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Don't shit in the blue cabinet!
March 10, 2011 9:57 AM   Subscribe

International Color Idioms. Hundreds of international idioms that mention color, with literal English translations as well as meanings. From this page, which also has an interesting essay on colors and language. (via)
posted by kmz (20 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
Don't shit in the blue cabinet!

What a colourful expression.
posted by saturday_morning at 10:12 AM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


God, I scrolled down to the Italian section real quick and there are so many spelling and grammar mistakes it strongly implies that I shouldn't trust any of their data for any language I don't actually speak. Sadness.
posted by lydhre at 10:13 AM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why no "sacre bleu"?
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 10:17 AM on March 10, 2011


Yeah the Arabic "A black day" has the Arabic for "The White Shark" next to it.
posted by dougrayrankin at 10:18 AM on March 10, 2011


I think French people say "sacre bleu" like English people say "dagnabit".
posted by GuyZero at 10:18 AM on March 10, 2011


On closer inspection... None of the Arabic looks right to me at all. Of course, being from Scotland, I am not a native speaker.
posted by dougrayrankin at 10:21 AM on March 10, 2011


The Korean is totally blank.

Also, what's the meaning of "professional white background"? "I'm from Marketing?"
posted by DU at 10:25 AM on March 10, 2011


The German ones have some errors too. For example, "die goldone Mittle" (sic) should be "die goldene Mitte" or "der goldene Mittelweg."
posted by jedicus at 10:27 AM on March 10, 2011


Swedish idiom Gråsosse has an incorrect literal translation. Sosse is slang for socialdemokrat, i.e. someone who votes for or is a member of Socialdemokraterna, the Swedish Social Democratic Party. So the literal translation should be grey social democrat but not quite because social democrat doesn't capture the slanginess of sosse.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:33 AM on March 10, 2011


The essay on color and language is fascinating. For example:

In Welsh language (which is in a different language family from English), the word for "blue" traditionally covers not only what English speakers would call blue but also parts of green and grey as well (although in contemporary Welsh the words have come to correspond more with English).

Welsh language: Precise concept in English:
gwyrdd: green which is not blue-ish
glas: blue; greenish-blue; grayish-blue
llwyd: gray which is not blue-ish


As a (somewhat) colorblind person, I've always been intrigued by the ways in which people see colors differently. I can see many different colors, but I don't see them in the same way most people see them. Or most English-speaking people, anyway. I think I could distinguish gwyrdd, glas, and llwyd much better than I can green, gray, and blue.
posted by bokinney at 10:34 AM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


the literal translation should be grey social democrat

On the other end of the spectrum, I don't see "red diaper baby."

Errors aside, this is a cool find, thanks!
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:38 AM on March 10, 2011


Aw crap, sorry about the bad data guys. I assumed whoever runs the site was doing better fact-checking. :(
posted by kmz at 10:39 AM on March 10, 2011


One of my classmates in China bought a green Mao-style hat with a Communist star on it and wore it to class all the time. Finally one of our Chinese teachers confessed to him that they'd all been secretly snickering about it- not because he was a white dude in a Mao hat, but because the hat was green. "He has a green hat" does in fact mean "he's being cheated on" in Chinese.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:50 AM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Every day for one hundred days, Rachel Berger picked a paint chip out of a bag and responded to it with a short writing. She selected her favorite forty, titling each writing with the number of the day it was written, and the name of the color from that day’s paint chip.
posted by netbros at 11:24 AM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Kmz, don't feel bad, the concept is fascinating! Maybe all polyglot mefites should team up and fix it! :)
posted by lydhre at 11:24 AM on March 10, 2011


"As a (somewhat) colorblind person, I've always been intrigued by the ways in which people see colors differently."

I'm fascinated as my toddler learns his colors; it's clear to him that red and pink are different colors, but equally clear to him that blue and green are the same color. And orange is always yellow.

I think in Russian there's "light blue" and "dark blue" and they're quite distinct colors?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:28 AM on March 10, 2011


Blue pencils, blue noses, blue movies, laws, blue legs and stockings, the language of birds, bees, and flowers as sung by longshoremen, that lead-like look the skin has when affected by cold, contusion, sickness, fear; the rotten rum or gin they call blue ruin and the blue devils of its delirium; Russian cats and oysters, a withheld or imprisoned breath, the blue they say that diamonds have, deep holes in the ocean and the blazers which English athletes earn that gentlemen may wear; afflictions of the spirit — dumps, mopes, Mondays — all that's dismal — lowdown gloomy music, Nova Scotians, cyanosis, hair rinse, bluing, bleach; the rare blue dahlia like that blue moon shrewd things happen only once in, or the call for trumps in whist (but who remembers whist or what the death of unplayed games is like?), and correspondingly the flag, Blue Peter, which is our signal for getting under way; a swift pitch, Confederate money, the shaded slopes of clouds and mountains, and so the constantly increasing absentness of Heaven (ins Blaue hinein, the Germans say), consequently the color of everything that's empty: blue bottles, bank accounts, and compliments, for instance, or, when the sky's turned turtle, the blue-green bleat of ocean (both the same), and, when in Hell, its neatly landscaped rows of concrete huts and gas-blue flames; social registers, examination booklets, blue bloods, balls, and bonnets, beards, coats, collars, chips, and cheese. . . the pedantic, indecent and censorious . . . watered twilight, sour sea: through a scrambling of accidents, blue has become their color, just as it's stood for fidelity.
- "On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry," by William Gass
posted by Iridic at 12:38 PM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


God, I scrolled down to the Italian section real quick and there are so many spelling and grammar mistakes it strongly implies that I shouldn't trust any of their data for any language I don't actually speak

andiare en bianco = andare in bianco
cronica rosa = cronaca rosa

are the only two expressions with spelling mistakes, but the literal translations and the meanings seem appropriate for all of them. I actually never heard the expression "andare in bianco", just saw it in print: my shy male relatives must have refrained from sharing "not getting any"with me.
posted by francesca too at 3:51 PM on March 10, 2011


Seconding having never heard many in the language I'm familiar with, at least from the inhabitants of my Spanish speaking neighborhood, I'm not well read in Spanish though, it might be more in literature.


Two have the literal translation but not the Spanish statement itself, can we add like a wiki?


tener la máscara blanca <> to have a white face mask
blanca como la rompa dela monja <> white like a nun's butt cheek

Are my best guesses, pero soy mas blanca que la leche, so use at your own risk :)
posted by oblio_one at 7:22 PM on March 10, 2011


Anyone who is interested in other languages' color terms should check out the work of Berlin and Kay, who famously proposed that:

a) That there are a limited number of "basic" color terms

b) That the order in which these color terms appear in languages is universal. I'm going to quote from Wikipedia:
  1. All languages contain terms for black and white.
  2. If a language contains three terms, then it also contains a term for red.
  3. If a language contains four terms, then it also contains a term for either green or yellow (but not both).
  4. If a language contains five terms, then it contains terms for both green and yellow.
  5. If a language contains six terms, then it also contains a term for blue.
  6. If a language contains seven terms, then it also contains a term for brown.
  7. If a language contains eight or more terms, then it contains a term for purple, pink, orange, and/or grey.
This holds up surprisingly well. Russian is actually one of the few possible counter-examples; it has a term for "light blue" and "dark blue", but not a word for only "blue."

(Right now I'm researching a language that has "basic" words for black, white, and red. All other colors are either loanwords, or are set phrases such as "fresh leaf" for a bright green. This is true of a lot of West African languages.)

How much the color terms of our native languages affect our perception of color itself is something that is still being hotly debated.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:11 PM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


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