When language gets body-part expensive

Idioms, Metaphors and similes can often represent a challenge to new language learners. There is nothing more bewildering than translating a phrase which has no equivalent in your native language… take „auf den Hund gekommen sein” for instance; an impecunious dog?

Speaking of things canine, I sometimes think “it’s raining cats and dogs” must be incredibly confusing for an English learner – is the natural response to turn your face upwards to spot small furry flying animals?

The Spanish equivalents seem to make more sense somehow: “lleuve a cántaros” (it’s raining jugs) is, at least, liquid related! And “lleuve a mares” (it’s raining seas) is not only hugely evocative but displays an elementary grasp of the hydrologic cycle too.

“Il pleut des cordes” is a bit of a leap for me – string just doesn’t seem representative of either a drenching or a compelling force of nature. “Il pleut comme vache qui pisse” is more evocative, if rather icky.

“It cost and arm and a leg” is another bizarre and uncomfortable notion. It is thought the phrase evolved naturally from the expression “I’d give my right arm for it!” And, strangely, exchanging a body part for something desirable doesn’t seem limited to English.

Although, in Spanish, a kidney seems to be a better anatomical bargaining chip “¡Esto cuesta un riñon!”

Another equivalent expression in Spanish is for something “costar un ojo de la cara”. This powerful expression apparently originates from way back in 1524, and a post-injury invective about the cost of power and conquest.

And in French too it is also possible to use body parts to convey the idea that something is expensive… although I can’t help thinking that “coûter la peau du dos”/ “coûter la peau des fesses”/ “coûter la peau du couilles” (getting steadily worse, I think…) must originate from the likely punishment if one was to get caught stealing said item.

Which brings us back to another English equivalent “to pay through the nose” for something, which apparently has its roots in a medieval punishment for stealing. Ouch!

What idioms have you got stuck over? Can you share any other examples of expressions which use anatomy as a reference point for cost? Share your thoughts with us…


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