25 Foreign Words With Hilarious Literal Meanings

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Anyone who has ever studied a foreign language knows that translator apps, while helpful, aren’t always reliable. It's easy to tell when text has been fed through an online translator because certain words and phrases tend to get jumbled up in the process, as evidenced by the many mistranslations posted online every day. (See: The Iraqi hotel whose buffet sign misidentified meatballs as “Paul is dead.”)

On the other hand, when done correctly, word-for-word translations—also known as literal or direct translations—can help language learners understand a word’s origin while also providing interesting insight into how different cultures perceive ordinary objects. In this spirit, we’ve selected 25 of our favorite foreign words and their weird and wonderful literal translations.

1. CHUỘT TÚI// RAT POCKET

Meaning: Kangaroo
Language: Vietnamese

Many of the Vietnamese words for animals sound as if a group of comedians went to a zoo and started roasting every creature they saw. A shark is a “fat fish,” a skunk is a “stink fox,” and a baboon is a “monkey head dog,” which sounds like a terrifying mythical creature you wouldn’t want to cross paths with.

2. STROZZAPRETI // PRIEST STRANGLER

Meaning: A kind of pasta
Language: Italian

The legend of how this noodle got its name is just as twisted as the pasta itself. It allegedly stems from greedy priests who, upon receiving the dish from locals, scarfed it down so quickly that they choked, according to BBC Good Food.

3. SYUT GWAIH // SNOW CUPBOARD

Meaning: Refrigerator
Language: Chinese (Cantonese)

There's some crossover between Mandarin and Cantonese, two of the main languages spoken in China, but this term is solely used among Cantonese speakers, particularly in Hong Kong.

4. AMUSE-BOUCHE // MOUTH AMUSER

Meaning: A kind of appetizer
Language: French

This one doesn’t translate perfectly into English because the French truly have a monopoly on food terminology, but an amuse-bouche is basically a bite-sized hors d’oeuvre (appetizer, but literally “outside of work”). It’s also sometimes called amuse-gueule, meaning the same thing.

5. DEDOS DO PE // FOOT FINGERS

Meaning: Toes
Language: Portuguese

Why invent a new word when toes are basically the fingers of the feet? At least that seems to be the logic behind the conjoining of these two words in Portuguese, French, Arabic, and a number of other languages.

6. BRUSTWARZEN // BREAST WARTS

Meaning: Nipples
Language: German

While this may sound slightly off-putting to English speakers, many Germanic languages use the same word for “warts” and “nipples,” according to The Economist.

7. SMÖRGÅS // BUTTER GOOSE

Meaning: Sandwich
Language: Swedish

The word gås literally translates to goose, but the Online Etymology Dictionary notes that it also carries a second meaning: a clump (of butter). (Smör also means butter, making smörgås mean either "butter goose" or "butter butter.") Smörgås is taken to mean “bread and butter,” and thus a sandwich. Smorgasbord, which has been adopted into English, starts to make a little more sense when it's interpreted as a sandwich table, or more generally, a buffet offering various dishes. Are you following all this?

8. PAPIER VAMPIER // PAPER VAMPIRE

Meaning: Stapler
Language: Afrikaans

As The South African notes, there are several Afrikaans words that simply sound funny when they’re translated directly into English. Popcorn is “jumping corn,” a chameleon is “step softly,” and a weed is “look around tobacco.”

9. SURTAN ALBAHR // CANCER OF THE SEA

Meaning: Lobster
Language: Arabic

“Cancer of the sea” seems like a harsh moniker for a humble crustacean, but this appears to be another case of multiple meanings. According to the Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic [PDF], the Arabic word for cancer stems from a root word meaning “to grab/to swallow,” which yielded the word for lobster.

10. NACKTSCHNECK // NAKED SNAIL

Meaning: Slug
Language: German

Itchy Feet, a travel and language comic by Malachi Ray Rempen, illustrates some of the amusing results when German is translated word for word into English. There’s “glowing pear” for light bulb, “go wheel” for bicycle, and “into-the-groundening” for funeral.

11. DIAN NAO // ELECTRIC BRAIN

Meaning: Computer
Language: Chinese (Mandarin)

Chinese can seem quite poetic to non-native speakers. This is partly because it's a logogram-based language, meaning that a character represents a word. Instead of inventing a new character to represent computer, pre-existing characters are combined to yield an entirely new concept. Hence, electric brain.

12. BERGMAL // ROCK LANGUAGE

Meaning: Echo
Language: Icelandic

As Iceland Naturally explained, this translation is fitting “because an echo typically is bouncing off surrounding rocks or walls, as if it were their way of communicating.” If only someone could translate what they’re saying…

13. TOILETBRIL // TOILET GLASSES

Meaning: Toilet seat
Language: Dutch

Alternate definition we're proposing: the figurative glasses you wear when you're half-asleep at 3 a.m., feeling your way through the darkness in search of the bathroom.

14. JOULUPUKKI // CHRISTMAS GOAT

Meaning: Santa Claus
Language: Finnish

Translating to Christmas Goat or Yule Goat, joulupukki was historically a very different character: a “troll who used to threaten children who were naughty,” The New York Times reports. Over the years, the idea evolved and became conflated with Santa Claus, but the term stuck.

15. SCHLAGZEUG // HIT STUFF

Meaning: Drums
Language: German

According to Your Daily German, the word zeug ("stuff") originally meant “pulling something to you” in order to use it—or in other words, a tool. It’s used to describe a number of things, including an airplane (flugzeug, or “flight stuff”), lighter (feuerzeug, or “fire stuff”), and toy (spielzeug, or “play stuff”).

16. MONTAÑA RUSA // RUSSIAN MOUNTAINS

Meaning: Rollercoaster
Language: Spanish

Rollercoasters are called “Russian mountains” in Spanish and several other Romance languages because the early predecessor to the ride—a slide placed on an ice-covered hill—was invented in present-day Russia in the 15th century. In other languages, a rollercoaster is a “train of death” (Croatian), “wavy iron road” (Hungarian), and “American hills” (Russian).

17. SPOOKASEM // GHOST BREATH

Meaning: Cotton candy
Language: Afrikaans

To be fair, the English phrases “cotton candy,” “fairy floss” (Australia), and “candy floss” (UK) don’t make perfect sense, either. But ghost breath? It gets points for originality, at least.

18. GAESALAPPIR // GOOSE FEET

Meaning: Quotation marks
Language: Icelandic

Icelandic is notoriously hard to learn, and a look at some of its words seems to show why. A comic strip series on Bored Panda highlights some of the odder literal translations of the language, such as “animal garden” for zoo, “womb cake” for placenta, and “bride to buy” for wedding.

19. AIN HTAUNG // HOUSE PRISON

Meaning: Marriage
Language: Burmese

Speaking of marriage, Icelanders aren’t the only ones to take a dim view of the institution—linguistically speaking, at least. Used as a verb, the Burmese word ain htaung can be understood as “fall into marriage” and is used in the same way as htaung kya, or “fall into prison.”

20. NIU ZAI KU // COWBOY PANTS

Meaning: Jeans
Language: Chinese (Mandarin)

Chinese isn’t the only language to associate blue jeans with American culture and the Wild West. In Spanish, they’re called vaqueros ("cowboys") or tejanos ("Texans"), and in Danish they’re cowboybukser, also meaning "cowboy pants,” according to the Denim and Trousers ebook by Marquis Schaefer [PDF].

21. HABLEÁNY // FOAM GIRL

Meaning: Mermaid
Language: Hungarian

Haven't you ever seen The Little Foam Girl? It's a Disney classic!

22. KANTH LANGOT // LARYNX LOINCLOTH

Meaning: Tie
Language: Hindi

According to the book Chutnefying English, many Hindi words were introduced to push back against English terms that had been standardized under British colonialism:

“The admission of loanwords into the active lexicon of Hindi speakers has been patchy, with some of the more absurd formulations (such as lauh-path gaamini or 'iron-path traveller' for 'train,' and kanth-langot or 'larynx loincloth' for ‘necktie’) the butt of well-earned mockery.”

23. STOFZUIGER // DUST SUCKER

Meaning: Vacuum cleaner
Language: Dutch

Laura Frame, an illustrator from Glasgow, Scotland, created the “Amusing Dutch Words” series to share some of her favorite literal translations of Dutch, including “mirror egg” for fried egg, “garden snake” for hose, and “wash bear” for raccoon.

24. JAGUCHI // SNAKE MOUTH

Meaning: Water faucet
Language: Japanese

This creative interpretation isn’t too much of a stretch—a faucet does look a bit like a snake’s mouth, if you use your imagination.

25. GAVISTI // DESIRE FOR CATTLE

Meaning: War
Language: Sanskrit

Popularized by a scene in the 2016 sci-fi thriller Arrival, audiences learned that one of the Sanskrit words for war (there are a few) has a peculiar literal translation. This dates back to the early Aryans, who sometimes carried out attacks against aborigines “for the purpose of getting cattle,” according to an article published in The American Journal of Theology.

The ChopBox Smart Cutting Board Has a Food Scale, Timer, and Knife Sharper Built Right Into It

ChopBox
ChopBox

When it comes to furnishing your kitchen with all of the appliances necessary to cook night in and night out, you’ll probably find yourself running out of counter space in a hurry. The ChopBox, which is available on Indiegogo and dubs itself “The World’s First Smart Cutting Board,” looks to fix that by cramming a bunch of kitchen necessities right into one cutting board.

In addition to giving you a knife-resistant bamboo surface to slice and dice on, the ChopBox features a built-in digital scale that weighs up to 6.6 pounds of food, a nine-hour kitchen timer, and two knife sharpeners. It also sports a groove on its surface to catch any liquid runoff that may be produced by the food and has a second pull-out cutting board that doubles as a serving tray.

There’s a 254nm UVC light featured on the board, which the company says “is guaranteed to kill 99.99% of germs and bacteria" after a minute of exposure. If you’re more of a traditionalist when it comes to cleanliness, the ChopBox is completely waterproof (but not dishwasher-safe) so you can wash and scrub to your heart’s content without worry. 

According to the company, a single one-hour charge will give you 30 days of battery life, and can be recharged through a Micro USB port.

The ChopBox reached its $10,000 crowdfunding goal just 10 minutes after launching its campaign, but you can still contribute at different tiers. Once it’s officially released, the ChopBox will retail for $200, but you can get one for $100 if you pledge now. You can purchase the ChopBox on Indiegogo here.

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12 Smart and Simple Kitchen Hacks

Merlas/iStock via Getty Images Plus
Merlas/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Use these quick and simple tricks to save time in the kitchen and make cooking easier—and safer.

1. Put a damp paper towel under your cutting board.

Take a paper towel, wet it, wring it out, and place it under your cutting board. This will keep the board from slipping all over your counter and allow you to cut more safely. You can put a damp paper towel under mixing bowls to keep them from sliding around, too.

2. Use cooking spray on your cheese grater.

A person using a cheese grater
Whichever way you have your grater positioned, a little cooking spray will make the job easier.
vinicef/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Before you start grating cheese, lay your grater down on its side, which keeps it from moving around and catches all of your cheese in once place. Then spray the surface with the cooking spray of your choice. The oil lubricates the surface and makes grating easier, especially for sticky cheeses.

3. Put felt glides under countertop appliances.

Not only will this save your countertops from getting scratched, but it also makes oft-used appliances easier to move when you need them.

4. Put a spoon on top of boiling pasta water.

A person holding a spoon with penne pasta over a pot of boiling water.
Foam be gone!
Andrii Pohranychnyi/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Does the foam of your starchy pasta water boil right up out of the pot? There’s a simple fix: Lay a metal or wooden spoon over the top of the pot. According to Gizmodo, this method works because the foam is “thermodynamically unstable," so when the foam’s bubbles reach the spoon, they burst, "breaking the layer of foam and sending all the bubbles collapsing down again.” If you opt for metal, though, make sure to use oven mitts to remove it from the top of the pot—it will be hot.

5. Keep dental floss handy.

You can use it to cut soft cheeses. “If the cheese is small, you can hold it in one hand while your other pulls the floss taught and does the cutting,” cheesemonger Nora Singley writes at The Kitchn. “For larger situations, place cheese on a surface, shimmy the floss beneath it, and simply slice up, holding both ends of the floss and crossing the two ends to complete the cut. Then repeat in equal intervals.”

You can also use non-minty dental floss to cut cookie dough, burritos, and hard-boiled eggs; slice melons and layers of cake; to tie things together; and get food unstuck from baking sheets.

6. Preheat your baking sheet.

A baking sheet in the oven.
Pre-heating your baking sheet saves time.
allanswart/iStock via Getty Images Plus

If you’re making something like French fries or roasted veggies and your baking sheet is hot right from the get-go, you won’t have to go through the process of flipping your food later. Plus, both side of your food will be evenly browned and cook faster.

7. Save burnt pans with a dryer sheet.

Have you charred a pan so badly that the food you're trying to cook essentially became a part of the pan? Before you throw the pan out, try tossing in a dryer sheet, adding warm water, and letting it soak for 15 to 20 minutes. Then wash with soap and water as usual, and the burned bits will come right off. Karen Lo at Food52 writes that “It feels like an absolute miracle—because it is. But, according to lifestyle reporter Anna De Souza, it’s also ‘likely the conditioning properties of the dryer sheet’ that do the trick.” If the burn is really bad, Lo says you can use two dryer sheets and hot water for severe cases if you’d like, and let it soak overnight—use your judgment.

8. Leave the root end on your onion when cutting it.

A person holding an onion by the root end and dicing an onion with a knife.
Leaving the root end of your onion on gives you something to hold onto while you're dicing.
andreygonchar/iStock via Getty Images Plus

This method is a game changer: It allows you to dice your onions safely and quickly. First, according to Real Simple, you should cut the top off of the onion; then lay the onion on the now-flat top and cut the vegetable in half through the root. Next, peel off the skin, being careful to leave the root attached. Take half of the onion and lay it, flat side down, on the cutting board. Holding on to the root end, slice the onion vertically in strips of your desired size, without cutting through to the root. Then slice in the opposite direction to dice. When you’re done, save the root end of the onion to make stock.

9. Use a Bundt pan when cutting corn.

When you’re cutting corn on a flat surface, the kernels tend to fly everywhere messily. But if you hold the ear of corn—pointy end down—on the center of a Bundt cake pan, then rotate as you cut, the kernels will fall neatly into the pan.

10. Put away your potato peeler and use this method instead.

A pot of boiling water with potatoes.
dashtik/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Peeling potatoes is time-consuming and wastes delicious potato. Instead, use this potato peeling hack from Foody Tube: Make a small cut into the skin around the circumference of the potato, then boil it. Once the potato is cooked, peel the skin off. It’s that easy.

11. Keep your plastic wrap in the fridge.

When it’s cold, plastic wrap is easier to handle and less likely to get stuck to itself.

If getting plastic wrap to stick is the issue, wet the rim of whatever you’re trying to cover before putting on the plastic. The water will help it cling to the surface.

12. Use magnets to hold down parchment paper.

Two rolls of parchment paper on a white surface.
Keep parchment paper from rolling up on your baking sheet with this clever trick.
Viktoriia Oleinichenko/iStock via Getty Images Plus

To keep parchment paper from rolling up on baking sheets—and therefore making it incredibly difficult actually to put anything on the sheet to cook—Le Cordon Bleu-educated pastry chef Amy Dieschbourg uses magnets to hold the paper in place. Once everything is on the paper, remove the magnets and get cooking.