Mailbag: A book of idioms

Right Reading  received the following e-mail (slightly edited) from Jag Bhalla.

Hello Tom

I discovered your blog via Twitter and was very impressed by your chucklesome publishing world ‘devils dictionary’.

Also as a lover of language play, thought you might enjoy the following:

a) On “language addiction (its our most ubiquitous mind altering drug) and the thrill of the novel (semantic ambush).” (National Post Canada)

b) A new National Geographic book – called “I’m Not Hanging Noodles on your Ears” which is the Russian idiom that is the equivalent of our ‘I’m not pulling your leg’.

The book is primarily intended as an amusing gift book. To which end it features over 1000 idioms from 10 languages, plus illustrations by a New Yorker cartoonist. The majority of the idioms have not been exposed before in English (other than in bilingual dictionaries). It also contains lighthearted essays on related linguistics, psychology, anthropology and neuroscience.

Mr. Bhalla also provides the following examples from his book of idioms:

To live like a maggot in bacon – German – to live in luxury
Squeezer of limes – Hindi – self invited guest, idler
To reheat cabbage – Italian – rekindle an old flame
Like fingernail and dirt – Mex. Span – well suited
Bang your butt on the ground – French – to die laughing
To make tea with your navel – Japanese – laughable
Swallowed like a postman’s sock – Col. Span – in love
Plucked like a chicken – Yiddish – exhausted
To bite the elbow – Russian – to cry over spilt milk
Belch smoke from 7 head orifices – Chinese – furious
Ant milker – Arabic – miser, tight wad
Give it to someone with cheese – Spanish – to deceive

← Previous post

Next post →


  1. Nice line that – the thrill of the novel.

  2. Bang your butt on the ground

    Rather a good one that.