Have you ever had that frustrating feeling of being at a loss for words? You know what you want to say - the perfect idiom exists in your own language - but you're speaking English, and English sadly lacks the very turn of phrase you love so much! Boris Ludwig introduces some of the "missing idioms" which we think ought to be introduced into European English...

Photo: Boris Ludwig
Columnist Boris Ludwig

First of all, here's a Serbian hint for people who always wanted to tell their mother-in-law what they really think of her but never dared to use a proper swear word: next time she interferes with the holiday planning or grumps about the way you drive your car, just surprise her with a Serbian idiom by saying that she is the last hole on the flute ("poslednja rupa na svirali").

Even your mother-in-law couldn't deny that this is a very stylish way of addressing a person you consider to be unimportant.

Just in case you don't have a mother-in-law or you are perfectly happy with the way she treats you, here's an Italian phrase that should at least silence people with a big mouth but only little to say. If you ever meet one of these people, just tell them that you think they talk like the fifth Evangelist ("Parli come il quinto evangelista").

The proverb's background is easy to understand, even for those among us who are not too firm with religion. In the New Testament you come across four Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, all of them bearers of episodes in the life of Jesus.

Because there is obviously no fifth Evangelist in the bible, he must be more of a masquerader than a missionary. With his self-promotion skills he probably has nothing to say except for gossip and half knowledge.

And finally, an idiom for animal lovers...

Cats are some of the most popular pets. All over the world, you can meet people who are cat-o-philes - especially old ladies, who sometimes develop a strange affinity for their furry friends.

Thus the cat has even sneaked its way into lots of idioms all around the globe. In Germany, you can describe a quick movement, rapidity in general or an angry person by comparing them with Smith's cat. (in German: Schmidts Katze)

At first sight this idiom seems rather mysterious. Who is Smith and why is his cat so jumpy? Actually, "Smith's cat" refers to a blacksmith's cat jumping in fright as his hammer hits the anvil with a bang.

Photo: Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez
Smith's angry cat

Nowadays the figurative meaning has changed a lot. For example, when you want to describe what sitting in a new Porsche and driving at full speed feels like, just say: "That thing goes off like Smith's cat."

The usage of the phrase is slightly different when talking about people: "Oh, Susan's teacher went off like Smith's cat!" suggests that Susan and her teacher still have some pedagogical differences.

Unbelievable how versatile a cat can be!

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