Black Kettles and Kicking the Idiomatic Bucket
Sometimes when learning a new language it’s hard to stay the course when it comes time to learn idioms. Combinations of words with a common figurative meaning, idioms can be discouraging to deal with and confusing to understand. Just ask Flula Borg, a German DJ and comedian with many YouTube videos expressing his frustration on how incomprehensible some English idioms can seem to non-native speakers.
Most native English speakers know the idiom “the pot calling the kettle black” to be a claim that a person is guilty of the very thing of which they accuse another. Not to Flula Borg. He takes the meaning literally and proclaims in his YouTube video called Pot, You Are Racist To Kettle. (6:32am), “First, this is very clear racism. Pot do not say this to kettle.” He goes on to say “Say ‘Hello’, do not say ‘hey you are black, kettle’. It’s not good. It’s not very friendly.”
Racist kitchenware aside, idioms occur frequently in all languages and can perplex even the best of us. With Halloween right around the corner it seems inevitable that a few death idioms would be floating around in normal conversation. During a recent Halloween event in my community—incidentally it was called Zombie Outbreak, and it was incredibly fun—I heard a young child ask their mother what “kick the bucket” meant. The mother just looked at her son thoughtfully and replied, “Remember your fish, Finnie? You could say he kicked the bucket.” The boy looked thoughtfully at his mother, took a bite out of his cupcake decorated to look like brains (zombies, remember?) and said, “but he can’t kick anything, he’s dead.” Poor Finnie, he’s swimming with the fishes.
So, in honor of Halloween, and the dearly departed Finnie, let’s take a look at some idioms in other languages with meanings similar to kick the bucket accompanied by their literal translation.
Italian: tirare le cuoia (to pull the skins)
Danish: at stille træskoene (to take off the clogs)
Swedish: trilla av pinnen (to fall off the stick)
Romanian: a da colțul (to turn the corner)
Greek: τινάζω τα πέταλα (to shake the horse-shoes)
French: manger des pissenlits par la racine (to eat dandelions by the root)
Spanish: estirar la pata (to stretch one’s leg)
Unfortunately there is no secret method to learning idioms other than to memorize them in the same manner as vocabulary words. Confusing as it may seem you should keep trying even when they throw you for a loop, it’s all part of learning the language.
What are your favorite idioms? Which do you think are silliest when taken literally?