What’s a saying in your language that probably doesn’t have a straight-forward translation into other languages?
Well, in my experience, when translating anything between Polish and English, it’s English that has more words that are untranslatable into Polish, simply because English has loads more words than Polish does. That being said, we do have a lot of sayings, also proverbs, idioms, colloquial or downright slangy words that are very handy yet don’t seem to have a straightforward translation into English, and as much as, when speaking Polish to a non-English speaker, I often sorely lack the huge amounts of weirdly specific and descriptive words that English has, on the other hand, when speaking English, I really feel the lack of all those very picturesque and often quite humourous and to the point sayings, idioms etc. of my native language. As you may know, I have always envied people who are multilingual since early childhood, but as my own language development keeps progressing, I am increasingly more inclined to believe someone I was once writing with who was raised bilingual, and who told me that being bilingual is not all amazing, because, according to him, when you speak two or more languages fluently from a very early age, in a way you can’t develop either of them as well as a monoglot can, and you have gaps in each of them and mix them up a lot totally accidentally etc. I was raised monolingual, so that was not my experience, but now that my thinking is pretty equally divided between Polish and English, and my Swedish is also pretty strong, I think I am starting to see that myself. When I speak English, I still don’t know a lot of niche words or am unfamiliar with some structures, or make a lot of mistakes, or am just not sure how to express some very specific thing, or like I said lack some colourful idiom from my native language. But when I speak my native language, I find it increasingly difficult to resist the temptation of snobbishly throwing words from other languages in between or awkwardly calquing expressions from other languages, or otherwise it sometimes takes me ages to remember what something’s called in Polish which feels and appears ridiculous. Also I write a lot less in Polish these days than I do in English and sometimes I have an impression that ever since I’ve started writing loads in English, like blogging and having mostly English-speaking friends, my writing skills in Polish have degraded slightly but visibly, while I still haven’t developed as distinctive a writing style as I’ve had in Polish. I shared that observation with my grandad a few months ago and he said that perhaps this is evidence for why humans might not actually be built for being multilingual. It’s an interesting theory and could sort of make sense at the first glance, because in the past people rarely travelled so far that they’d need more than one language to communicate effectively with everyone, nonetheless I don’t believe in this theory one bit. AlSo yeah, linguistic dilemmas. But anyway, I’m digressing already before I’ve even managed to properly start answering the question. 😀
So, an untranslatable Polish saying? The first thing that comes to my mind is one that would literally translate to “to think about blue almonds”. At least on the surface, that may seem like the best literal translation for it, even though it’s not really right or exact but we’ll get to that in a minute. If you’re thinking about blue almonds, it means that you are dreaming, usually about something that isn’t very likely to come true, or, in any case, you are not doing anything to get closer to it coming true. It is also strongly associated with being idle and lazy, like, instead of doing what you’re supposed to do, for example doing your job so that you can eventually get a raise and gradually become richer and possibly very rich, you just sit there thinking about blue almonds, that is in this case how cool it would be to be a billionaire and what you’d be doing if you were one, but you’re not even trying to increase the likelihood of it happening. I’ve also heard it used several times to signify something more like zoning out, for example, you’re in the middle of doing something, and then you stop in the midst of it and suddenly appear deep in thought, so someone might ask you what you’re thinking about and you could say: “Oh, just thinking about blue almonds”, meaning that you’d simply zoned out and weren’t thinking about anything in particular at all or just mind wandering or something. But generally it’s most basic meaning I’d say is idle, lazy daydreaming of very unlikely or perhaps utopian things.
But why blue almonds, actually? Well, the thing is that they aren’t really blue. The Polish word for blue (niebieski) also has another meaning – “heavenly”. – It is much less commonly used, these days you’d mainly see it in religious texts like the Bible (lol my Mac is so brainwashed by me already that it autocorrects Bible to Bibiel 🤣 ) or hymns or prayers (so essentially in Polish Heavenly Father means the same as blue father, and I remember that when I was little I found that really odd) or such, or otherwise perhaps astronomy-related stuff where it would mean “celestial”. I guess it’s because the word for heaven (niebo) is the same as sky in Polish, and well, the sky is blue. Or perhaps there’s a more logical reason behind that. So technically the almonds aren’t really supposed to be blue, but heavenly. But since “niebieski) is more commonly used as meaning blue these days, most people think the almonds in the saying are actually blue and interpret it as to think/daydream about something very weird/fantastical/surreal, ‘cause blue almonds don’t exist. Apparently, in the past centuries, the Polish word for almond (migdał) was also used to mean something delicious, perhaps a bit sumptuous, exotic, luxurious, that you didn’t eat every single day. So I guess a more fitting literal translation would really be something like “to think about heavenly delicacies”.
Or am I wrong in assuming that this doesn’t have an English equivalent? If so, please do enlighten me.
. How about you? Or if you’re not sure what sayings from your language are or are not translatable to others, what’s your favourite saying in your native language? 🙂