“Who You Callin’ An Idiom?”

Posted by Lindsay Geoffroy

Here in the Lionbridge onDemand blog, we have covered a lot of language-specific topics – from slang, to abbreviations, to the country-appropriate response when a person sneezes.

Today, we’ll explore the wide world of idioms. Many of you have probably heard the word “idiom” before, but do you know what an idiom is? An idiom is an expression that has a figurative meaning which is different from the literal meaning. It is estimated that there are over 25,000 idiomatic expressions in the English language – and you may use them on a daily basis, without even realizing it! (Like when you tell your little brother to go kick rocks or pound sand. You know you’ve done it.)

One example of a common English-language idiom is “No use crying over spilt milk.” The literal meaning of this is to not cry when you spill milk – but the figurative meaning is to not be upset about making a bad choice or a mistake, since there’s no way to change it.

Idioms have been in use for centuries. For instance, our “spilt milk” idiom can be dated back to a book of proverbs from1659!

Idioms can be funny and they can be wise. Idioms also vary from country to country and from language to language, and are hugely influence by regional culture.

Let’s take a moment to look at some important idioms from around the world, and how the existence of idioms factors into the language services industry.

A Few Good Idioms

Back-handed compliment (America): A compliment that is at once flattering and insulting

Into the Mouth of the Wolf (Italy): Good luck

To Have a Wide Face (Japan): To have a lot of friends

A Cat’s Jump (Germany): A short distance (ie, “The store is only a cat’s jump from my house!”)

It’s raining troll women (Norway): It’s raining heavily

Horse horse tiger tiger (China): So-so

How Does This Relate to Translation and Localization?

As we have previously discussed, language or region-specific language must be handled with care during the translation process. Otherwise, you could end up with poorly translated material which either offends the target audience or gives them a good laugh. Either way, bad translations could equal lost profit in the long run.

This is where localization comes in. Translation is just the first step in transitioning a file from a source language into another language; the second step is to adapt the translation to fit the target culture. This would include proper translation of language or region-specific idioms.

The moral of the story: If you have anything that needs to be translated (be it text files, websites, software, etc.), it pays to properly translate and localize. Especially if your material contains any idioms that may get lost in translation!

At Lionbridge onDemand, our expert translators can adeptly translate and localize any idioms your material may contain. To find out more about our services, check us out here.