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Idioms are a very interesting element of both language and culture, linked. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “an idiom is an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but that has a separate meaning of its own. What this means is that the words that make up an idiom are not to be taken literally.
Idioms are phrases of expression that have been embedded into the language of a culture, so much so that people say them naturally - as if the words they speak are the actual meaning of what they are saying. This can make things confusing of course if you don’t know the language well. It’s like a whole other level of language one has to learn once they’ve learned the meaning of words!
To understand idioms you have to know the culture that is behind them - you have to get to know its root purpose. They are metaphorical and figurative. Once understood, they serve as a convenient and expressive feature of language. Sometimes, one can express themselves more clearly through an idiom than common language.
And of course, the same way that you can’t take an idiom literally in the language that it is spoken, you can’t translate an idiom word for word into another language either. To “translate” an idiom you have to translate its core meaning, not its words. The translation is therefore an equivalence of the idiom.
A lot of the time, idioms are much different when translated. Meaning, the words that make up the phrase with the same meaning are not the same at all. However, here we’ve found almost a dozen idioms that are almost the same in Thai and English. Enjoy!
Thai Idiom: ก้มหน้า
Literal translation: Bow your face.
English Idiom: Keep your head down.
Meaning: To endure a difficult situation or avoid trouble.
Thai Idiom: กวนน้ำให้ขุ่น
Literal translation: Stir water and make it cloudy.
English Idiom: Muddy the waters.
Meaning: To inflame a situation and cause disruption. To confuse an issue.
Thai Idiom: กำแพงมีหูประตูมีตา
Literal translation: Walls have ears, doors have eyes.
English Idiom: The walls have ears.
Meaning: Be careful of what you say, someone is always listening, secrets will be revealed.
Thai Idiom: ข้ามน้ำข้ามทะเล
Literal translation: Cross water, cross the ocean.
English Idiom: I would cross an ocean for you
Meaning: To fight through obstacles in order to succeed. The English is a bit different, it means to do anything for another person.
Thai Idiom: เข็นครกขึ้นเขา
Literal translation: Push a mortar/millstone up a hill
English Idiom: Push a boulder up a hill
Meaning: To attempt a difficult or impossible task beyond one's capacity.
Literal translation: Enter the bushes/wilderness.
English Idiom: In the weeds.
Meaning: To not know what you are doing, lack expertise and be overwhelmed with problems.
Literal translation: Enter the left ear, go out the right.
English Idiom: Goes in one ear, comes out the other.
Meaning: A person who doesn’t listen or learn.
Literal translation: Hang boxing gloves.
English Idiom: To hang up your boots.
Meaning: To quit doing something or retire.
Literal translation: Squeeze blood from a crab.
English Idiom: Squeeze blood from a stone.
Meaning: To try to get something from someone (usually money) that you will never get.
Literal Translation: When the cat is not there, the mice are happy.
English Idiom: When the cat’s away, the mice will play.
Meaning: When the person in charge is not there, people will do what they want or misbehave.