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Lost in Translation


smoke a fagThank you in different languages

1. Have a cigarette (British)

2. Kill a homosexual (American)

As a New Zealander living in England I have come across many phrases and words that are misconstrued, cause confusion, and sometimes offense - the above example from the Urban Dictionary demonstrates just how easily some things can really get lost in translation!

Luckily, as an English speaker I can communicate on an everyday level with my British counterparts, but every now and then something crops up that identifies me as a foreigner to these shores.

Common phrases from the colonies like can’t be fagged (can’t be bothered), hunky dory (everything’s fine), pack a sad (sulk), piece of piss (something that’s easy to do), sweet as (all good), and it’s my shout (I’ll pay for this round of drinks) bring about a hint of mirth, and then there’s a sandwich short of a picnic (someone’s a bit thick), get off the grass (stop making up stories), and get up at sparrow’s fart (an early riser), which all result in downright derision… and that’s without taking the accent into account!

On the other hand, there are plenty of terms that don’t translate the other way, like if a Brit or an American tells us they root for a certain team we think they’re a bit slutty, as to root is slang for fornicating in Australasia!

Being on the other side of the world we have developed our own identity and form of language, and take offence when it’s defined or used the wrong way, even when the Oxford English Dictionary is the guilty culprit.

lostintrans2Last year, the OED listed the Australasian term Bogan in its tome, and defined it as someone who is uncouth, uncultured, and of low status similar to the British equivalent Chav and the American White Trash.

As a result, Kiwi and Australian Bogans from all walks of life revolted at the definition, as they wear the name as a badge of honour – along with their black jeans, black singlets, usually unkempt flowing locks, and heavy metal music paraphernalia!

But we’re not the only ones who have weird and wonderful ways of speaking that more often than not will raise an eyebrow or two in the UK – here are just a few examples from around the world.

The Dutch say they’re sweating carrots when they’re overworking, the French say they have other cats to whip when they have other things to do, and when experts make an error, the Japanese say that even monkeys fall out of trees.

These all have similarities to English speaking phrases, but then there’s the Hindi example to excrete embers when someone’s very angry, the French pedal in sauerkraut when you’re not going anywhere fast, and then there’s the entertaining and logical Tibetan phrase, to put up a beer tent meaning there’s going to be a wedding.

So, put another snag on the barby mate, grab another bevvy from the chilly bin, Bob’s your uncle, and she’ll be right – in other words, cook a sausage, get a cold beer, and all will be good with the world!

Have you got any good examples of phrases that have got you lost in translation?