when the crayfish whistles
And another thing I love about language… 😉
Getting to know people from different countries and cultures opens so many word windows. An incredibly fun one is learning how an idiom in language A will saunter off into language B, but by taking a different twist. So our “it’s raining cats and dogs” becomes “it’s raining old women with clubs” in Afrikaans and “it’s raining chair legs” in Greek.
Our sideways compliment that a person could “sell ice to the Eskimos” turns into “take owls to Athens” for the Germans. And our outright slam that someone’s “using a sledgehammer to crack a nut” is “riding an elephant to catch a grasshopper” in Thailand. (In Mandarin, it’s “taking off one’s trousers to break wind,” but I thought I’d keep this post G-rated.)
My personal favorite among the rephrasings is “when pigs fly.” Take your choice:
Croatian: Kad na vrbi rodi grožde “When willows bear grapes…”
Hungarian: Majd ha piros hó esik “When it’s snowing red snowflakes…”
Uzbek: Tuyaning dumi yerga tekkanda “When the camel’s tail reaches the ground…”
Russian: Kag-da rak svist-nyet “When the crayfish whistles…”
And that ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie.
Source: Thank you, NPR!