when the crayfish whistles

By kateandcarla

October 24, 2011

Category: Uncategorized


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.

–Carla. 10.24.11

Source:  Thank you, NPR!


2 Responses to “when the crayfish whistles”

  1. This highlights a problem with translations in literature. When one is translating Thai to American English, should one turn “riding an elephant to catch a grasshopper” into “cracking a nut with a sledgehammer” ? Or should the original riding an elephant…” be kept to give the flavor or the original language (and perhaps confuse the American reader ?

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