5 Untranslatable Finnish and Hungarian Idioms and Phrases
Posted on March 2nd, 2015 in Language Learning, Miscellaneous, Translation
If you think idioms are the sole property of the English language, think again.
The Noble Idiom
From hot potatoes to pieces of cake, using idioms can be somewhat of a guilty pleasure. Argue the toss all you like: idioms are fun. Indulging in a little cherry picking, here are some fine specimens of English idioms.
That is not to say that idioms are only found in the English language. Far from it. In fact, natives of other tongues will likely argue that idioms in English are an amateurish attempt at word play. That is not for us to judge. What makes perfect illogical sense to us is probably incomprehensible gobbledygook to the non-native language learner or an international colleague, and vice versa when we hear the apparently more civilised idiom from afar.
That is the joy of idioms.
Awarding the untranslatable
If there were a competition for ‘most obscure idiom’, some of the most promising contenders would surely hail from Finnish and Hungarian. These Uralic languages are about as far away as you can get from our own Germanic-rooted language whilst retaining the same alphabet. Perhaps that is why their idioms sound so strange to us.
Here are five examples to argue the point:
1. Vuonna miekka muusi ja kypärä. – ‘In the year of mashed potatoes and helmet’.
Meaning: ‘A long time ago’. (Finnish)
2. Ne csinálj szúnyogból elefántot. – ‘Don’t make an elephant out of a mosquito’.
Meaning: The closest English equivalent is ‘Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill’. (Hungarian)
3. Päin honkia. – ‘Against the pines’.
Meaning: Something has gone completely wrong. (Finnish)
4. Tele van a hócipőm. – ‘My snowshoes are full’.
Meaning: ‘I’ve had enough’, ‘I can’t take any more’. (Hungarian)
5. Vintti pimeni. – ‘The attic blacked out’.
Meaning: Someone fainted. (Finnish)
This seems like as good a time as any to raise the issue of the virtues of quality translation.
When translating between languages it is crucial that colloquial and idiomatic expressions are understood in both, because if not, imagine the can of worms it could open. Imagine, for example, relying purely on an automated translation of number 4 from above during an intense sales negotiation. Are business deals now to be done on the ski slope rather than the golf course? Is it actually snowing outside? Is this merely questionable taste in office attire? Without correct translation it is up for (mis)interpretation and who knows where that could lead?
If you have something important you need translating and don’t want to make a fool out of yourself, why not have a look at the services we provide to avoid any misunderstandings?