One of my private clients is a Viking. I may have mentioned him before; he’s Norwegian and he does clever things with broadband and software and stuff.
While working on his latest project, I came across a delightful little Norwegian idiom that doesn’t really translate well into English. Or, in fact, translate into anything meaningful at all. A bit like something costing an arm and a leg, or having an ace in the hole, in English – it doesn’t translate easily to other languages.
This particular phrase is:
Det gikk troll i ord.
The literal English translation is, as the blog title suggests, “It went troll in words.”
What it means is that you can make something bad happen just by talking about it. You can jinx it.
But I have this image in my mind of a literary troll rampaging about the page, scrambling the words and turning what could be good writing into terrible writing. So from now on, whenever I see some terrible copywriting I’m going to assume it went troll in words.
Writing this email obviously sent me off down an internet wormhole, looking for other delightful foreign idioms. These are my favourites…
From the Germans: Tomaten auf den Augen haben.
Literally: You have tomatoes on your eyes. I love this, it means you’re not seeing what everyone else can see — real objects, not abstract concepts.
From the Swedes: Att glida in på en räkmacka.
Literally: To slide in on a shrimp sandwich. Referring to somebody who didn’t have to work to get where they are.
From Thailand: ไก่เห็นตีนงู งูเห็นนมไก่
Literally: The hen sees the snake’s feet and the snake sees the hen’s boobs. Meaning, obviously, that two people know each other’s secrets.
From Latvia: Pūst pīlītes.
Literally: To blow little ducks. Meaning to talk nonsense or lie.
From the French: Avaler des couleuvres.
Literally: To swallow grass snakes. Which means you’re so insulted, you’re not able to reply at all.
From Russia: Sadly I couldn’t get the Cyrillic alphabet to render here, but it means…
Literally: Galloping across Europe. Meaning to do something hastily and haphazardly. Referring, presumably, to every leader who’s ever tried to invade Russia…
I love a good idiom. They’re a great way to make your copy a little more colourful, but use them carefully; if you’re writing for a reader who isn’t a native English speaker, our idioms will probably confuse them. If, however, you’re writing to Lancastrians, you can talk about barm cakes with impunity.
Vicky Fraser is a copywriter, author, and entrepreneur. She really did run away with the circus… but when she’s not swinging from a trapeze, she’s showing other copywriters and small business owners how to work with better clients, make more money, and stop missing bathtimes, first words, and dinners with angry partners. In fact, she wrote the book on it. Get your copy here.
PS My book contains a few idioms, but it contains more useful information on how to grow your business. You can get your copy here – and you’ll get access to an exclusive resources area, plus a free monthly newsletter packed full of marketing tips and information, fascinating facts, and tales of mirth and woe.