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8 Filthy Foreign Phrases the English Language Needs

Idioms aren't supposed to make literal sense: Apples and oranges are easy to compare. Kicking the bucket doesn't sound like such a bad thing. What if the bucket deserved it? What if it was racist? And sure, there probably are multiple ways to skin a cat, but how did that become the benchmark for comparing task variety? In what time and place in human history did we need so many cats skinned that we developed multiple techniques for it?

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It wasn't to eat them, was it? Oh God, it was probably to eat them. So the American South, then.

Cracked has considered idioms before and even tried to analyze why and how they came to exist, an analysis that in many cases peters out pretty quickly, ending with a shrugging linguist. "I dunno," the linguist says. "Because fuck those cats, I guess."

But because we use idioms every day, most of the time we don't even notice them. It's only poor foreigners trying to learn our stupid tongue who trip over them. And, in the interest of spreading confusion and bafflement, I realized we can replicate that experience here by considering foreign idioms, some of which are completely bonkers. Here are eight of the bonkeriest, along with some shrug-heavy speculation on how they came to pass.

#8. France: "Bang Your Butt on the Ground"

So what do you think this means? It's a sex thing, right? Or maybe an earthquake- or fire-preparedness drill, kind of the French equivalent of "stop, drop, and roll"?

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"Zut alors! Le ... quake de terre!" (Apologies to my French teachers. And France. Sorry, France.)

Well, you'll be pleasantly surprised to learn that the French phrase "se taper le cul par terre," which literally translates to "bang your butt on the ground," is more commonly taken to mean "laughing yourself silly." See? Totally harmless.


So when Cracked changes our slogan to "A Butt-Banging Good Time," you'll know what we're talking about.

How This May Have Come to Pass:

This seems pretty straightforward. It refers to a joke that's so funny, it causes the listener's legs to go out. Not dissimilar to "rolling on the floor laughing," really. Still, for the purpose of this article, I'm going to assume that the phrase got its origin when a satirist took on a new roommate who turned out to be a really shoddy chair maker.

#7. China: "Smoke from Seven Orifices"

This phrase is fantastic, evoking all sorts of great mental images, like the kind of things you see in commercials for digestive medicines.


(And now apologies to really everyone who taught me or had much to do with bringing me up.)

Well, it doesn't turn out to be that graphic, but only just. In Chinese, the phrase "qi qiao sheng yan," although translating literally to "expel smoke from the seven orifices," really means "seethe with anger." It also, sadly, seems to restrict the orifices to just ones on the head, which felt like kind of a high number, until I checked.

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I'm guessing that they're counting the eyes, or "cranial anuses," as they're referred to in Chinese.

How This May Have Come to Pass:

Well, this is obviously referring to someone so angry that they boil up inside, causing steam to shoot out of their ears, which is essentially the same idiom demonstrated in countless cartoons and Three Stooges bits in the English-speaking world. That it stopped with just facial orifices is a little disappointing, but don't let that keep you from using "anger steam" as a simile for farts going forward.

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"Are you ... are you mad at me?"

#6. France (again): "Have an Ass Full of Noodles"

Now, you're probably trying to guess what this means by looking at the words literally, and, while that must be fun for you, I'm going to ask you to stop now.

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"Thank you."

In much the same way that "kicking the bucket" means "dying," we've now reached an idiom that cannot be deciphered at all from the literal meaning of its component words. You see, the French phrase "avoir le cul borde de nouilles," although literally meaning "to have an ass full of noodles," is more commonly used to mean "to be very lucky."

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"Wow. The butts I was imagining were kind of the exact opposite of lucky."

How This May Have Come to Pass:

There is no explanation for this at all. Noodles aren't lucky or valuable or, really, in any way at all a desirable thing to have. And that's under the best of circumstances, like if they were in a bowl or something. For noodles within a butt to be seen as a sign of good fortune is completely baffling, and something the French will have to answer for some day. If any French readers can shed some light on this in the comments, that'd be great. For now, I'm assuming that this phrase originated when someone with an extremely unlikely and terrible condition was able to win a bar bet.

#5. Japan: "Eye Boogers Laughing at Nose Boogers"

The Japanese, bless them, have a wonderful relationship with bodily fluids, so it's really no surprise that they'd end up on a list like this. This one's actually kind of cute: The phrase "mekuso hanakuso wo warau," which of course translates literally to "eye boogers laughing at nose boogers," is an admonition to not criticize someone for faults you have yourself. It is, you'll recognize, very similar to the English idiom "the pot calling the kettle black."

How This May Have Come to Pass:

First, is this completely true? Aren't eye boogers at least a little better than nose boogers?

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They'd have a better view, at least.

Yeah, I think that's true. Sorry, this idiom makes no sense. You really dropped the ball on this one, Japan.

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Chris Bucholz

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