Posted by: Andy | May 8, 2011

Turkish Idioms

In any language, idioms are incredibly difficult to learn.  Let me be the first to say that while they are difficult to learn, they are extremely fun to teach.  Usually I teach these in our extra lessons, an hour of lessons that are free to any student from the school who wishes to come.  I usually choose a general vocabulary topic and just think of as many as I can.  Food idioms tend to work well.  Calling somebody ‘the big cheese’ is for some reason really funny to Turks.  Also, saying that something is their ‘bread and butter’ is a favorite.  I’ve also done animal idioms and body part idioms with great success.

Today, I ventured into new territory.  I always try to ask students about Turkish idioms, but they think of one and they don’t know how to translate it very well and I just give up, but today, I told my class of four that they needed to come up with as many as they could while we were on tea break.  So they sat, chatted together and came up with more than 10 beautiful Turkish idioms.  Nearly all of them expressed the same sentiments as an American idiom, so here are a few of my favorites:

Turkish idiom: Trees bend when they are young. 
American equivalent: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Explanation: The Turkish idiom is a bit more about character than about ability.  People develop their character very young is essentially the idea.  If a person is good when they’re young, they’ll be good when they’re old.

Turkish idiom: If babies don’t cry, mothers won’t give milk.
American equivalent: The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Explanation:  The Turkish variety is more positive, meaning you must say what you want or you won’t get it.  I feel as though the American version is more negative, as in complainers get what they want.

Turkish idiom: It will come up like olive oil.
American equivalent: What goes around, comes around.
Explanation: Essentially, if you do something wrong, it will come up again.  When you mix olive oil in something like soup, it separates and you can see it rise to the top.  It does not blend in.  So it is with our lies and bad deeds.  They stand out.  They don’t blend in.

Turkish idiom: Say uncle to a bear until you cross the bridge.
American equivalent: None.
Explanation: This one is brilliant.  In Turkish, there are two words for uncle.  Your father’s brother is known as amca while your mother’s brother is known as dayı.  A bear is called ayı.  The word amca is used as a term of endearment and familiarity.  The term dayı is now used as a term of respect for a dangerous person, typically in the mafia.  The words dayı and ayı are obviously similar, so when it is said in Turkish, it sounds quite nice.  The cross the bridge part has to do with being a safe distance away.

Turkish idiom: Don’t pull up your pants before you see the water.
American equivalent: Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
Explanation:  This is the one I most commonly here.  They’re slightly different in that the Turkish speaks of preparing for something before you need to while the American version speaks of depending upon something before it is certain, but they express a similar mentality.

Turkish idiom: Small drops make lakes.
American equivalent: A penny saved is a penny earned.
Explanation: These both have to do with saving money over time.

Turkish idiom: Grapes become black (or ripe) by looking at other grapes.
American equivalent: None.
Explanation: I couldn’t think of anything similar to this that we would use.  It essentially means that as people, we only can mature by observing others who are already mature.  We can only know how to be by observing those around us who already know how to be.

Turkish idiom: I will fight you until the donkey comes from the water.
American equivalent: None (though ‘when hell freezes over’, ‘until the cows come home’ and ‘when pigs fly’ come close).
Explanation: This one is my absolute favorite.  Apparently, donkeys don’t like to come from the water.  This means I will never give up.  My students said it was often used by father’s when arguing with their sons, letting the son know that the father is right.


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