Learning a new language is like going on an adventure: you might get lost in a magical maze, you might end up having to overcome challenge after challenge the size of giant angry dragons, but there’s always a chestful of rewards at the end. In this case, inside the treasure chest lies the satisfaction that you’ve mastered another gorgeous language—like Lithuanian.
The oldest Indo-European language that’s still being spoken today and a source of pride for Lithuanians the world over, Lithuanian is chock-full of fun little idioms, neat expressions, and metaphorical sayings that spice everything up with their Baltic charm. But here’s the thing: they sound incredibly weird when translated word for word and they’re bound to make you giggle.
Below, you’ll find some of the funniest Lithuanian expressions translated into English by the Matador Network. Upvote the ones that brought a smile to your face and we’d absolutely love to hear all about the most hilarious sayings in your native language if English isn’t your first, dear Pandas! Bored Panda reached out to a philologist from Lithuania to get to know idioms and expressions, as well as how they're usually translated between languages, a bit better. So be sure to read on for her full insights.
The Lithuania-based language expert, who preferred to remain anonymous but whose identity is known to Bored Panda, explained that while it's difficult to say how any single saying came about, the odds are that somebody started using a specific turn of phrase and it enrooted itself in the language over time. "It's not enough to study just the language: you need to understand the culture, history, and folklore. It's impossible to find the sources of some of these idioms at all because they're ancient phrases," she said.
The expert pointed out that usually we never translate idioms word for word; we look for equivalents. For instance, the English version might be "put yourself in someone's shoes," but the Lithuanian equivalent is "įsijausk į kito kailį" ("take on someone else's fur"). The essence of sayings essentially the same; what differs is how they're expressed.
According to the philologist, we don't tend to notice how often we use idioms in our daily lives because they "make up a single unit of meaning" in our "mental lexicon" and aren't divided up into single words. In other words, we either use the entire idiom or we don't, there is no in-between. What's more, the reason why we don't track our use of idioms is the very same reason we don't think about how many times a day we use nouns or verbs: it's exhausting and unnecessary. We don't tend to think deeply about the things that we use to operate in our daily lives, as they're a part of us and hard to notice.
Though you'd think that a language is all the richer for having more idioms, the expert shared her opinion that this might not be the case. "From a linguistic perspective, all languages are equally rich. Of course, while you're translating texts, you might find some idioms particularly funny. Furthermore, they can sometimes have elements of folklore in them that can act as a gateway toward a deeper understanding of the culture."
Bored Panda was interested to find out which Lithuanian idioms the philologist personally found to be the funniest. In her opinion, "devintas vanduo nuo kisieliaus" ("the ninth water from the pap" aka a distant family relation) and "už nosies vedžioti" ("lead by the nose" aka lead someone on) are worth a special mention. However, as she says, "all idioms are interesting and funny if you can imagine them in your mind."
Idioms are artistic expressions that are peculiar and can’t be understood from the individual meanings of their elements. In short, they rely very heavily on metaphors, playfulness, and creativity to put across a point. Without knowing the language, culture, and context, you’d be lost… in translation (sorry, the joke was there—I had to make it).
While people have been speaking Lithuanian in one form or another for ages and ages, Lithuanian as a literary language has only existed since the start of the 16th century, with the translations of the Lord’s Prayer, the Ave Maria, and the Nicene creed being the earliest documents.
Lithuanians are generally a humble people and you might mistake them for Finns at first glance. That is, unless you mention basketball (their national team nearly thrashed the US at the 2000 Olympics!) or their language.
Any Lithuanian worth their salt will immediately start bragging, (subtly at first, more overtly once they warm up) about how their language is the oldest on Planet Earth. And while several different languages and dialects can make that claim, you can safely say that Lithuanian ranks among the most ancient ones still in use today. The similarities to Sanskrit are absolutely amazing if you’ve ever had the pleasure of looking through dictionaries from both languages.
One of the most influential French linguists, Antoine Meillet, stated that “anyone wishing to hear how Indo-Europeans spoke should come and listen to a Lithuanian peasant,” and Lithuanians have been quoting him pretty much every chance they get.