Idioms are phrases that have two different meanings. Literally, they mean one thing; figuratively, they mean something else entirely. We use them to simplify a complicated idea, add richness and playfulness to our language, and – naturally – hint at topics that aren’t always considered appropriate in polite company.

While every language has idioms, sometimes their meanings can be lost in translation. We collected phrases that have sexual meanings but idiomatic translations from 11 different languages, as well as from three varieties of English (British, American, and Australian), to explore how the nuances of language might encapsulate a culture’s view of sex.

1. "Bashing the bishop"

Language: British English
Translation: Bashing the bishop
Meaning: Masturbation

If you’re in the U.K. and you overhear someone talking about “bashing the bishop,” don’t worry – no one assaulted a clergyman. The phrase refers to the phallically shaped chess piece rather than an ordained member of the church.

2. "To put the cake in the oven"

Language: Spanish
Translation: Poner la tarta en el horno
Meaning: Sexual intercourse

Baking can be an incredibly fulfilling activity. This phrase equates the act of inserting a pan full of cake batter into a hot oven with a very different sort of insertion. The end result – a delicious cake – makes the effort all worth it.

3. "To park the bus"

Language: Swedish
Translation: Parkera bussen
Meaning: Sexual intercourse

Parking a bus can be an arduous task, especially for drivers not used to handling such long vehicles. Pulling or backing into a parking spot without hitting anything takes careful concentration and focus. It appears that sexual intercourse requires similar effort, although it probably depends on the size of the bus you’re driving.

4. "Ride the flagpole"

Language: American English
Translation: Ride the flagpole
Meaning: Heterosexual sexual intercourse

Here, Americans refer to the penis – a word with perhaps more synonyms than any other in the English language – as a flagpole, of all things.

5. "Work has been completed"

Language: Hindi
Translation: Kaam ho gaya
Meaning: Sexual intercourse (referring to past tense only)

Literally, this Hindi phrase translates to “work has been completed.” In any G-rated or U-rated context, this could be as simple as a student’s finishing a homework assignment, or an employee’s clocking out after a long day on the job. But in the bedroom, this “work” takes on new meaning.

6. "Rooting"

Language: Australian English
Translation: Rooting
Meaning: Sexual intercourse

In America, rooting means cheering; in Australia, rooting means engaging in sexual intercourse. While the origin of this slang term is unclear – perhaps the idea of a plant “taking root” evokes a very different connection – it does explain the potential confusion that Australians could have over Americans “rooting” for a sports team.

7. "Netflix and chill"

Language: British/American English
Translation: Netflix and chill
Meaning: Sexual intercourse

If someone invites you over to "Netflix and chill," there likely won’t be much movie-watching or chilling involved (depending, of course, on how one defines “chilling”). This phrase has become a popular way to ask someone to come over and fool around without being explicit about intentions.

8. "To blow air with the bellows"

Language: Spanish
Translation: Follar
Meaning: Sexual intercourse

A bellows is a device that produces a strong blast of air. Usually it’s used to supply a fire with air. In this case, the translation of the Spanish word follar compares the use of bellows to sex. You can take this in a couple of different directions: The bursts of air could suggest heavy panting, or perhaps the bellows could be a metaphorical way of stoking a sexual fire.

9. "To scrub one's carrot"

Language: German
Translation: die Möhre schrubben
Meaning: Masturbation

Yet again, we have another colorful euphemism for the penis: an orange vegetable that grows from the ground and must be scrubbed clean. This is curious for several reasons but mainly because the Germans are comparing masturbation to washing a dirty carrot.

10. "Bumping uglies"

Language: British English
Translation: Bumping uglies
Meaning: Sexual intercourse

This one leaves little to the imagination: Neither male nor female genitalia are very aesthetically pleasing, and the bumping part is pretty self-explanatory. There are definitely other, less repulsive ways to describe sex, but to each his (or her) own.

11. "To sweep"

Language: Italian
Translation: Scopare
Meaning: Sexual intercourse

Formally, this Italian verb means “to sweep”; it’s similar to the noun scopa, which translates to “broom.” Informally, however, it’s a vulgar term for sexual intercourse, and it’s not something you want to say in polite company. There doesn’t seem to be any etymological connection between sweeping and sex, but perhaps the visualisation speaks for itself.

12. "To pet one's monkey"

Language: Russian
Translation: Lysogo v kulake gonyat
Meaning: Masturbation

This Russian phrase roughly translates to “petting one’s monkey.” While there is definitely petting involved, the monkey is notably absent.

13. "To play pocket pool"

Language: Portuguese
Translation: Jogar bilhar de bolso
Meaning: Masturbation

At first reference, the phrase “pocket pool” brings to mind pocket billiards, the popular table game where you shoot balls into pockets to score points. But in this context, the game of pocket pool takes place in a literal pocket, and the pool stick and balls are, let’s say, figurative.

14. "To plow the land"

Language: Albanian
Translation: Puno tokën
Meaning: Sexual intercourse

When a farmer plows the land, the intention is to prepare the soil for sowing seeds. Apparently this is also an analogy for planting a very different kind of seed.

Let's Talk About Sex

Foreign idioms can tell you a lot about what matters to different cultures. In this case, these phrases – some dated, some modern – show us how languages can inherently express the ideas and potential habits of their societies.

We use idioms to hint at subjects we’re not always comfortable discussing. Talking about sex can make many people uncomfortable, but it’s important to get the information you need to stay sexually healthy. If you’re finding it difficult to ask for the help you need, visit Superdrug Online Doctor for quick, easy, and discreet advice.

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