Friday, March 03, 2006

Different languages, same idioms

It's interesting to discover that many idioms, that I believed to be specific of my language (I'm Italian), are used in other countries/languages as well.
The funny thing is that, even if the meaning is exactly the same, they are often phrased out in a very similar way, but with slight and amusing differences.

For example, a few days ago, in a mail from a guy from the United States, there was a sentence like this:
"to kill two birds with one stone"
Well, here in Italy, we use a very similar idiom to express this concept (i.e. to reach two goals with one effort):
"prendere due piccioni con una fava"
that in English could be translated:
"to catch two pigeons with one bean"
What to say... I must admit that I prefer this idom in the Italian version: I am for animal rights and I think that only a bad guy would kill birds with a stone but... yeah, also the guy that catches them with a bean is probably ill-intentioned.


anna said...

Jacopo, this is one of my favorite topics.
I love learning new idioms in different languages, and trying to figure out how the two different cultures came up with the same concept (which usually sounds absurd).

I understand why killing two birds with one stone sounds very violent. To me, it sounds completely normal. Probably the same way you feel whenever you hear...
"In boca al lupo"
I felt bad for the wolf when I first learned this Italian idiom for good luck.

In English, we say "break a leg!" for good luck...which is not much better, but I do like the common response: "piece of cake!" (no problem!)...who wouldn't enjoy a piece of cake?

In Spanish, when someone is joking around, they say, "¡Me est├ís tomando el pelo!" (or you're pulling/taking my hair), which is equivalent to "You're pulling my leg!" in English...I wonder, is there a "pulling" idiom in Italian?

sajad shafiee said...

it'd be quite surprising to you if i say that a colossal number of idiomatic expressions are common between English and Persian (the language spoken in Iran and some neighboring countries).

there are some idioms which are, say,like verbatim translations of "to rub salt on the wound, to shed crocodile tears, to hold/bite your tongue, etc."

This may pertain to the origin of these languages ... McMordie(1954) in his book describes the origin of these languages.

sajad , from Iran

Christina said...

Dear Jacopo,

I was looking for a kinder alternative to the English expression "to kill two birds with one stone" so THANK you for this Italian version. I recall hearing or reading a Chinese expression that went something like this - 'A peasant will wait a hundred years on a hillside before a bird flies into his hand' - which is somewhat related to the English expression 'a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush' or 'there is no free lunch'! I love learning different languages and seeing the similarities and differences among cultures.

claudio said...

Does anyone know a Spanish version of "That's a horse of a different color?"

claudio said...

Hi, does anyone happen to know the Spanish equivalent to the American expression of: "That's a horse of a different color?"

j-hawk-s said...

Even the Italian version is not so bird friendly -- 'catching' birds. Here is an adapted version: 'to feed two birds with one seed'

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j-hawk-s said...

"catching" birds is friendlier than "killing" them, but still not entirely bird friendly.

another adaptation of the Italian I prefer is 'to feed two birds with one seed'

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