WHAT ARE IDIOMS?

This section demystifies common Hindi idioms in order to give you further practice in identifying verb forms in Hindi idioms, because the best way to build your verbal vocabulary is to see the Hindi verbs in real-time action!

So what is an idiom you may be asking? An idiomatic expression, or simply an idiom, is a group of words whose meaning cannot be deduced literally as it conveys a figurative meaning. Hindi idioms are distinct from Hindi proverbs, as proverbs can stand alone and still make sense in a literal context. Proverbs are relevant to the human experience in general, while idioms are typically unique to a region or a community. This also makes the idiom a more enigmatic and exclusive language expression than proverbs, because without background or training in the language norms of a society, one is likely to be baffled by an idiom's intended meaning.

If you are a non-native Hindi speaker, reflect on your own native language and how many idioms you use each day which are unique to the culture and vernacular of your region. For example, English idioms such as "piece of cake" or "pain in the neck" are so ingrained in the modern English vernacular that one could hardly imagine English without them. In some cases, no single word can adequately describe a particular sentiment as well as an idiom.

Hindi idioms are applied to Hindi conversations in this same manner, and are frequently used by Hindi speakers in daily banter, news, and popular culture. By learning the following Hindi idioms and using them in your Hindi conversations, you are sure to blend in with the locals in Hindi-speaking regions!

HINDI IDIOMS WITH MEANINGS

लनाक में दम करना / Naak men dam karnaa / To force on one's nose

This idiom means to be fed up as a result of another person bothering or burdening him or her, as if to say that the annoyance experienced is like an irritation forced on one's nose.

लोहे के चने चबाना / Lohe ke chane chabaanaa / To chew chick peas of iron

This idiom means to perform an exceedingly difficult, seemingly impossible task, on par with chewing chick peas made of iron!

पापड़ बेलना / Papad belnaa / To roll out papad

This idiom means to endure hardship in one's life, as rolling out papad - a popular Indian appetizer - is an exhaustive, cumbersome task.

दाल न गलना / Daal na galnaa / To unsuccessfully soften daal

This idiom means to fail at an attempt at an endeavor, as the daal (lentil) must be softened first in order to consume it. If the daal is not softened, the attempt at preparation was unsuccessful and the daal cannot be eaten. Therefore, there was no reward for the labor invested. However, it should be remembered that even after many unsuccessful attempts, we are still capable of perfecting our technique and eventually preparing perfectly softened daal!

चूना लगाना / Choonaa lagaanaa / To put on lime

This idiom means to mask one's true intentions, or to deceive. Putting on lime is a reference to the alkaline lime paste applied atop betel leaves to prepare Paan. Paan is popularly chewed in South Asia after meals, due to its ability to neutralize the acid in food, aid in digestion, and add fragrance to the mouth.

पत्ता कटना / pattaa katnaa / To cut the leaf

This idiom means to be fired from one's job or to be told off, just as cutting a leaf signifies a parting of ways through an abrupt act of termination.

मक्खन लगाना / makkhan lagaanaa / To butter up

This idiom means to disingenuously flatter another person with the intent of gaining favor in return. Buttering food is done with the intent of softening the food. Similarly, one butters up a person to soften or mollify them before asking something from them. The same idiom exists in English, so English speakers should find this idiom very relatable!

मगज़ मारना / magaz maarnaa / To destroy the brain

This idiom means to mentally over-exert oneself as a result of too much contemplation or concentration, which typically still has not brought the person closer to the resolution of a problem. Most people have found themselves in this frustrating scenario at one time or another. The idiom suggests that one's brain has been destroyed by thinking so intensely!

हाथी पर चढ़ना / hathee par chornaa / To ride on an elephant

This idiom means to rise in wealth, stature, or reputation. A person is suggested to be riding on an elephant when his own stature matches the height and grandeur of the elephant.

वरक़ उलटना / varaq ulatnaa / To roll over metallic foil

This idiom means to make a fresh start or a positive change. Varaq is the edible, thin foil composed of silver or gold and placed atop South Asian sweets for adornment. Therefore, to roll over gold foil signifies that one has progressed, improved one's lot in life, or recently experienced an auspicious turn of events through one's own doing.

फंदा छूटना / phandaa chhootnaa / To be released from the snare

This idiom means to be freed from an entrapping or unbearable situation. To release the snare from a person allows them to breathe easier as they are now relieved of the difficult burden they faced.

फल खाना / phal khaanaa / To eat fruit

This idiom means to gleefully reap the rewards of one's efforts. In agriculture, fruit is the desired yield after the laborious growing season. Therefore, when you can eat the fruit, this is the time at which you can at last relish the end-product of your work.

सफ़ेदी आना / safedee aanaa / To grow white

This idiom means to age. Naturally, the hair grows whiter as one advances in age, unless of course you are one of those lucky individuals without a single gray hair on the head!

अपनी खिचड़ी अलग पकाना / Apnee khicharee alag pakaanaa / To cook one's own dish.

This idiom means to diverge from group mentality and instead go on one's own unique path. Instead of cooking what is popular, the subject in this idiom chooses to shun conformity and instead cook what he or she would like to cook! This is my favorite of the Hindi idioms shared here, because it prizes originality and innovation in thinking. By now you might have noticed that many of the Hindi idioms focus on food! This is because of the significant role of food in Indian culture. As you encounter other Hindi idioms in popular culture, notice how they highlight the preferences and value system of the society from which they originate.