I'm Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears and Other Intriguing Idioms From Around the World


Jag Bhalla wrote a fun book for National Geographic called I'm Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears and Other Intriguing Idioms From Around the World. It's illustrated by New Yorker cartoonist Julia Suits. Here are some examples:

Not hanging noodles on your ears: Russian - not kidding

To live like a maggot in bacon: German – live in luxury

To reheat cabbage: Italian – rekindle an old flame

Like fingernail and dirt: Spanish, Mexico – well suited

Bang your butt on the ground: French - die laughing

Plucked like a chicken: Yiddish - exhausted

To bite the elbow: Russian – to cry over spilt milk

Smoke from 7 orifices of head: Chinese – to be furious

To become naked: Japanese – to go broke, poor

An ant milker: Arabic – a miser, tight wad

Give it to someone with cheese: Spanish - to deceive

Squeezer of limes: Hindi – self invited guest, idler

To break wind into silk: French - live the life of Riley

I'm Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears and Other Intriguing Idioms From Around the World


  1. A MENSA tattoo: Mine. Describes something that could in theory exist, but in reality does not.

  2. Upon receiving some flattery that she apparently felt was insincere, a Dutch woman I was dating accused me of “sticking feathers up her ass.” Then again, maybe she was just changing the subject and I missed my cue…

  3. There are so many more, someone should make a wiki. Here’s another one from Germany:

    “You know, I haven’t swum here on the roux soup!”: I am not stupid.

  4. That last one is an English idiom as well, if not very common: “farting through silk”. Google says 83,000 hits.

  5. I found the actual idioms to be a little bit uninteresting/obvious (de rigeur in BB! comment threads, I guess)…

    … but I found the explanations of idioms which then contain idioms to be delightfully unaware…

    “to rekindle an old flame”?
    “to cry over spilt milk”?
    “to live the life of Riley”???

    These are the plaintext!

    I am starting my own site where I unpack any idioms used as translations of idioms from other cultures.

    Bonus: I will have a sidebar on the euphemisms used in the foreign idioms, called “breaking winds.”

  6. “To reheat cabbage” is not Italian, “To reheat soup” maybe is…
    An old affair, rekindled, is called a “heated soup”

  7. There’s a South African (Africaans) one that I’m probably going to mangle horribly:

    A soutpiel (“salt-dick”) is someone who has one foot in Britain and one in South-Africa, and consequently his penis dangles in the ocean!

    I believe this can be applied to other continents too, so is a more colorful version of “mid-atlantic” to refer to something that is not quite American or British, but somewhere in-between

  8. Some other french idioms :

    And my ass is made of chicken !
    (take me for an idiot)

    To drop a rabbit.
    (to stand someone up)

    To tackle your girlfriend
    (to break up with your girlfriend)

    You don’t teach an old ape to eat bananas.
    (I know better)

    She saw the wolf.
    (she’s not a virgin anymore)

    To pull the devil by his tail.
    (to be broke)

    To sing like a saucepan
    (to sing out of tune)

    To cry like a muffin
    (to cry like a fountain)

    To store it (your penis) under your arm.
    (to return home single)

  9. #10- Zapan- Any possibilty that you could re-post your list in French? I would be very interested but not sure that I would get the translation right if I tried it on my own.

  10. Sure, right away :

    Et mon cul c’est du poulet !
    And my ass is made of chicken !
    (take me for an idiot)

    Poser un lapin.
    To drop a rabbit.
    (to stand someone up)

    Plaquer sa copine.
    To tackle your girlfriend.
    (to break up with your girlfriend)

    C’est pas à un vieux singe qu’on apprends à manger des bananes.
    You don’t teach an old ape to eat bananas.
    (I know better)

    Elle a vu le loup.
    She saw the wolf.
    (she’s not a virgin anymore)

    Tirer le Diable par la queue.
    To pull the Devil by his tail.
    (to be broke)

    Chanter comme une casserole.
    To sing like a saucepan
    (to sing out of tune)

    Pleurer comme une madeleine.
    To cry like a muffin
    (to cry like a fountain)

    Se la mettre sous le bras.
    To store it (your penis) under your arm.
    (to return home single)

    If you’re interrested in French idioms, there is this serie of youtube shorts with some of the above :

  11. How about these chinese gems:

    To hit the airplane.
    To masterbate

    Five hitting one.
    Same meaning

  12. “Не вешай (мне) лапшу на уши”
    is more accurately translated as “don’t hang spaghetti on my ears”, rather than “noodles.”

    As for interpretation, the book is being far too polite. Best interpreted as “don’t bullshit me,” though more polite. Also, only exists as a directive in second person, rarely if ever encountered in first person.

  13. LOL, Zapan; I hadn’t heard some of these in a while!

    But wouldn’t “Pleurer comme une madeleine” better translate as “To cry like a Magdalene”? I thought it was in reference to a biblical story set in Magdala, not the pastry…

  14. Or to THE Magdalene, i.e. one of the Three Marys: “stabant autem iuxta crucem Iesu mater eius et soror matris eius Maria Cleopae et Maria Magdalene”—you know, the one who wept unceasingly until she found Him raised?

    Geez, I’m not even a Christian and I know that.

  15. Here’s a pretty common German one:

    affentitten geil!

    literally – ape tit horny

    It is simply an exclamation that something is

    “really great!”

  16. From a Chinese co-worker:
    A dog’s mouth gives no ivory
    (Can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear)

  17. There was a book some 15+ years ago called “Sky my husband !” By Jean Loup Chifflet who made fun of french and english idioms.

    “Il pleut des cordes”
    “It’s raining ropes” -> It’s rainining cats and dogs.

    Also the more common/correct idiom is

    “Ce n’est pas au vieux singe qu’on apprends à faire des grimaces”
    “It’s not the old monkey you can teach to make faces” -> You can’t teach an old dog new tricks

    You’ll find a few more here :

  18. #12 Zapan- Merci! I will use these at the soonest possible opportunity. I like this one, too-

    “J’ai la dalle” I have a paving stone in my stomach- I am starving

  19. Great idea for a book! One of my favorite Spanish idiomatic phrases: you don’t kiss ass, you tug nuts (“jalar bolas”), so an ass-kisser is a “jalabolas,” or nut tugger, which, to be honest, as a boss, I don’t think having someone yank my testicles would really endear that person to me, but I guess neither would literal ass-smooching.

    1. Oh, funny–in the movie Tropic Thunder (in French, Tonnere sous les Tropics), writer Ben Stiller had an actor’s agent give the actor the nickname “Tuggernuts.”

      The same movie had a wonderful “idiomatic” (really, these supposed “idioms” were just made up by Mr. Stiller as well) exchange between a hard-boiled ex-army sergeant and a British director. The sergeant says: “right about now, I’m guessing you couldn’t find a Dixie coonskin if an Ohio hooker were leadin’ you by the pr*ck and showin’ you the way.” The director stares for a beat, and then says–“what?”

  20. “Give it to someone with cheese: Spanish – to deceive”

    That explains so much of Americanized Mexican food.

  21. #20 Salamalecs

    I have that book. My French may be rubbish, but thanks to ‘Sky my Husband’ I can occasionally surprise French people.

  22. North of England –

    well i’ll go to the foot of our stairs…
    (i’m surprised)

    she’s no better than she should be…
    (she doesn’t measure up to our standards / she’s a slut)

    you’d make a better door than a window…
    (don’t stand in front of the telly)

    British –

    were you born in a barn?
    (please close the door)

  23. Here’s a Chinese one that I can remember of the top of my head. There’s a lot of regions sayings too.

    “Rou Bao Tze Da Go” – To chase away the dog with meat dumplings: i.e. to not really discourage someone (because the dog only leaves when he’s full and will come back later).

  24. * 大(dà)水(shuǐ)冲(chōng)了(le)龙(lóng)王(wáng)庙(miào)(big+water+poured over+finish+dragon+king+temple)
    o Literally: The Dragon-King’s temple is flooded.
    o Moral: You can be harmed by the things you control.
    o Explanation: The Dragon-King is a mystical creature that lives underwater and controls the natural bodies of water. People visit the dragon-king temple to placate him and prevent floods, thus this proverb is ironic situationally (Sometimes this proverb is used as ‘大水冲了龙王庙,一家人不认一家人’ (…yi1 jia1 ren2 bu4 ren4 yi1 jia1 ren2 …one+home+person+not+know+one+home+person), or, One family member doesn’t recognize another family member. The idiom might be used to resolve an embarrassing situation; Someone has a conflict with a stranger, only to find the stranger was a neighbor, or a sister’s boyfriend, or any other person with some relation. The two might use this idiom to save face and make peace with each other, comparing the conflict to that of the flooded dragon-king’s temple (dragon-king: rain god in some sense).

  25. Brazilian expressions:
    “peel a pineapple” – solve a thorny problem
    “happy as a chick in the litter” – self explanatory

  26. My Swedish housemate used to always say “Thumb in the middle of the hand” which basically means to be uncoordinated.

    It’s also apparently the name of ‘Home Improvement’ on Swedish television.

    Oh the other good one was ‘When the cats away the mice will dance on the middle of the table’.

    I sure do love teasing that girl.

  27. #15 INVICTUS

    Anyway this idiom is about lying, but not joking. So it’s better said “I’m not lying” then “I’m not joking”. I hope that other idioms are translated better.

  28. The first one (hanging noodles on your ears) is NOT an old saying but the Russian translation of the American saying “feeding you a line”.

  29. Takuan’s just skimming the surface.

    The Chinese language is arguably made up of idomatic phrases that have ossified into, essentially, words. “Cheng Yu” are four character phrases that function as words, the original meaning of which no one really thinks about anymore. Like,

    San Jiao Jiou Liu: “Third school ninth branch”…meaning literally an obscure offshoot of an already obscure branch of thought.

    Today it means people who are uber-bohemian and as a result come off as pretentious and weird.

    There are literally thousands of these, not to mention non-four-character aphorsisms.

    How about, “Tsui La Ba”…literally, “blow the trumpet”, which in Beijing means drinking the beer right our of the beer bottle.

  30. Japanese:
    “sono te wa kuwan zo” (and other variants)
    translates literally as “I won’t eat that hand”

    and means “I’m wise to your tricks!” or “you can’t fool me!”

  31. For those who, like me, wonder how that’s written in Japanese:
    その手は食わんぞ or more gramatically correct: その手は食わない (sono te wa kuwanai)

  32. My Dad had a series of books of idioms from the same author (I forget her name). They were variously called Le Gimmick, El Gimmick, Il Gimmick etc etc. I was particularly keen on them as a young lad ‘cos the last chapter of each was dedicated to idiomatic swearing such as “When the shit hits the fan” and so on. Anyone else remember them?

  33. Well they have ant milker, but how can they not have antfucker?

    In Dutch a “mierenneuker” (litt. “antfucker”) is someone who makes a big deal of small problems. And yes, it is an acceptable term in polite society both as a noun or as a verb describing the practice.

  34. At #36 Such as…

    Like a pig in shit! – Happy / Content / At home.

    The Dog’s Bollocks (meaning the dog’s testicles) – Brilliant / Great / The Best.

    The Badgers Nadgers(meaning the badger’s testicles) – Brilliant / Great / The Best.

    The shit has hit the fan – It has gone very wrong.

    It’s gone tits up – It’s gone quite wrong.

    Shit the bed! – Surprised.

    Up shit creek without a paddle – I’m in trouble and I am not sure I have a way to solve this.

    That’s all the ones I can recall from memory at this time.

  35. anonynous#9:

    A soutpiel (“salt-dick”) is someone who has one foot in Britain and one in South-Africa, and consequently his penis dangles in the ocean!

    Let me tell you about my mid-Atlantic ridge!

  36. The mutts nuts (other version of the dogs bollocks) – Great, fantastic

    The cats arse – the opposite lol… – rubbish.

  37. #42: I’ve seen “The Cat’s ass” used sort of different. Like like: “Doesn’t she think she’s the cat’s ass!” Sort of a derogatory comment yet not completely.

    I use “shit the bed” on a regular basis, even at my boss. I also enjoy “more dug in than an Alabama tick” but that’s more of a Predator reference than anything, and not really an idiom.

    Oh and nobody has mentioned:

    “That’s the bee’s knees.” – Great, Awesome, High Quality

  38. A soutpiel (“salt-dick”) is someone who has one foot in Britain and one in South-Africa, and consequently his penis dangles in the ocean!

    With a foot in Britain and the other one in South Africa, shouldn’t that rather be a “sand-dick”?

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