Idioms show much about the culture just like how your Facebook timeline shows who you are. Some idioms are beautiful, some are functional, and then there are the really perplexing ones. Which ones are the most interesting? Yes, we thought long and hard about the weirdest and most unique idioms in the nomad tongue. Here are some eccentric idioms that you’ll only learn living in Mongolia.
To go for salt (Davsand yavah)
It means to go to sleep. In English, you would drift into this arena of slumber. In Mongolian, the arena is the same, but it’s actually a salt mine. So, millions of us go to mine this salt every night, but end up drowsing inside the pits and zzz-ing in it.
“Hey, Bold. You’re still awake.”
“Yeah, I’ve been trying to go to salt for a while, with no luck. Maybe I have insomnia.”
“No, I’m pretty sure it’s because you’re running around with that rattling chainsaw.”
2. To have a fit mouth (amni figuurtei baih)
It means to be able to talk eloquently or use flowery language to the point of bullshitting. This idiom is sometimes used as a positive description of somebody. A salesman or an orator can have a fit mouth. The “figuur” in this idiom is derived from Russian word for fitness.
“What did you think of professor Dorj?”
“Well, he had a fit mouth, I’ll give him that. But I don’t know how his credentials are, so I’m dubious about the substance of his class.”
“Man, look who’s talking? You’ve got a fit mouth yourself!”
3. To enter a dog’s path (nohoin zamaar oroh)
It means to become lost or deteriorated to the point of no salvation. A person can start associating with bad people and enter a dog’s path (e.g. drinking and general hobo-ing), or a phone can be broken and enter a dog’s path.
“Bayara, I know you’re feeling down and all, but you have to stop this.”
“This whole entering a dog’s path thing.”
“What? How can you judge me like that? It’s all my decision, okay?”
“Okay, I’m sorry.”
“Now, can you pass me that piece of cardboard? I need a blanket.”
4. To lick a hot stone (Hal uzej haluun chuluu dolooh)
It means to experience the tough things in life and to become tough. A person who’s licked a hot stone has seen some crazy shit in his or her life. Do people actually have to lick a hot stone? They might have, as a dare, in the past. After all, boodog and horhog, the landmark dishes of our cuisine include hot stones.
“So why didn’t you hire Sodnom as the security guard?”
“He looked a little old. I didn’t think he could handle intruders, you know?”
“Well, the man looked like he has licked a hot stone. Wouldn’t be surprised if he knew bokh wrestling and ninjitsu.”
“Maybe you’re right. I should hire him.”
5. To pick up dirt from wherever you sit (Suusan gazraasaa shoroo atgah)
It means to be opportunistic and resourceful enough to earn money from seemingly difficult situations or sectors. A man who picks up dirt from where he sits can get rich or find solutions no matter where he is placed. The idiom may be related to dirt with gold.
“Borkhuu has been a taxi driver for the last two years, how on earth did he get so rich?”
“Apparently, our guy has struck a deal to export scrap metal to the Chinese. Who knew it would be so profitable?”
“But the junk collectors strip everything, like the manhole covers and cables.”
“One thing is certain. The dude can pick up dirt wherever he sits.”
6. Horgoloo tooloh (To count your poop balls)
It means to be stingy or to be a bean counter. People who count their poop balls are extremely miserly, about money or any other thing. Don’t worry, the poop balls are not human, sheep have poop that look like little brown balls (or chocolate balls to an unsuspecting foreigner) that are called horgol.
“Davaa, I hear today’s job also covers the food?”
“Sorry, buddy. The food I bought for all of you is gone.”
“What the hell? We worked nine hours and you’re giving us boortsog?”
“Well, I don’t have much cash, you know?”
“Why are you counting your poop balls? You don’t want to work with hungry and tired people.”
7. To have no human scent (Hunii unergui baih)
It means to be immoral or deceitful and to have no human decency. A person with no human scent will not acknowledge or return favors, and backstab after paying lip service, etc. The idiom is connected to the notion of scent being an important part of the human soul.
“Gombo, did you see my purse?”
“Yes, ma’am. I found it and put it in the Lost and Found.”
“Oh, thank you so much. I was so scared I thought someone with no human scent had stolen it.”
“In this company? Nah.”
8. To hold a liver (Eleg barih)
It means to harass or to bully. This idiom is usually used for instances when somebody, especially a woman or a child, is not authoritative enough. For example, a child should be deterred from going to the store because the vendor might hold a liver and charge him more.
“Daddy, can I go buy a Choco Pie?”
“Sure, son. Wait a minute, are you going to the store outside on your own?”
“Well, yes. Why?”
“I’ll go with you. The salesman at the store might hold a liver and rip you off.”
“Dad, I’m nine. And this isn’t the chaotic times of the 90s anymore.”
9. To dry (somebody) with the yellow meat (shar mahtai n’ hataah)
It means to make someone suffer greatly. This is usually used by someone to mean the speaker’s own suffering. The idiom may have originated from a time when people tortured each other by tying them up, or somebody heard of the Greek tale of Prometheus and translated that as “the yellow guy who suffered”. (Yes, the equivalent of English phrase of fair skin in Mongolian is yellow.”
“We’re closing up now. Please leave the premises.”
“Excuse me, I’m still in the middle of therapy.”
“No, you go now. Here are your clothes. Please leave now.”
“But, but, I still have these acupuncture needles in my skin.”
“I don’t care. You go now.”
“Man, this place is drying me with my yellow meat.”
10. To raise a golden beak (altan hoshuu orgoh)
It means to pass on gossip or tip the authorities. An incident of raising a golden beak is a rather pleasant equivalent of English idioms, such as squealing stool pigeon.
“So, boss knows my birthday’s next week, huh?”
“Is birthday like a code for a getaway?”
“It was you? Did you raise the golden beak?”
“Well, it depends. On whether or not you’ll still be friends with me.”
Natso Baatarkhuu lives in Mongolia and writes in English. His works have appeared in Cracked.com and The UB Post, and he started this website. He dreams of publishing novels and selling screenplays someday.