Clichés from around the world

I love idioms from other languages that have a different tilt on common phrases used in English.

An example is the French phrase «chacun à son goût», which literally translates as “to each his taste,” and is equivalent to the English phrase “to each his own.”

Or take «on ne saurait faire boire un âne qui n’a pas soif», which translates as “you can’t force a donkey to drink when he’s not thirsty” — which we know better as “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” (Somewhere along the line, the donkey became a horse, or vice versa.)

In his influential 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell wrote, “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” One way to keep your writing sounding original is to replace the English cliché you were going to use with a foreign equivalent. But it has to be well-known; in that same essay, Orwell says, “Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.”

I only speak French, but I know a few idioms from other languages. Another one I like is from Spanish: «Empezar la casa por el tejado», which literally means “to start the house with the roof” and is a relative of the English cliché, “To put the cart before the horse.”

And that reminds me of a bad joke I used to tell when I was a kid. A construction foreman walks into the architect’s office and says, “Say, did you want us to build this skyscraper from the bottom up, or the top down?” And the architect is a bit confused and says, “Well, from the bottom up, I’d say.” The foreman nods and then turns around and yells, “Rip ‘er down, boys, we gotta start over!”

I close with this thought: Mixed metaphors are a pain in the butt and should be thrown out the window.

2 Responses to “Clichés from around the world”

  1. Stephen Says:

    By the way, I stumbled across this essay about the origin of the word “cliché.”

  2. Michaela Says:

    That reminds me of the site about global schoolyard rhymes:

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