Updated on Monday, March 28, 2016
Category: Etymology, Languages, Localization
Love idioms can be a shortcut to a person’s heart, but translating any kind of idiom from a foreign language provides unique challenges – and romantic idioms are no different.
Learning foreign language love idioms is a fun way to understand more about other languages and cultures. There are dozens of idiomatic expressions about love in the English language, and many countries have love idioms that are similar to ones you might know — with some slight variations.
Try out these love idioms for any romantic situation:
The Sweet Love Idiom
You might have heard the popular idiom, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” It’s a common English phrase that means you can accomplish the most by being sweet — a tactic that makes this an appropriate love idiom.
But German speakers might be familiar with another variation of the phrase: “Wer Bären fangen will, muss sich mit Honig versehen.” The German translation of this love idiom replaces flies with bears, saying, “He who wants to catch bears must have honey.”
The Hopeful Love Idiom
When you’re in love from afar, it might seem like the object of your affection will never turn your way. The Japanese have a love idiom to describe that distant figure: “takana no hana.”
The phrase literally means “a flower on a high peak,” which can refer to any faraway or unattainable object. But the expression can also be a love idiom for those who are looking to catch someone’s eye.
The Yearning Love Idiom
There are many ways to say “I miss you” in English, but nothing quite as poetic as the Chinese equivalent. A popular four-character love idiom in Chinese is 一 日三 秋 (yí rì sān qiū), meaning, “One day, three autumns.”
This love idiom illustrates that common sentiment that time seems to slow when you’re missing someone — when one day can feel as long as three years.
The Hot Pursuit Love Idiom
In the US, someone developing an infatuation might say he or she has a “crush.” But in Australia, this love idiom is a little different than its American English counterpart.
If you have a crush in Australia, you might say you’re “cracking onto” someone. This love idiom can mean anything from beginning to flirt with someone to starting to pursue them seriously.
Even though countries may speak the same language, this regional love idiom proves the crucial point that localizing a message to a target audience is essential for accurate translation.
The High-Voltage Love Idiom
To express the feeling of love at first sight, we might say that we’ve been “shot through the heart” or are hit by “Cupid’s arrow.” But the French translation for this love idiom is being struck by a “coup de foudre” — a lightning bolt.
The Total-Immersion Love Idiom
Americans might say they’ve “taken the plunge,” “fallen head over heels” or “gone crazy” for someone when they’ve fallen in love. In Russian, the love idiom is, “По уши влюбиться” (“po yshi vlubitsya”).
Although it literally translates to “to fall in love up to your ears,” the love idiom means “to fall in love deeply.”
This sampling illustrates how the vocabulary of international romance can be as idiomatic as other day-to-day phrases. But love idioms occupy a special place, for they provide a window on how different cultures describe the landscape of the heart.