10 Phrases That Don’t Really Translate Well.

A human is a complex organism. This means that everything they tend to come up with will be complex. Now if you take into consideration the thousands of languages spoken across the world, then that complexity will only become confusion. This is especially true if you try to explain some phrases in English, to people who aren’t from this country, or who don’t use English as their primary language.

Here are some phrases.

Ballpark Figure.

Even though we may boast of world series titles, baseball is only played in the US and Japan. The rest of the world have cricket. So, when using such a term to a non-American, that’s literally new to them. The term is used to mean an inexact estimate.

Cold Turkey.

This is believed to be a Canadian invention. It is believed to stem from the phrase talking turkey, which means to speak plainly. To an non-American, this could mean having cold leftovers, when it actually means to get yourself off something, especially one that you’re addicted to, without first gradually cutting down on usage.


Here is a word that linguists even find difficult to present a history of its formation. Many theorize that it may be an amalgamation of flabber and aghast, which are words used to express shock.


This is an invention of the English after they came across a previous name of the country we now know as Sri Lanka. Serendip was its name, but it was also part of a name of a folk tale known as the Three Princes of Serendip. As luck would have it, those three princes would rely on luck and coincidental discoveries to get them out of trouble.

Tabling an item.

This is a phrase that perfectly highlights how American English to a serious branch away from what was brought from the land across the pond. To Americans, the phrase will mean to shelve an item. To the British though, the phrase will mean to put forward an item for immediate discussion or perusal.

Off the hook.

Depending on your cultural leanings, here is a phrase that has two different meanings to the very same people who speak them. The first will usually mean that the person in question was in trouble, but now they’re free of the trouble. The second of this, and more informal, will mean that something is fresh and new, or even hot, or cool. Take your pick.

Take a rain check.

Here is another baseball phrase. In the early days, it meant that whenever it rained enough to cancel a game, ticket holders would be given a rain check to attend the match at a later date. Now, it means to politely decline an offer, or an invitation, and hope that one can take it up at a later date.

Going to town.

In the early days, not everyone lived in the big city. The rural folk would take delight into going to town, and would thoroughly enjoy themselves while at it. Nowadays, it just means that someone has done something very thoroughly.

Bury the hatchet.

A hatchet is a type of axe, usually small. Whenever warring Native American tribes made piece, a ceremony would be performed where they’d literally, bury the hatchet. And that’s why this phrase means to make peace.

On the house.

This one has no definitive origin, just came into being as a result of people getting freebies while the host, or owner of the establishment footed the cost of the freebie.