Literal Translation: The Multilingual’s Party Trick

One activity multilingual people, like yours truly untruthfully claims to be, enjoy is literal translations of words and expressions and idioms from languages they speak to English. They make for mildly interesting quips and conversation starters at parties and social gatherings that always lead to the same self-serving result: Me bragging about how many languages I speak.

I have to admit that for an individual to whom English is their fourth spoken language, my correct use of “whom” at the start of this sentence is impressive.

Anyway, here are some examples:

In Arabic, words with sexual meanings are often either convoluted euphemisms or blunt anatomical/medical descriptions. For instance, the word “masturbation” in Arabic has two translations: The first literally translates to “extracting semen”. Which okay, is technically what masturbation is but it kinda takes the fun out of it.  The second translation means literally “the practicing of the secret habit”, which is also my favorite Harry Potter book.

In French, bachelor party roughly translates to “the burial of the life of the young boy”. Which sounds like the title to a Netflix true crime documentary, and to be honest in a society where casual adultery is tolerated the whole concept of bachelor or stag party shouldn’t really exist in the first place.

In Portuguese, there’s a Brazilian proverb that always made my teenager dirty mind giggle. It says what can be approximately translated to: “An empty sack cannot stand”. Which is true because if your sack is empty, it will not stand.

And finally, in Spanish, the expression for something being cool and hip is translated to “what a pimp!”. Which shows that sometimes cultures agree on certain things even if they’re thousands of miles apart. In this case, both Andalusians and African-Americans agree on the fact that, indeed, pimps are cool.




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