As far as I know, a few idioms are included in some sections.. but it would be nice if we could have a whole lesson devoted purely to idioms. :) Just an idea.

September 9, 2012


Idioms tend to be the most difficult to grab in any language. Personally, I loose a heart if the lesson starts with a French idiom that I have to translate to English. Reason is that I am native French and still ignore thousands of English idioms. I suspect that Duo aims at teaching us a variety of "understandable" things. To reasonably master a language, you may not need to know all idioms but to understand them when you hear them and use a correct periphrasis when you speak French.

To me, idiom is also the choice of the right preposition. Throughout the course I lost a lot of hearts on them because both French and English are foreign languages.

You're lucky, the French for "an elephant in a china shop" is "un éléphant dans un magasin de porcelaine". An easy one... I agree, at least one lesson purely aimed at idioms would be great (and tough).

Suppose I am "as mad as a hatter", any Anglosaxon would know that comes from Alice in Wonderland. But in Dutch: "I am as angry as a spider", believe me then I am furious. Well: What about French and English. Another example"something is obvious", In German: "es liegt AUF der Hand", in Dutch: "het ligt VOOR de hand". (just to make my point about prepositions)

it doesn't come from Alex in Wonderland, it comes from the fact that Victorian hat makers used mercury on the brims of the hats and it drove them all insane. that's why there was a Mad Hatter in Alex in Wonderland.

@siebolt Prepositions are tricky. When I was little and it was time for dinner, my dad (a Brazilian) used to tell me "go and sit on the table"!

The nice thing about Québecois French is that a lot of their idioms are literally translated from English, so you can get away with a lot. On the other hand, if you try the same thing in France, you'll probably make no sense.

"As mad as a hatter" -> "fou à lier" (to be linked with a straightjacket) -- "as angry as a spider" -> "fou de rage" -- "es liegt auf der Hand" -> "simple comme bonjour" -- Other suggestions?

This is the kind of discussion I like, serious nonsense. "pazzo da legare" = fou à lier."sweating like a horse" "zweten als een paard", but: "sweating like an otter" (lit. from Dutch) what would that be? anomalocaris: And, what happened each time you climbed the table? I went to google and typed: "expressions with animals", expressions avec animaux", "espressioni con animali", "Ausdrücke mit Tieren", "uitdrukkingen met dieren" You get a wealth of expressions, too many to learn in a short while. You could do what I once did with a list of Italian sentences: I printed them and started learning them 2 at a day.

@siebolt Well, by the time I was old enough to remember this, I was also old enough to make fun of him for it. (I'm a brat. ^^; ) He doesn't make that mistake any more.

The correct expression is, of course, "go and sit at the table," or in Portuguese "vai sentar na mesa." "Na" (or "no" for masculine) is translated as "on the" or "in the" in almost all cases--this case being an exception. So my dad would use the most literal translation of preposition and end up with that nonsense. I see a similar problem in a lot of bad translations of "de" from both Portuguese and French--it can be either "of" or "from," and people always seem to pick the wrong one. Or use it when it shouldn't appear at all, like in this common gem from Brazilian menus: "pudding of orange" ("pudim de laranja"--"orange pudding"). siebolt, you should order that next time you're at a Brazilian restaurant--it'll make you feel royal!

Aanomalocaris:There still has not been a first time, but I will look around for a Brazilian restaurant. By the way: in Dutch we can say, "somebody is as mad as a door", I believe a revolving door is meant. What would that be in English?

@anomalocaris: found the recipe, I will try it next month, after I moved. @sitesurf: dog-tired, what is that in French? Many expressions are from the bible "to put one's light under a bushel" is that similar in French?@ Isiik: There is a rather sombre German film called "An die Wand" Because of the case (die=Akk.) it is the movement to the wall. It could be translated as: "Up against the wall." which nicely contains both the car crash against a wall as well as the situation of the main character. Thinking the problem through I believe a greater emphasis on the use/choice of prepositions would be important. Mainly because of efficiency. You would encounter more problems with prepositions than with special idioms. Things like" j'ai froid" (to have) <> "I am cold" (to be) are dealt with in the course.

It seems I opened Pandora's box :). I''m glad the discussion got so lively. I studied interpreting in English and Czech and I've learned to appreciate the importance of knowing matching idioms in each of these languages. I believe idioms are crucial to mastering a language (not that I'm getting any close to that in French, but still).

@Isiik: the better you get at a language, the more idiom you need, because you will understand there is something special about the expression (a starter wouldn't see that). But you already know that. @ monzac: "mad" is used as the medical condition "crazy".

Idioms sre phrases like "an elephant in a china shop" - to be extremely clumsy.. some do match throughout many languages, some are unique just to one or few languages.. so, it would be great if we got one lesson aimed purely at French idioms :)

@siebolt re 'mad as a door': There is an Australian idiom 'silly as a wheel'. Is this the sense of 'mad' used in the Dutch phrase?

@siebolt : "dog-tired" : crevé, à plat, vanné, no direct idiom coming to mind, but familiar expressions, the two first relating to a flat tire and the 3rd one to agriculture (vanner means to shake wheat grains). "to put one's light under a bushel" : again, no direct idiom I have known of, but "mettre quelque chose sous le boisseau" means to keep something secret, to avoid talking about it in public.

@ sitesurf: "to put one's light under a bushel" is to hide one's qualities. "metre qqc sous le boisseau" I interpret as to put it "sub rosa" dog-tired is both in Dutch and German: "hondsmoe, hundemüde".

@siebolt: Ah, so it's the technical term ;)

I think of someone who's silly as a wheel as being frustrating to deal with because you can't talk sense to them, perhaps like trying to hold a logical discussion with someone who's revolving in a door.

@monzac. Then my ex-wife is as silly as a wheel. "crazy as a door" is certainly not the technical term, psychiatrists and psychologists will never use the expression, even if they agree completely. It is a bit negative.

All right people, new one! "ik pieker me suf" means I am worrying very, very much. "suf" is about "dazed". In German I would translate" Ich grüble, bis mir der Kopf raucht." > I worry till my head is smoking, referring to the nice little cogs and wheels inside, doing overtime an thus getting overheated. Anybody French or Spanish?

Here we go for French phrases expressing worry/anxiety and their direct translation in English: "Je me ronge les sangs" (I bite my bloods). "je me fais de la bile" (I am making some bile) " je m'arrache les cheveux" (I tear my hair off) " je me fais du mouron" (I am making checkweed) " Ne te mets pas la rate au court-bouillon" (don't cook your spleen in a broth) " Ne te caille pas le lait" (don't curdle your milk)

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