The language of the Olympics
The eyes of the world are soon to turn upon Brazil, as Rio hosts the Olympic and Paralympic Games. While there has been much controversy during the long build-up, once the opening ceremony is over and the events begin, our concentration will all be on those incredible feats of human strength and endurance.
Bringing hundreds of nations together, no doubt we’ll hear some interesting phrases with translations that baffle everyone but the native speakers. Here are a few to whet your linguistic appetite:
‘Ich drücke dir die Daumen’ (Germany)
Rather than crossing their fingers to wish each other good luck (which is what this phrase effectively means) Germans say: ‘I press my thumbs for you’. This might accompany a gesture where the hands are balled into fists and the thumbs pressed down.
‘на пух и прах’ (Bulgaria)
This lovely phrase translates literally as ‘to fluff and dust’, and describes the act of wiping away the competition; to beat them no problem.
‘Ända in i kaklet’ (Sweden)
Some events really require the participants to give every last ounce of effort and this phrase, which translates as ‘fights all the way into the tile’, roughly means to fight until the last drop.
‘Les carrottes sont cuites’ (France)
Translating literally as ‘the carrots are cooked’, this phrase means that something is over, it’s finished, there’s no chances of recovering, the fat lady has sung, etc. Essentially, it’s too late to change things and in the context of the Olympics, the athlete’s chances of a medal are gone.
‘всыпать по первое число’ (Russia)
This strange one, which in English says: ‘to pour on the first number’, is better interpreted as ‘to give someone a good thrashing’, i.e. to beat them.
‘La pelota esta aun en el tejado’ (Spain)
So many Olympic events call for panels of judges to make decisions on times, scores, ins and outs. This idiom from Spain means ‘the ball is still on the roof’ but we’d interpret it as ‘the jury’s still out’.
A few facts about the Olympics
- The first ‘modern’ Summer Olympics Games took place in 1896, in Athens
- Only five countries have attended every single Games: Australia, France, Great Britain, Greece and Switzerland
- The youngest medallist was only ten years old. Dimitrios Loundras won bronze for Greece in 1896. The oldest was Oscar Swahn, who at 72, won silver for Sweden in 1920
- The first opening ceremony took place in London at the 1908 Games
- Believe it or not, Great Britain is the only nation to have won gold at every Summer Olympics
There’s little doubt that the colourful language of the Olympics adds so much to the event. Have you got any to add to the list? What are your favourite foreign language sporting idioms? We’d love to hear yours.