Language Mischief

Some Indo-European languages have been quite mischievous…

Languages and translations:

  • French: les hiboux (the owls)
  • German: Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften (legal protection insurance companies)
  • Portuguese: você lê (you read)

Do you know more instances of language mischief? Let me know in the comments!


Foreign, not Deaf

Human interactions are fascinating, especially when the people involved in the linguistic exchange don’t share a common language. Picture the following scenario: a native speaker attempts to communicate with a foreigner. The native says something and the non-native looks puzzled. Then the native repeats the exact same thing in the exact same order and speed, just 30 decibels louder. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

My hearing works perfectly, thank you very much. I’m foreign, not deaf. Shouting is not going to magically make me speak your language or understand words that I haven’t previously learned. Try rephrasing, using simpler structures and basic vocabulary instead!

Spanish Food Idioms

In case you didn’t know already, I’m a huge phraseology nerd, that is the branch of linguistics that studies idiomatic expressions! So, today I’m bringing you a collection of Spanish food idioms. ¡Que aproveche!

A problem or task “es pan comido” when it can be easily solved. Whereas in English something can be “a piece of cake”, Spanish speakers describe it as “eaten bread”. Why? Because bread is one of the most basic food items worldwide. It’s easy to make and even easier to consume, since you don’t even need cutlery or special abilities – as opposed to other goods that might require some skills and patience, such as seafood.

When you “give someone pumpkins”, you are not offering them a squash snack but turning them down. Legend has it that pumpkins were considered an anti-aphrodisiac in Ancient Greece, and they were administered to folks in order to reduce their libido. Likewise, pumpkin seeds were recommended in the Middle Ages to ward off lascivious thoughts during prayer. The idiom “dar calabazas a alguien” made its way into Spanish in the context of courtship, and nowadays it’s used to reject someone’s amorous advances.

The idiom “ser un chorizo” literally translates as “to be a spicy pork sausage”, and it describes people who steal from others. Contrary to popular belief, the etymological origin of this expression is not food related. In caló, language spoken by the Spanish and Portuguese Romani, the verb “chorar” (to steal) gave way to the noun “chori” (thief), and so did the idiom that Spanish speakers currently use – mostly to refer to their politicians.

Yummy as it may be, this caramel custard dessert is shaky and wobbly as hell. If someone is trembling, shivering or extremely nervous, you can fairly say they “are like a flan”.

The idiom “to be the (lemony) pear” emphasizes someone’s or something’s extreme coolness. But are pears inherently awesome? Well… not really. In order to unravel the origin of this expression, we shall travel back to 17th century Constantinople, specifically to Péra, a district of present day Istanbul. Back in the day, this bustling district enchanted European merchants and visitors with its marketplace: spices, silks, perfumes, exotic products and handmade goods. Péra was definitely the pinnacle of awesomeness!

Are you an attractive, good-looking person? Then it’s safe to say that “you are like a cheese”. Yummy and nice to relish in. Need I say more? Fun fact: what do cheese (English), Käse (German), kaas (Dutch) and fromage (French), formaggio (Italian), formatge (Catalan) have in common? The answer is caseus formaticum, which is Latin for “shaped cheese”. Mind-blown!

“Having bad milk” doesn’t exactly mean that your dairy went bad, but rather, that you are a sour, grumpy person. It originated in the Middle Ages when wealthy ladies resorted to wet nurses who would feed their newborns. Wet nurses were picked meticulously, for it was thought that any psychological imbalance or poor cognitive skills could be passed on to the newborn through their “bad” milk. Ah, what a time to be alive!

Whereas some people are dumb as rocks, Spanish speakers get “to be a melon”. The origin of this idiom is unclear. One theory suggests that it was brewed in a context of political disputes in Puerto Rico, when the Popular Democratic Party started referring to their rivals as “melons”, due to the emblematic color of the Puerto Rican Independence Party. If someone calls you “melón”, I suggest you look for new friends!

What was first, the coconut or the head? The idioms “comerse el coco” (lit. to eat one’s coconut) and “comerse la cabeza” (lit. to eat one’s head) mean to overthink. Besides the fruit name, coco is colloquial for head, and both items are understood as containers where thoughts roam wild.

Blushing is part of our fight or flight response. When we are embarrassed, adrenaline speeds up our heart rate and dilates our blood vessels. So we turn visibly red, or if you speak Spanish, you “become (like) a tomato”. Because… is there anything redder than this fruit?

Eso es todo, amigos. Do you have a favorite food idiom? Can you add more to the list?