16 Hindi Idioms: Chewing Chickpeas with the Nose

Idioms are one of the most interesting aspects of any language. They use imagery and metaphors — often involving animals or food — to describe aspects of life with nuance and an element of poetry.

Knowing the meanings of common idioms is essential to reaching fluency in a foreign language and to better understanding the culture.

If you’ve got any interest in Hindi, read on to discover the meanings of some of the most common and useful idioms in the language.

A Few Fascinating Hindi Idioms to Put to Some Use

1. सौ सोनार की, एक लोहार की

Literal translation: One blow of a blacksmith is equal to a hundred blows of a goldsmith

This idiom uses a metaphor to talk about the value of strength or hardwork. A blacksmith forges items out of iron, a much more labor intensive task than forging jewelry out of gold. This means that the strength of a blacksmith is much greater and each of their blows carries much more power than that of a goldsmith. 

You could use this idiom to talk about valuing quality over quantity. For example, a master architect will only need a fraction of the time it would take an apprentice to complete plans for a new building.

2. बंदर क्या जाने अदरक का स्वाद

Literal translation: What does a monkey know about the taste of ginger?

Many languages have their own version of this idiom. In English, one might say “cast pearls before swine.” These idioms are insinuating that swine know nothing about pearls and monkeys couldn’t tell you a thing about ginger.

The context in which you’d use this idiom is when speaking about someone that is unable to appreciate something of value. An example of this could be someone that doesn’t know anything about art, or even enjoy it, going to the Louvre in Paris. You could use the above idiom to dismiss this person’s opinion.

3. जिस की लाठी उस की भैंस

Literal translation: Whoever owns the lathi eventually owns the bull

The first step in understanding this idiom is knowing the meaning of lathi. It’s a large, heavy stick that’s usually made of bamboo and bound with iron. In India, it’s often used as a weapon by police and is an effective tool for dispersing large crowds of people.

This idiom is another that talks about the value of strength. If a bit threatening, the implication here is that the one with more power, be it by possession of a weapon or otherwise, will get what they want. A similar idiom in English is “might is right.”

4. अब पछताए होत क्या जब चिड़िया चुग गई खेत

Literal translation: Why cry when the birds have eaten the whole farm

Things can always be worse, until they can’t anymore. This message may sound quite bleak, but there’s an element of comfort here. If things are already as bad as they can be, there’s no reason to fear that they’ll get worse and thus no reason to cry. 

Whether or not you buy into this logic, the idiom here is best used to encourage someone to stop fretting over something that has already happened. There’s actually a very similar idiom in English: “no use crying over spilled milk.”

5. अपनी खिचड़ी अलग पकाना

Literal translation: To cook your own food

Food and animals make for especially good subjects in idioms in just about any language. This food-related idiom is used to talk about someone that insists on doing something in their own way. They may not agree with those around them or may simply want to do something on their own.

If all of your friends are going to carpool to a party but you choose to walk instead, they could say that you’re going to “cook your own food.”

6. नाकों चने चबवाना

Literal translation: Chewing chickpeas with the nose

Another idiom that uses food to express an idea, this one uses some strange imagery. Noses aren’t generally used to chew things, and that’s kind of the point here — it would be difficult to chew chickpeas with your nose, especially raw chickpeas.

You could use this idiom to talk about someone being forced to something exceptionally difficult. For example, a sports team that demolished their opponents could be said to have made them chew chickpeas with their noses.

7. घाव पर नमक छिड़कना

Literal translation: To sprinkle salt on the wound

The literal translation of this idiom is almost identical to an English idiom, and they both carry the same meaning. In English, we would say, “to rub salt in a wound.” This phrase is used to describe making something that is already bad even worse. 

The metaphor here is fairly straightforward and the literal translation has a clear relationship to the real meaning of the idiom.

8. पापड़ बेलना

Literal translation: Papad rolling

Idioms that are unique to a specific culture are the ones that can offer the greatest insight into the language. To understand this phrase correctly, it’s necessary to know something about Indian cuisine. Papads are flat crackers or flatbreads often made from lentils that accompany many meals in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal.

The key here is to know that making this food is labor intensive. The phrase is used to describe hard work or a hard life. If you’ve been “papad rolling,” you’ve been experiencing some hardships in life.

9. दाने दाने को तरसना

Literal translation: To crave a grain

This idiom has a slightly similar meaning to the one above. If you’re “craving a grain,” you’re probably also “rolling papad.” To be craving a grain in this sense is to be totally without food or basic comforts. In other words, to be very poor.  The idea is that to crave something as small as a grain you’d need to be without anything else.

10. मुँह मे पानी आना

Literal translation: Watering mouth

The literal translation of this idiom is pretty easy to make sense of in English. You might think of Pavlov’s dog and its response to hearing a bell that was rung before meal time (the dog would being to salivate) to help you remember this one.

If you’ve got a watering mouth it means that you are being tempted by something you desire. Just like you might salivate when sitting in front of a plate of delicious food, this phrase is used to talk about someone that wants something badly.

11. घाट घाट का पानी पीना

Literal translation: To have tasted water from different river banks

Experience is what this saying is all about. To taste water from different river banks in this sense is to have traveled and experienced life. This is an idiom that you want said about you, and one you would say about someone you think has a lot of life experience. 

An idiom in English with a similar meaning to this one is to say that someone has been “around the block.”

12. जलती आग में घी डालना

Literal translation: Pour ghee on a burning fire

This is another idiom that requires some understanding of local cuisine. Ghee is clarified butter that’s used very often for cooking, and it has a flammable property. Pouring it on a burning fire, then, would cause the fire to burn even more intensely. 

There are a number of contexts in which you could use this idiom, but they all have the characteristic of intensifying a situation. In English, “add fuel to the fire” is a good substitute. You might say this phrase when “egging someone on” as well.

13. घर की मुर्गी दाल

Literal translation: A chicken in the home is like dal

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, dal is a word to describe lentils or other pulses. In India and other Hindi-speaking regions, dal is an extremely common food item. It can be found in just about any kitchen, even those without much of anything else. Chickens, on the other hand, are more valuable and aren’t as common.

What this saying is communicating is that one tends to equate the chicken that they already own to the dal that they already own, even though these two objects have different values. The idea is that you assign less value to the things that you already own. In other words, “the grass is always greener.”

14. घी के दीये जलाना

Literal translation: To light ghee lamps

Remember ghee from number 12? It’s the subject of this idiom as well. As we mentioned before, ghee is flammable, and you could light your lamps with it. It isn’t the most economical way to light your lamps, however, as mustard oil is a much cheaper alternative. 

To light your lamps with ghee is therefore a bit of an extravagance. It’s something you might do when you’ve got plenty of reason to celebrate.

15. थाली का बैंगन

Literal translation: A plate of eggplant

To understanding the meaning of this saying, start by picturing a whole eggplant in the middle of a large plate. Now imagine moving the plate slightly from side to side. Does the eggplant stay still or does it roll around? Eggplants are round, so one probably wouldn’t stay still as the plate moved.

This image is supposed to convey the shifting opinions or thoughts of someone who changes their mind often. If you can’t rely on someone to make up their mind and not change it, you might use this idiom to describe them.

16. आटे दाल का भाव मालुम होना

Literal translation: To know the prices of flour and dal

These two food items are essentials in the Indian kitchen. They’re the first ingredients you might buy if you were to stock your kitchen. This phrase assumes that someone who is rich is likely to have a fully stocked kitchen and always has flour and dal on hand. If this is the case, they’re probably not too concerned with the prices of flour and dal, which would be insignificant for them.

Someone who is poor or going through hard times, on the other hand, would probably be very concerned with the prices of everything. This would be especially true for the basic necessities like flour and dal. With this in mind, you’ll know that if someone “knows the prices of flour and dal,” they’re either not particularly well off or have at least gone through hard times at some point in their life.

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