they’ve put together the following list of idioms, their foreign language equivalent and their literal translations for your amusement. I’m snug like a cock in a pastry.


To make a mountain out of a molehill

German: Aus einer Mücke einen Elefanten machen/ To make an elephant out of a mosquito

French: Ne pas en faire tout un fromage/ Not to make a cheese out of it

Spanish: Hacer una montaña de un grano de arena/ To make a mountain out of a grain of sand


Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched

German: Du sollst den Tag nicht vor dem Abend loben/ Don’t praise the day before the evening

French: Il ne faut pas chanter victoire avant la bataille/ Don’t cheer before the battle

Spanish: Vender la piel del oso antes de cazarlo/ Sell the bear’s skin before the hunt


Don’t judge a book by its cover

German: Der Schein kann trügen/ Everything is not as it seems

French: l’habit ne fait pas le moine/ Clothes don’t make a monk

Spanish: Las apariencias engañan/ Everything is not as it seems


Carry coals to Newcastle

German: Eulen nach Athen tragen/ Carry owls to Athens

French: Porter de l’eau à la rivière/ Carry water to the sea

Spanish: Llevar leña al monte Carry wood to the mountain


Pull someone’s leg

German: Jemanden einen Bären aufbinden/ To tie a bear onto someone

French: Mener quelqu’un en bateau/ To take someone on a boat

Spanish: Tomar el pelo a alguien/ Pull someone’s hair


Barking up the wrong tree

German: Auf dem Holzweg sein/ To be on the wooden path

French: Se mettre le doigt dans l’œil/ To put a finger in the eye

Spanish: Errar el tiro/ To miss the shot


Every cloud has a silver lining

German: Auf Regen folgt Sonnenschein/ After rain, there will be sunshine

French: Après la pluie, le beau temps/ After the rain, there will be good weather

Spanish: No hay mal que por bien no venga/ There is no evil that blows no good


Not my cup of tea

German: Nicht mein Geschmack/ Not my taste

French: Ce n’est pas ma tasse de thé/ It’s not my cup of tea

Spanish: No es plato de mi gusto/ Not a dish of my taste


It’s all Greek to me

German: Ich versteh nur Bahnhof/ I only understand train station

French: J’entrave que dalle/ I only understand concrete slab

Spanish: Esto me suena a chino/ That sounds Chinese to me


When in Rome, do as the Romans do

German: Andere Länder, andere Sitten/ Other countries, other conventions

French: A Rome, fais comme les Romains/ In Rome, do as the Romans do

Spanish: A donde fueres, haz lo que vieres/ Wherever you go, do what you see


Snug as a bug in a rug

German: Wohlfühlen, wie die Made im Speck/ Snug as a maggot in bacon

French: Comme un coq en pâte/ Snug, like a cock in pastry

Spanish: Estar acurrucadito y calentito/ Being curled up and warm

  • Aislingmc
    Posted at 12:44h, 05 September Reply

    RT @TurnerInk: On the blog: Carry owls to Athens (and other amusing idioms in foreign languages)

  • suewalder
    Posted at 13:13h, 05 September Reply

    More, please… RT @TurnerInk On the blog: Carry owls to Athens (and other amusing idioms in foreign languages)

  • Alan
    Posted at 05:15h, 09 July Reply

    Despite being a fluent German speaker, their use of idioms baffles me:
    “It’s a matter not worrying about / I don’t care” ‘ist mir wurst’ – it’s sausage to me, “he’s useless” or “he’s an idiot” – ‘er ist eine Flasche” – he’s a bottle. I attended a graduation ceremony in Frankfurt last year and ironically it was the English teacher who peppered his speech with idioms such as these that made his speech the only one I couldn’t follow…..

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