Turkish idioms, as those who have travelled to Turkey or with Turkish relatives will know, are sprinkled in almost every conversation. There are so many idioms in Turkish that those who speak it as their second language are often puzzled as they’re very allegorical. We’ll be sharing more on Turkish language and idioms in the future but here’s our favourite five in all their glory first.
1. Koçum benim!
Literal translation; My ram!
Word for word; Koç – Ram. Benim -My.
Pronounciation; ‘cotch-oom’ ‘ben-eem’
Meaning; Throughout ancient history the ram has represented power, leadership, determination, action and initiative. Their horns are often used as power symbols such as logos of car manufacturers, such as Dodge Ram and the Turkish corporation Koç, named after the founder Vehbi Koç. (By the way Koç Holding is the owner of the popular Turkish househould appliances manufacturer Beko, which we assume is the make Boris Johnson’s washing machine). So it really isn’t hard to see why koçum benim has become a power praise amongst Turkish idioms, having such positive connotations attached to the image of the animal.
This blatant patriarchic Turkish idiom is mostly used as a term of appraise of young boys or men. However, this theriomorphic praise has evolved in everyday use and pretty much anyone accomplishing a feat or making even a remotely “worthy” statement or observation can also be appraised as such. It can also be used sarcastically, when a perceived exaggeration is put down in jest by the use of the praise in high volume with double emphasis on the ‘ch’ sound.
It is quite difficult to appropriate it into English as the idiom is used in such a wide variety of contexts. The closest English counterpart I can imagine is “My man“ or “You(‘re) the man“. It can take a while to get the slights of this Turkish idiom for speakers of Turkish as a second language but it is more often used in praise than not.
Koçum benim is the pinnacle of positive reinforcement for Turks. You’re sure to hear this several hundreds of times during a football match (assuming the supporters team is playing well), when a father is praising his son or friends just being sarcastic with the grand exaggerator of their group.
Or, when hitting on your crush, as shown in this song;
2. Sen ne ayaksın?
Literal translation; What foot are you?
Word for word; Sen – you. ne -what. ayaksın – foot
Pronounciation; ‘San‘ ‘neh’ ‘ uh-yuck-sn’
Meaning; This one is not as long winded as the first Turkish idiom but it’s peculiar enough. Literal translation might suggest someone is inquiring about whether you’re left or right footed but it’s actually far from.
Sen ne ayaksın? is a loaded idiom often asked under suspicious, tense circumstances, meaning “What are you playing at?”, where the accused is perceived to be “up to no good” and the accuser is a toughie short in faculties of reason. Every bad guy portrayed in Turkish movies and TV series have uttered this combo at least once. The idiom even has it’s own pose, demonstrated so well by Ali Amca above. It’s a power pose, with a provocative stance.
You could use this Turkish idiom in a non agressive tone in jest with friends, even sarcastically. But make no mistake, this idiom means no play and all confrontation.
So why is it one of my favourite Turkish idioms? Simple. Because it’s absolutely burst out loud laughing hilarious when non-Turkish speakers pull this gem out in a playful Turkish setting with friends or family. You need this one in your arsenal if your significant other is Turkish. Bonus points if you can pull the power pose to go along with it or add “bilader” to the end for the ultimate combo. You probably wouldn’t want to use it on the elders though.
Bonus video of Turkish football player laying down the lingo.
3. Pabucu Dama Atıldı
Literal translation; His/her shoes are thrown on to the roof?
Word for word; Pabucu – his/her shoes. dama – to the roof. atılmak – to throw/thrown
Pronounciation; ‘pah-boo-ju‘ ‘dum-uh’ ‘ut-uhl-the’
Meaning; I love this Turkish idiom. Both for it’s appropriated meaning and for it’s original meaning. Someone whose shoes are thrown on to the roof is someone who has fallen from being favoured status or preference. Kids with a newborn sibling are often referred to as pabucu dama atıldı, but it’s all in good heart.
The Turkish idiom originates from Ottoman times where the quality of craftsmanship by artisans and traders were upheld by a local heyet, much like todays trade guilds formed by the traders. Where upon a subpar goods or products were reported to the relevant heyet and upon inspection by fellow masters of the trade a sum might be awarded to the complainant. Following such complaints, if found to be at fault, the traders goods, in this instance a shoe-smith would have their products thrown on top of the roofs of their premises as a marker of reference to would be buyers. It’s the 17th century equivalent of online business reviews!
4. Avucunu Yalarsın
Literal translation; You’ll lick your palm
Word for word; Avucunu – your palm, yalarsın – you will lick.
Pronounciation; ‘uh-v00-joo-noo‘ ‘yuh-larh-sn’
Meaning; Literally translated this Turkish idiom just makes your one eyebrow raise and the other lower, right? Well there’s a story behind this one, too. Just as eyebrow raising as it translation.
Avucunu yalarsın is used in contexts where someone won’t be getting what they expect or hope for. Apparently, the saying comes from bears who retire into caves for their winter hibernation. When the bear gets hungry, it knows that going out for food is pointless as there aren’t any prey. So to venture out, use up precious energy and get nothing in vain. Instead, the bears lick their palms to suppress their hunger (seriously, who was the guy brave enough to go in a cave and observe this?) and fall back asleep. Rightly so I guess, as I’ve never considered palms to be particularly appetising myself.
This one we thought we should reserve for your suggestions.
What Turkish idiom do you think deserves a mention here? We want the cult status, unforgettable, everyday idioms causing as much confusion as possible when translated into English.
Vote for your favourite by commenting below and we’ll pick a winner