Look Before You Leap

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I am about to take the plunge and delve into the mayhem of idioms.

Have you ever tried to explain an idiomatic phrase like ‘look before you leap’? A native speaker knows what it means and how to use it, but it is almost impossible to directly translate such a phrase into another language. So here’s a quick guide to a few English, French and Spanish idioms which might come in handy.

Image: Amy Harwood

A glance out of the window in Southampton will often give rise to a sigh and the remark that ‘it’s raining cats and dogs out there’. If you were to be confronted with a downpour in Lille, you might say that ‘il pleut des cordes’. This literally means ‘it’s raining ropes’. Is that better..?

You tear your eyes away from the window and try to concentrate on your work again. But you’ve got your ‘head in the clouds’ today. ‘Estás en las nubes’ when you should be concentrating on your Spanish. (Ah! Say the Spanish speakers. But it’s almost the same! Yes, more or less, but the French are on the moon – ‘être dans la lune’ – when they are daydreaming.)

You’re supposed to be collating a group project which is due tomorrow and there is one person, a friend of yours, who hasn’t done their part. Do you nag them or risk missing the deadline? You could say that you’re ‘stuck between a rock and a hard place’. A Spaniard would say that you are ‘entre la espada y la pared’, between the sword and the wall. Maybe that one’s a remnant from the old courtly era of knights and damsels in distress (damas en apuros).

It’s time for dinner. Two of your housemates have said they’ll help you cook but you’re not sure – the kitchen is quite small and ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’. But at least we’re not in Spain this time, where ‘la mucha gente sólo es buena para la guerra’. Lots of people will not only spoil the food but might start a war!

Next you head to the pub. As you’re waiting at the bar someone near you catches your eye. You glance away but then look back – it’s ‘un coup de foudre’, ‘love at first sight’. Also known as a bolt of lightning to the literal-minded…

The next morning your head doesn’t feel so good. You know that you might be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire but you decide to go for a bit of the hair of the dog in an attempt to find your feet again. Still, who says the grass is greener of the other side of the fence? You are definitely on cloud nine right now!

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Hi, I am a third year English student but while writing for the Wessex Scene I have my Erasmus hat on! I am one of the buddy scheme co-ordinators for the Erasmus society this year and hope to keep the university informed about activities organised by the society and international life in Southampton, among other things.

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