25 November 2010

Making a mountain out of a molehill

Mikiwikipikidikipedia at en.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html),
 CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0
We were studying the perfect tenses in class yesterday and as part of that I gave my students an activity based on a small sampling of the thousands of proverbs we have in the English language. 

As we checked the answers, I questioned whether they had similar sayings in their languages. They do, of course, and it was interesting to learn how the sayings change as they cross cultures.

For example, the mountain in our proverb ‘Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill’ morphs from a mountain to a bull to an elephant to a stallion, a donkey, a camel and a hen. And the molehill becomes variously a mouse, a fly, a flea, a mosquito and a feather.

Here are some of the variations I discovered:
§         to make a mountain out of a molehill – apparently English people were using this expression as early as the mid-1500s
§         to make a mountain out of a mouse – Hebrew
§         to make a bull out of a fly – Finnish (because, in Finnish, bull rhymes with fly)
§         to make an elephant out of a fly – in Portuguese, French, German, Russian and Estonian
§         to make an elephant out of a flea – Hungarian
§         to make an elephant out of a mosquito – Dutch and Afrikaans
§         to make a stallion out of a mosquito – Romanian
§         to make a donkey out of a mosquito – Serbian
§         to make a camel out of a mosquito – Icelandic
§         to make a camel out of a flea – Turkish
§         to make a hen out of a feather – Swedish
§         to make five hens out of a feather – Danish
§         to make a garden fork out of a needle – Polish (no animals)

There were other interesting proverb alternatives too. The English ‘storm in a teacup’ becomes ‘a storm in a glass of water’ in Italian, Swedish, Romanian, Dutch, Danish, Spanish, Turkish, French, and Catalan, but in Arabic, it’s ‘a storm in a coffee cup’.

And then there’s the Turkish equivalent of our ‘Don't count your chickens before they hatch’: ‘Don’t roll your pants up before you see the river’.

Language, and how we use it, is truly fascinating!