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! In this column, we present some of the "missing idioms" which we think ought to be introduced into European English. This time, Christian Diemer serves up a feast of linguistic delicacies...
|Illustration: copyright free, 15th century Italian master
|Put your hand to the dough, and you're sure to impress your beloved...
Everyone knows: the way to a man's love is through his belly. But living in an age of emancipation, this is no longer so closely connected with those female duties for whose fulfillment German medieval sources recommend: aniseed eaten in your food adds desire to marital works. (Eyniß in speis gegessen bringet begirde zu ehelichen werken.) Nowadays, adding aniseed to a decadent menu might rather be a man's than a woman's desperate or cunning strategy to find the way to the heart or bosom of a beauty who is clueless in culinary arts.
But wait a minute, don't they say: whet your appetite elsewhere, but eat at home? (German: Appetit holt man sich woanders, gegessen wird daheim.) That might be appropriate, as long as you have someone to eat with at home. If you're eating out, still remember the Russian advice: don't open your mouth wide for a foreign loaf of bread, i.e. don't covet other people's goods. (На чужой каравай рот не разевай. – Na chuzhoj karavay rot ne razevaj). Still undeniable: the appetite grows with the eating. (French: L'appétit vient en mangeant) What one should eventually take into account is that too many cooks spoil the broth – and that can be applicable both to cooks and those cooked for. But in the end, invite whom you want and just respect one thing: wives and oxen from your own villages! (Italian: Moglie e buoi del paesi tuoi!)
If you're a beginner in the fine art of seductive cooking, take these three aphorisms on your way...
To generally soothe matters if nervousness or culinary obstacles get out of hand during preparations for your dinner-date, remember the following:
"Even if you really put your hand to the dough (i.e. work hard - French: mettre la main à la pâte,], the first pancake may become a lump (i.e. if at first you don't succeed... Russian: Первый блин – комом. – Pyervyy blin – komom.). Make sure the egg doesn't try to be cleverer than the hen (i.e. that the kids don't think they know better than the adults - German: Das Ei will klüger sein als die Henne), and remember that others are also only cooking with water. (i.e. you're not at a disadvantage - German: auch nur mit Wasser kochen]"
= Even if you struggle really hard, no one is born a master. Just make sure you don't overestimate yourself, and remember that you're no different from anybody else.
Nothing is more embarrassing than giving your beloved an upset stomach, so in the rush to the supermarket for those last ingredients, beware:
"Keep your eyes open when buying eggs [German: Augen auf beim Eierkauf!] - whichever chain you choose, they're all berries from the same field [Russian: Одного поля ягоды. – Odnogo polya yagody] who might roll you in the flour [French: rouler quelqu'un dans la farine].
= Attention when buying eggs, they could be rotten (in former East Germany there were special lamps to check whether an egg was rotten or not), and the supermarkets are all made of the same stuff and could cheat you.
And always remember that you can still backpedal if you fear that your catch might become a fatal one:
"The soup is cooked hotter than it is eaten (i.e. nothing is as bad as it looks - German: Die Suppe wird nicht so heiß gegessen, wie sie gekocht wird.), and anyway you have to spoon up the soup that you have landed yourself in (Russian: Сам заварил кашу, сам её и расхлёбывай. – Sam zavaril kashu, sam eyo i rashlyobyvay.) And that's where the rabbit lies in the pepper (i.e. that's the crux of the matter - German: Da liegt der Hase im Pfeffer.)"
You might even be pensive when the charming lady has already arrived and you are sitting and dining by candlelight. If she worries, just counter with a Russian charm: when I eat, I am deaf and dumb. (Kogda ya yem, ya glukh i nyem)
But once you've survived the first bites, you should have some striking incentives to move further on from dinner. Start with: short dinner, long life (Bulgarian). And if she still hesitates, politely remind her of the medieval German rule from a 13th century virtuous writer: whose bread you want to eat thy song you shall sing. (Swes brôt man ezzen will, des liet sol man ouch singen gerne).
You'll hardly have failed with that one. So what to say "afterwards"? Try this and be sure of an enchanted smile and butterflies in her stomach: dream sweetly of pickled gherkins. (German: Träum süß von sauren Gurken, similar to English "sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite")
But what if for whatever reason you have failed after all? The stomach of a sow, the thoughts of a woman, the content of a sausage will rest unfathomed forever. (German: Der Magen einer Sau, die Gedanken einer Frau, der Inhalt einer Wurst werden ewig unerforscht bleiben.) Yes, that can be hard. A beer might help, a couple of them: drunk in the morning, free all the day. (Russian: Утром выпил – весь день свободен. – Utrom vypil – ves' den' svoboden.) And in case you meet her again: don't be an insulted liver sausage (German: beleidigte Leberwurst).