Words are amazing little things, with the power to do pretty much anything the human mind has the ability to twist them to accomplish. And if words are amazing, languages are absolutely fascinating, and it’s a well-known fact that the only way to truly become fluent in a second language’s idioms and other everyday quirks is to immerse yourself around native speakers for an extended period of time.
The 17 words and phrases below will help you see why that’s true – because what they literally mean and how they’re used couldn’t be more different.
Or more perfect, if you ask me.
17. Dedos do pe
In case you want nightmares, here you go: the Portuguese word for “toes” is simple “foot fingers.”
If I were to say to you “look at that naked snail!” you’d likely be able to guess I meant a slug – which is exactly how slug translates in German.
I’m not sure that “toilet glasses” makes any more sense than a “toilet seat” but I guess it works for the Dutch.
14. Montana Rusa
The Spanish, and other Romance languages, refer to rollercoasters as “Russian mountains” because a 15th century Russian predecessor was a slide placed on an ice-covered hill.
Funnily enough, the Russian word for roller coaster is “American hills.”
13. Ain htaung
The Burmese apparently have a dim view of marriage, because the word literally translates as “house prison.”
12. Chuot Tui
In Vietnamese, this is the word for a kangaroo – or, literally, a “rat pocket.”
In case you didn’t feel awkward enough when you’re naked, the Germans would like to refer to your nipples as “breast warts.”
10. Dian nao
In the future, it will not surprise me at all should the rest of the world start using the Mandarin translation of “computer,” which is “electric brain.”
The Finnish call Santa Claus the “Christmas Goat,” which makes more sense when you realize that Santa, in their tradition, is more of a troll who threatens kids to be good.
South Africans have a great word for “cotton candy” – “ghost breath.”
7. Syut Gwaih
This is the Cantonese word for refrigerator, and can be translated as “snow cupboard.”
6. Papier Vampier
In one of the more fun entries, South African people call a “stapler” a “paper vampire.”
An “echo” is “rock language” in Icelandic, and I can’t think of anything more apropos.
The German word “zeug” means “stuff” (originally “pulling something into you” or a “tool”) and is used in a number of words, like flugzeug (airplane, or “flight stuff”), feuerzeug (lighter, or “fire stuff”), spielzeug (toy, or “play stuff”) and schlagzeug (drums, or “hit stuff”).
The Icelandic word for “quotation marks” literally means “goose feet” and if you stumble across anything more charming today, I’d like to hear it.
The French and their food, man. This is a type of hors d’oeuvre (an appetizer, of course, but that literally means “outside of work”) and is literally translated as “mouth amuser.”
1. Surtan albahr
Lobsters are the “cancer of the sea” in Arabic, but not because they hate crustaceans – just because cancer comes from the root word “to grab/swallow.”.
One day my dream of speaking two or more languages will come true!