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I Can Eat Glass (wikipedia.org)
109 points by polm23 on Oct 1, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 84 comments

Part of the reason people say crazy-sounding things in foreign languages is because it makes sense in their language.

If you've ever eaten gummy bears, gummy just means rubber in German. They use the same word for elastic used in clothing, for example elastic waistband pants.

In my teens, me, my mother and a friend of the family went shopping together to pick up sewing supplies. The family friend walked through the store loudly asking "Where are the rubbers?" because she needed elastic for a sewing project of hers. My mother made herself very busy elsewhere in the store and did her best to pretend she didn't know the woman.

A different family friend had a vaginal yeast infection. Her doctor recommended a vinegar and water douche. Confused, she asked "How will that help? And how do I get the vinegar in the showerhead?" because it sounds like the German word for shower.

My high school French teacher was a tiny lady who spent a year of college abroad in Paris. At a fancy meal where they passed one course of food after another, she soon was too full to eat another bite. So she turned down the next course telling them "I'm full" in French (Je suis pleine.)

You could hear a pin drop and everyone was mortified because it roughly translated as "I'm knocked up!" Then they realized it was some weird Americanism and got on with dinner conversation.

A friend who lived in Spain or something for some years and was fluent in Spanish told me that the written word for year is the same as the written word for ass in Spanish, except year has a tilde over it. Since most English language keyboards don't let you put a tilde over a letter, "Happy New Year" fairly often becomes "Happy New Ass" on the internet, especially from people who aren't really fluent.

This sort of thing is incredibly common.

The pop song "Hit Me Baby One More Time" is in fact so named because the Swedish composer thought "hit me" was American slang for "call me".

"Hit me up" is slang for "get in touch." One word difference, worlds of difference in meaning.

I’ve always interpreted it as the active verb of being love struck. I mean if she’s struck by love, somebody must have hit her with it. Kinda like Cupid’s arrow.

I got this as a 14 year old non-native speaker, who of course expected the lyrics to be proper English.

Did all you native speakers find it to be about masochism and domestic violence?

No. I figured it was an addiction reference, a la "give me a hit of your addictive attention, even though we've broken up yet again and just can't make this work."

Hit is slang for a dose of illicit drugs.

I think that framing -- or something akin to it -- was a fairly common interpretation. Otherwise, it wouldn't have been a hit song.

You are mentioning año (year) and ano (ass). The confusion is that for us spanish speakers, ñ sounds different than n. If I didn't knew how to type ñ I would actually write "anio". It is not exactly there, but it is much closer than ano.

I would write it anyo if I were going to try to mimic the sound in written English. (Anio looks to me like it sounds like anee-oh.)

Part of the problem is that American English mostly doesn't use such marks, so they are alien. We tend to think they don't really matter. It doesn't readily register on a lot of Americans as a misspelled word.

"Oh, yeah, it's supposed to have a thing over it. Ack! My keyboard won't do that! Meh. Doesn't really matter. I spelled it correctly. They will know what I mean."

Also, people are frequently very, very reluctant to explain to foreigners what the "dirty" words are and what they mean. So people tend to not correct you and tell you "Do you realize you are saying Happy New Ass to everyone?"

Digressing here but this is why the Compose key is essential. I'm kind of bitter that it never took off.

Even if you'd never typed that character before, your first guess would be Compose-Tilde-N and you'd be right.

How we got stuck with "just remember the ASCII or Unicode codepoint for every character your keyboard doesn't have" is beyond me.

In Hungarian "ny" is a distinct letter corresponding to the same (or at least very similar) sound as the Spanish "ñ".

My girlfriend is Hungarian and gets very annoyed when I try to come up with "close enough" versions of things like "gy" or "ny", etc.

Me: Oh, so it's like a cross between the end of "fridge" and the beginning of the French "dieu"?

Her: No! You're making this too complicated...it's just "gy". It's a Hungarian sound. You guys don't have it.

Me: /shrug

(I still do a better job at remembering vowel sounds or those combo letters if I have a more familiar analogue. It's almost like a pnemonic for me.)

Also in Catalan

As a reference for any of us English-speakers who wish to get the characters correct, there is https://sites.psu.edu/symbolcodes/windows/codealt/, which I keep bookmarked at work and at home.

It might be even more vulgar than you described, depending on regionalities. In my experience, 'año' indeed means year, while 'ano' literally translates to anus. It's that extra bit of specificity that kills me.

This is known as "negative transfer" in language acquisition theory. Interestingly, it can also work the other way.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Language_transfer#Positive_and...

> You could hear a pin drop and everyone was mortified because it roughly translated as "I'm knocked up!" Then they realized it was some weird Americanism and got on with dinner conversation.

Funny it does translate (hey with translate.google.com) to 'I am full'.

Here is the thing though. If you have someone that you know isn't a native don't you cut some slack in terms of what comes out of their mouth? Not if you want it to be a big put down to elevate yourself you don't.

Plus I read somewhere that the French in particular are big snobs with respect to people who are not 'native' born and in on the way things are. It's like that in many areas both geographic and cultural even computers. You hear something and want to perhaps think you are superior because what someone says is the mark of a newbie (and hence the reaction is over exagerated on purpose).

Think of it this way. If you were at a table with friends and it was obvious someone had just finished and they said 'I am knocked up' you would think that is funny. You wouldn't think they meant (in context) something sexual or related to pregnancy. Right?

Being “full” in danish is to be drunk.

The literal meaning might be the same across languages, but it’s understood meaning is something else.

American girl on a bus going to Chichen Itza in Mexico: “¡Estoy excitada!” (meaning aroused).

Then after being told her mistake: “¡Estoy embarazada!”


For those who know no Spanish, the second translates as "I'm pregnant!" not "I'm embarrassed!"

I'm not sure I remember exactly correctly, but you can't say "I'm hot" (Ich bin heise) in German because it will be taken to mean "I'm aroused." You have to say something more like "It's too warm in here." (schoen warm -- though that's usually spelled in German with an umlaut over the o, not an e after it, I'm just on a "dumb" American keyboard)

Mir ist heiß = I'm hot Word by word: To-me it's hot

While indeed

I'm hot = I'm aroused

I have trouble keeping the declensions of me straight in German. That's not a thing in the English language. Me just means Me. It's doesn't have other meanings attached, like "to me."

Mich. Mir. Same thing, right???? 0_o

In high school I went with my German class to Germany for a 6 week stay with various families. One of my schoolmates bought a bundled food item in an American store prominently labeled “Gift Pack” to present to his family.

The foreign family was a little ... perplexed (or maybe just amused) because in German “Gift Pack” translates to “Poison Pack.”

My parents met at a party. My father's German was so bad that my mother asked someone what language he was speaking. She spoke High German and when she says Ich, it sounds like Isch. When he said it, it sounded like Ick. He learned his German talking to farmers and it was heavily accented. She spoke no English at that time.

So they spent their first few years together speaking half in German, half in English. One day he comes home and tells her "I have a gift for you" where the entire sentence is in German except the world gift (Ich habe ein gift fur dir).

My mother was all "Why the hell would you want to poison me? What the hell have I done to you?"

And of course, «je suis pleine» is a perfectly fine way of saying you’re full in Québec French...

I'm French (from France) and it's also perfectly fine to say that. I've never heard this sentence used to say anything else...

"Pleine" is most usually used for pregnancy in animals "la vache est pleine".

The correct French sentence would be "Je n'ai plus faim" (I'm not hungry anymore)

But only like the correct way to say it in English is to say "I'm not hungry anymore", not "I'm full". Je suis pleine gets fully understood by french people, and said. Probably a story that got warped when retelling it, she will have said something else.

No. My teacher was very explicit that it was typically used to refer to pregnancies in animals, like the person you are replying to has stated, thus it was considered to be especially egregiously rude (to talk about a human that way).

Though I'm sure this was more than forty years ago considering I'm in my fifties and my teacher was older than me. Times have changed and all kinds of things that were horrifyingly rude in, say, the 1960s are no big deal today.

When my father was in the military, he was promised at some point that he would not be sent back to Vietnam for a second tour. Then he got orders for Vietnam. He fought it and went up through the ranks with his appeal until a General denied it.

The General told him "You are going to Vietnam." and my father replied to that with "The hell I am." and dropped his retirement papers.

This was utterly shocking behavior. It was an anecdote told to emphasize what a huge deal this was to him that he would use such harsh language.

My father never swore at work. This was simply not done by any sane person anywhere in the US at that time.

These days, the F word gets used by some people like the word very (me, for instance). The word hell doesn't even raise any eyebrows in most circles, sometimes even if children are present.

It's all contextual. Without further context, there already some ways to express the intended meaning with sentences like "je suis repue".

If you look at synonyms of repu, for example in the Dictionnaire Electronique des Synonymes from Centre de recherches inter-langues sur la signification en contexte (CRISCO)[1], you will find among others things, (avoir) le ventre plein, plein and remplir (to to fulfil).

So its unlikely that in according situation, a French native wouldn't understand what the woman means, even it wasn't already in the phraseological customary of its hitherto acquaintances.

And of course, as you might expect, French will provide you a myriad of possible constructions if you want to turn your expression into dirty vulgar utterances. ;)

[1] https://crisco2.unicaen.fr/des/synonymes/repu

That is because hell has frozen over multiple times, and we are figure skating in it, illuminated by the cold glow of all sorts of heavenly promises, constantly beamed at us over all channels from all directions.

(edit: now playing "Kraftwerk - Showroom Dummies")

Hm, sure. Language changes, sensibilities change. The friends I remember using that construction are in their twenties now and it wasn't exactly in a high society setting. I'll ask whether I remember that properly.

I'm french, and if you tell me "I'm pleine" I'll take it you're drunk, not full nor pregnant.

In the UK, “knock me up” is a pretty ordinary request to knock on her door to wake her. In the US it's … not.

"J'ai trop mangé" is closer.

Or: "je suis calé" (a bit informal). Which also has the meaning "I know about".

Or "j'ai les dents du fond qui baignent" (literally: my back teeth are bathing), used by Mr. Creosote in the French dub of the Monty Python's Meaning of Life.

"Je suis rassasié"

Can confirm, saying "Je suis pleine" after a meal is a rather natural (but quite informal) way of saying "I'm full". Only if there were a lot of extra context would it be interpreted as "I'm pregnant".

I think GP's point is that "I'm full" isn't a particularly literal description, so it's not obvious that just translating literally word for word will net you an acceptable description in another language - doing so can go badly wrong, as described in the top level comment.

Reminds me the first signs for Año Nuevo State Park left off the tilde over the n.

I've been in trouble for calling my food mushy in front of my German friends.

I don't know what that would mean in German.

“Muschi” is German slang for vagina, apparently.


In my experience "My postillion has been struck by a lighting" works miracles in an English speaking audience:


A few good ideas in "English as she is spoke":


My hovercraft is full of eels.

This is a much safer claim too, since nobody will dare you to prove it.

That is a classic Monty Python (only for the record):


Oh! My nipples explode with delight!

I never thought I would see a rival for the 112 translations of “Oh my god! There's an axe in my head”: http://www.yamara.com/axe/

I guess the novelty of unfettered access to people around the world hadn't worn off …

axe was my first thought too k:O

a friend also started a similar project to translate goethe's observation that "Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own." but i don't think they ever put it online.

Jag kan äta glass, den skadar inte mig.

That definitely seems like the obvious origin. I'm surprised it isn't mentioned in the article.

For those who don't speak Swedish, the pun is in that "glass" is the Swedish word for ice cream.

edit: I can't resist pointing out that for the Swedish word "it" I'd rather say "det", hence referring to the action of eating ice cream rather than "den", referring to the ice cream itself.

Not sure if this is a joke or a mistake since the English "glass" is "glas" in Swedish, but the Swedish "glass" is "ice cream" in English. The correct translation in Swedish would be "Jag kan äta glas, det skadar inte mig".

> the English "glass" is "glas" in Swedish, but the Swedish "glass" is "ice cream" in English

I feel the urge to speculate that Swedish "glas" comes down from proto-Germanic, while "glass" is a loan from French "glace".

You are exactly right.

Which makes isglass such a great word.

I know what I'm doing :)

This is one of many silly sentences I heard while growing up, mainly from other Swedish kids who were learning English and finding silly similarities in words. So it's definitely deliberate.

Why is this a joke for Swedish speakers learning English? Does it not work just as well purely within Swedish?

Glas (glass) and glass (ice cream) have very different pronounciations that you don't really mix up. Glas has an extended a, glass sounds just about the same as in english.

US English?

To an Aussie bogan like me I'd pronounce the two the same usually, I have to think of the difference as how an American says glass vs how an Englishman/Aussie might say glass

I haven't had the balls to try speaking Swedish yet so haven't asked to eat some glass yet

I scream when I eat glass

Best version I've heard of this was "This music is great. Would you like to dance?" Most questionable was "Trust me, I'm a gynaecologist".

Have travelled to several countries and though it doesn't fit the format of 'something others will remember' I found the most useful phrase is 'all good' or the Australian 'no worries', can be used as an answer for most questions.

"no worries" has proven surprisingly reliable for me. So far, as an American, I've used it on 5 continents in probably three dozen languages (only one of which I know well) and nobody yet has misunderstood it.

I wonder how much of that is because the lion king's "hakuna matata" being ingrained into every 80s child. even if slavic languages got it translated as "no problem" in the song, the song's lead up dialogue makes clear it's more of a "no worries"

The sentence only has a few translations on Tatoeba [0], if anyone would like to contribute.

[0]: https://tatoeba.org/eng/sentences/show/6943964

Here's the Czech, have fun: Můžu jíst sklo, nebolí mě to.

Edit: Oooh I should've looked around more on that archived page for the actual list (https://web.archive.org/web/20040204003447/http://hcs.harvar...), there are two Czech ones there! "Můžu jíst sklo; to mi neškodí" (I can eat glass, it doesn't harm me - TIL the verb "škodit") and "Můžu jíst sklo, to mi nic neudelá" (I can eat glass, it does nothing to me).

Here’s the Polish, have fun: Mogę jeść szkło, nie boli mnie to

Love it! Polish diacritics are amazing :D

Jem szkło, nie szkodzi mi.

None of these are quite right and it frustrates me because I can't seem to come up with a better translation.

Linguee (https://linguee.com) does a pretty good job of translating idioms from and to different languages. It is not perfect, of course. No pasa nada.

I’ve lately found in my Spanish learning that I can “see” idioms without knowing their meaning by using subtitles in Spanish with Spanish audio. They usually come up as sequences of words that make no sense to me.

Original message:

  Now on Tatoeba, enjoy expanding it in languages you know: https://tatoeba.org/eng/sentences/show/8223257
I made a search before, but missed this already existing one: https://tatoeba.org/eng/sentences/show/6943964

No, probably not, there is no license on the website, and Tatoeba seems CC-0 now.

I once order 100 coffees at a fast food place in China. When the girl went wide-eyed and was looking around and past me (for the crowd I was presumably ordering for), I figured I mispronounced something. A few tries later I ordered my one cup of coffee. Yibai coffee vs yibei coffee.

That's funny. Mine is "mi hermano esta infirmo, pero mi pantalones son rojo". I'm so glad others share the urge to say something insane in other languages they don't know!

That would be: Mi hermano está enfermo, pero mis pantalones son rojos.

That would be "mi hermano estÁ EnfErmo, pero miS pantalones son rojoS".

Los pollos hermanos?

mucho gusto para los votos negativos!

All your base are belong to us.

in casual japanese:


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