Bunch Of Fives: Adam Sharp | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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At Durham Book Festival on Friday 13th October, Adam Sharp will be hosting a special edition of his scratch night meets literary salon, Read Them Your Writes. To mark the date it takes place it will have a spooky theme and be called Read Them Your Frights. There will be open mic slots, scheduled performances, and a writing contest to come up with the best curse. 

Adam will also be reading from, and signing copies of his latest book, THE WHEEL IS SPINNING BUT THE HAMSTER IS DEAD: A JOURNEY AROUND THE WORLD IN IDIOMS, PROVERBS AND GENERAL NONSENSE. It’s all about how to express popular English words and phrases in different languages, presented in list form. He will therefore now share with us his top five favourite versions of an old phrase about doing something pointless (or redundant, or unnecessary) that references the North East… “to carry coals to Newcastle”…

5. A German variant of “to carry coals to Newcastle” is Bier nach München bringen, which means “to bring beer to Munich”. It’s a regional/slang expression, not all that widely known (my favourite kind of phrase, as I’m a giant hipster at heart). A more common German variant, for those who like that kind of thing, is “to carry owls to Athens” (Eulen nach Athen), which is a calque from a Classical Greek phrase, where the owl was probably a reference to a coin that had an owl on it. The coins (known as “owls”) were so common throughout the world that taking them to Athens would have been very unnecessary indeed.

4. A Russian phrase for doing something that is redundant is ездить в Тулу со своим самоваром. It means “to go to Tula with your own samovar” (the city of Tula is famous for its samovar production).

3. There are multiple versions of “carrying coals to Newcastle” that involve food, including “to take bananas to Madeira” (Portuguese), “to carry oranges to Valencia” (Catalan), “to take empanadas to San Vicente (Ecuadorian Spanish), “to carry dates to Hajar” (Arabic), and “to give bread to the baker’s children” (Norwegian). Another colloquial Norwegian phrase about something that’s a waste of time is pisse i havet for å få det varmt. It means “pissing in the sea to heat it”.

2. My favourite expressions from the Indo-Aryan language group are the Bengali “to put oil on an oiled head” and the Marathi “to show your lamp to the sun”.

1. And a Welsh version of “carrying coals to Newcastle” is rho(dd)i pwltis ar goes bren. It’s from Ynys Môn (Anglesey) dialect and it means “to put a poultice on a wooden leg”. Another couple of Welsh variants are iro hwch â bloneg (to grease a sow with fat) and golchi traed alarch (to wash a swan’s feet).

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