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where a lack of idioms in one language can be seen as a cultural cue

July 18, 2010
Sometimes indeed we would have a full idiom to describe one thing, and the English doesn’t (or vice-versa). And it might be more than just a matter of different states of the World.
Case study: you are having a coffee at Wetherspoon (insane idea in itself, I know, but it’s early on Sunday morning and there is no alternative). It’s crap, really crap and taste like, well water. Would you just say This coffee is not very strong? If you’re English I guess so. If you’re French you’re more likely to say It’s socks juice [C’est du jus de chaussette] or even It’s cat piss [C’est de la pisse de chat]. Because if you’re French, a coffee not being strong enough is not just annoying. First it’s a-normal: there is no way you would be served such a watery coffee in France; anyway if you just ask a coffee, by default, you will be served an espresso. Second, it’s even a sacrilege: why would you ask for a coffee if what you really wanted was hot water? Therefore a coffee should be only about being strong.
Hence the existence of poetic idioms like socks juice or cat piss. This crap I am drinking right now is not just annoying, it is seriously offending my French cafeino-maniac self. I haven’t decided if it is socks juice or cat piss though.
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