An Enchanting Tour Through A World Of Idioms

Let's Talk About Love

Have a long face? Take a look at some of the most romantic — and unromantic — idioms from around the world; they'll have you grinning from ear to ear in no time.

When English speakers say someone "kicked the bucket," they don't literally mean a person put foot to pail. Instead, they're using an idiom, or an expression with a culturally specific meaning that's not contained in the words themselves.

Jag Bhalla's new book I'm Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears provides a compendium of worldwide idioms. The book's title comes from a Russian expression meaning "I'm not pulling your leg," and though Bhalla hasn't found any Russians who know the source of this amusing image, he says that's not unusual when it comes to idioms.

"Some of the roots of our expressions ... are buried deep in cultural history," he tells Melissa Block.

Take, for instance, the English expression "let the cat out of the bag." The saying is actually left over from the 16th century, when unscrupulous salespeople sometimes tricked purchasers by putting a cat into a bag instead of a pig.

"If you didn't open the bag before you left the market, it would be too late to complain later," says Bhalla. "However, most modern English speakers have no idea that that is why we 'let the cat out of the bag.'"

Often, different cultures will come up with their own idioms to express the same idea. Where English speakers might accuse a hypocrite of being a "pot calling the kettle black," Arabic speakers would observe that "a camel cannot see its own hump."

And Bhalla adds that idioms can be a great indicator of what is important to a culture: "One of my favorite German ones, for example, attests to their great obsession with meat: 'To live the life of Riley' in German — to have a wonderful life, to live a life of luxury — is to 'live like a maggot in bacon.'"

The Language Of Love

Excerpted from 'I'm Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears'

I'm Not Hanging Noodles On Your Ears
I'm Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears and Other Intriguing Idioms From Around the World
By Jag Bhalla
Paperback, 272 pages
National Geographic
List Price: $12.95

To get one's eyes stolen: to be dazzled (Japanese)

To throw face: to make a good impression (Spanish, El Salvador)

What a bonbon and me with diabetes: a street compliment (Spanish, Latin America)

What curves and me without brakes: a street compliment (Spanish, Latin America)

Biscuit: hot, sexy, attractive (Spanish, Mexico)

To set the dogs on someone: to flirt (Spanish, Latin America)

Having the waist of an elegant lion: an attractive woman (Hindi)

Like hibiscus rising out of water: grace of a woman (Chinese)

To give the package: to stand someone up (Italian)

To lay a rabbit: to stand someone up (French)

The space below a nose is long: to be lewd toward women (Japanese)

To have fast hands: to be a womanizer (Japanese)

Having seven husbands: loose woman (Hindi)

Unable to stop being the owl: can't stop flirting (Italian)

An apron hunter: a womanizer (German)

Have one's atoms hooked together: really hit it off (French)

Buckle polish: slow dance (Spanish, Venezuela)

Wiggle your bucket: dance (Spanish, Mexico)

Swallowed like a postman's sock: hopelessly in love (Spanish, Colombia)

To have eaten a monkey: to be nuts about (German)

To solidify one's body: to get married (Japanese)

To distribute cardamoms: to invite to a marriage (Hindi)

Matricide: marriage (Spanish, Costa Rica)

To hang oneself: to get married (Spanish, Mexico)

Handcuffs: the wife (Spanish, Latin America)

Republished with permission of the National Geographic Society from the book I'm Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears by Jag Bhalla. Drawings by Julia Suits. Copyright 2009 Jag Bhalla. All rights reserved.

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