List of idioms of improbability

  (Redirected from Greek calends)

There are many idioms of improbability, or adynata, used to denote that a given event is impossible or extremely unlikely to occur.

In EnglishEdit

Flying pig
A flying pig is a symbol of an impossible event coming to pass. The popular vernacular, saying something will happen "when pigs fly",[1] or "when pigs have wings" is traditionally used to mean that the specified event will never occur.
Cold hell
Rises from the general belief that hell is an extremely hot place. Expressions include "when hell freezes over",[1][2] "a cold day in hell",[1] "Satan will be ice-skating to work", and "a snowball's chance in hell".
Don't hold your breath
Used to indicate that something hoped for will likely never happen,[3] implying that if one held their breath while waiting they would die.
If the sky falls, we shall catch larks
Once in a blue moon
A blue moon is variously understood as being a rare event.
Twelfth of Never
Something that will happen on the "Twelfth of Never" will "never come to pass".[4] There is a Johnny Mathis song of the same name, which hit number one in the charts when it was covered by Donny Osmond.
Like getting blood from a stone
Generally taken to mean a pointless task due to its difficulty. Possibly has its origins in the similar idiom, "Squeezing water from a stone", which has the same meaning.
The Cleveland Browns winning the Super Bowl
This references the Browns famously not being able to make an appearance in the Big Game since the inception of the modern National Football League.
The Cronulla Sharks winning the NRL premiership
This references the Sharks holding the longest drought in Australian professional sports until their maiden victory in the 2016 Grand Final over the Melbourne Storm; the Sharks entered the competition in 1967.
Few and far between
Indicating rarely seen events.[5]

In other languagesEdit

  • Afrikaansas die perde horings kry ("when horses grow horns")
  • Albanianne 36 gusht ("on the thirty-sixth of August")
  • Arabic has a wide range of idioms differing from a region to another. In some Arab countries of the Persian Gulf, one would say إذا حجت البقرة على قرونها idha ḥajjit il-bagara `ala gurunha ("when the cow goes on pilgrimage on its horns"). In Egypt, one says في المشمش fil-mishmish ("when the apricots bloom"). Other Arab people, mainly Palestinian, use the expression لما ينور الملح lemma ynawwar il-malḥ, which roughly translates into "when salt glows", which means "never" because salt is not a glowing material.
  • Chinese – 太陽從西邊升起 ("when the sun rises in the West")
  • Czechaž naprší a uschne meaning "When it rains and dries". Another expression is až opadá listí z dubu ("When the leaves fall from the oak")
  • Dutchmet Sint-juttemis [nl], or als Pinksteren en Pasen op één dag vallen ("when Pentecost and Easter are on the same day")
  • Esperantoje la tago de Sankta Neniam ("on Saint Never's Day") — a loan-translation from German (see below).
  • Finnishsitten kun lehmät lentävät - when the cows fly. Also jos lehmällä olisi siivet, se lentäisi (if cow had wings, it would fly), implying futile speculations. Also kun lipputanko kukkii ("when flagpole blossoms") and Tuohikuussa Pukin-päivän aikaan ("in Barkember on St. Buck's day", implying an imaginary month and imaginary day). Sometimes also kun Helvetti jäätyy ("when Hell freezes over"), although saying it aloud to someone is considered very rude and hostile.
  • Frenchà la Saint-Glinglin (on Saint Glinglin's day). Glinglin is a nonsense rhyme for the French word saint. A couple of other expressions are quand les poules auront des dents ("when hens have teeth") and quand les coqs pondront des œufs ("when roosters lay eggs"). An expression, today falling into disuse, is la semaine des quatre jeudis ("the week of the four Thursdays"), as in "that will happen (or not) during the week of the four Thursdays" (Thursday was the break in the school week). The expression aux calendes grecques ("to the Greek Calends") was also used for indefinite postponement, derived from the ancient Latin expression (see below). To express logical impossibility: si ma tante en avait, on l'appellerait mon oncle ("if my aunt had any she would be called my uncle"). What she would have is left to the imagination, and it is probably a parallel creation rather than a borrowing to or from Marathi (see below).
  • GermanWenn Schweine fliegen können! is identical with the English saying "when pigs fly", although the older proverb Wenn Schweine Flügel hätten, wäre alles möglich ("if pigs had wings, everything would be possible") is in more common use, often modified on the second part to something impossible, like "if pigs had wings, even your idea might work". Another phrase is Am Sankt-Nimmerleins-Tag ("on St. Never's Day").
    Wenn Weihnachten und Ostern auf einen Tag fallen! ("when Christmas and Easter are on the same day")
  • Georgian– როცა ვირი ხეზე ავა ("when the donkey climbs the tree")
  • Greek – Του Αγίου Ποτέ ("on St. Never's [Day]") is sometimes used, however the profane Του Αγίου Πούτσου ανήμερα ("right on the Day of St. Dick's") is more popular. A common expression used to point out someone's wishful thinking is Αν η γιαγιά μου είχε καρούλια, θα ήταν πατίνι ("If my grandmother had wheels she would be a skateboard").
  • Hebrew – כשיצמחו שיערות על כף ידי ("when hair grows on the palm of my hand", a part of the human body where hair never grows). Another is a legal term, referring to the indefinite postponing of a case, "until Elijah comes".
  • Hindi - The common phrases are (1) सूरज पश्चिम से उगा है ("sun has risen from the west") and (2) बिन मौसम की बरसात ("when it rains when it's not the season to rain"). The second one is also used to denote something unexpected/untimely as much as improbable.
  • Hungarian – The two most often used expressions are majd ha piros hó esik ("when it's snowing red snowflakes"), and majd ha cigánygyerekek potyognak az égből ("When gypsy children are streaming from the sky"). There is a third one: majd ha fagy ("When it freezes"), the short version of majd ha a pokol befagy ("When hell freezes over"), which is not used much anymore. A couple of other expressions are holnapután kiskedden ("on the less holy[6] Tuesday after tomorrow") and soha napján (on the day of never).
  • Italian – Common idioms are quando gli asini voleranno ("when donkeys will fly"), il 31 febbraio ("the 31st of February"), il giorno di "mai" ed il mese di "poi" ("the "never" day and the "then" month") and, similarly to Latin, alle Calende greche ("to the Greek Kalends"). To imply futile speculations, a common expression is se mia nonna avesse le ruote, sarebbe una carriola ("if my grandma had wheels, she'd be a wheelbarrow").
  • Latinad kalendas graecas ("to the Greek Kalends") signified indefinite postponement, since the Greek calendar had no Calends period; also cum mula peperit = "when a mule foaled".
  • Japanese - 網の目に風とまらず (ami no me ni kaze tomarazu) Literally meaning "You can't catch wind in a net." Another idiom of improbability is 畑に蛤 (Hata ni hamaguri) which means "finding clams in a field".
  • LimburgishTe Pruimpaschen, als de kalveren op 't ijs dansen (usually shortened to just met Sint-juttemis[clarification needed]), meaning "on Saint-juttemis day, when the calves are dancing on the ice". This Saint-juttemis is usually thought to be a fictional saint in the vein of Saint Glinglin but is in fact real (St. Judith in English). Therefore, Sint-juttemis day is an actual day (the 17th of August) and this makes saying just "on Saint-juttemis day" when one means "never", a prime example of irony. The adding of the phrase "when the calves are dancing on the ice" is what makes the phrase impossible, because it never freezes on the 17th of August in the Netherlands.
  • Lombard (Milanese dialect) – quand pìssen i òch ("when the geese will piss"), refers to the popular belief that a goose never urinates[citation needed]
  • Malaymenunggu kucing bertanduk ("to wait until a horned cat walks by")
  • Malayalam – കാക്ക മലർന്നു പറക്കും (kākka malarnnu paṟakkuṃ), "[the] crow will fly upside down"[7]
  • Marathi – आत्याबाईं ना मिश्या असत्या तर काका म्हंटले असते (Ãtyābāiḥ nā mishyā asatyā tar kākã mhaṭalā asatā), "if aunt (here: father's sister) grows moustaches she would be called uncle"[8]
  • Persian – وقت گل نی (vaght e gol e ney), "when the reed plant blossoms"
  • Piedmontese (Turin dialect) – An unlikely event will occur in the smana dij tre giòbia (the "week with three Thursdays").
  • Polishna święty Nigdy ("till St. Never's Day"); zobaczysz... jak świnia niebo ("you'll see [something] like a pig will see the heaven"); prędzej mi kaktus na dłoni wyrośnie ("sooner will a cactus grow on my palm"); (pulling down the lower eyelid of an eye) Jedzie mi tu pociąg? ("Is a train running here on me?").
  • Portugueseno dia de São Nunca ("on Saint Never's day"), nem que a vaca tussa ("not even if the cow coughs"), quando os porcos voarem ("when pigs fly") and quando as galinhas tiverem dentes ("when chickens have teeth").[9] In Brazilian Portuguese, especially in the historical context of WWII, quando cobra fumar ("when a snake smokes"), which has since reversed meaning, given the participation of Brazil in the war.
  • Romanianla paștele cailor/la Ispas ("on the horses' Easter/on Ispas"), când o face plopul pere și răchita micșunele ("when poplars would grow pears and willows wallflowers"), la sfântul așteaptă ("on Saint Waits' Day"), and când va zbura porcul ("when pigs fly")
  • Russian – когда рак на горе свистнет (kogdá rak na goré svístnet), "when the crawfish whistles on the mountain". После дождичка в четверг (posle dojdichka v chetverg), literally "after the rain on Thursday" yet meaning never. Не видать как своих ушей (ne vidat kak svoih ushey), "not to see [something] like your ears".
  • Serbian – кад на врби роди грожђе (kad na vrbi rodi grožđe), "when willow bears grapes". Another variant is кад на врби засврби (kad na vrbi zasvrbi), "when willow get itchy". Note rhyme in vrbi zasvrbi. Мало сутра (malo sutra), literally "a little bit tomorrow", has a similar meaning as "all my eye".
  • Seychellois Creole, also known as Kreol or Seselwa (creole spoken in Seychelles) – lannen de mil zanmen is used, which means "year two thousand and never". It is a fairly new expression used mainly among the youth.
  • SloveneOb svetem Nikoli is a wordplay that literally means "on St. Nicholas' feast day". The word nikoli, when stressed on the second syllable, means "never", when stressed on the first it is the locative case of Nikola, i.e. Nicholas
  • Spanishcuando las vacas vuelen ("when cows fly") or cuando los chanchos vuelen ("when pigs fly"). Its most common use is in response to an affirmative statement, for example "I saw Mrs. Smith exercising, I swear!" to which the response given would be something like, "Yeah right, and cows fly". Other variations slightly fallen into disuse include cuando las ranas crien pelo ("when frogs grow hair") and cuando San Juan agache el dedo ("when Saint John bends his finger"). The latter is a reference to the common depiction of St. John with one or two extended fingers.
  • Tagalogkapag namuti ang uwak, kapag nangitim ang tagak ("when the crow turns white, when the egret turns black"). Note the euphony between the nouns uwak and tagak.
  • Turkishbalık kavağa çıktığında ("when the fish climbs the poplar tree"). Another one is çıkmaz ayın son Çarşambasında ("at the last Wednesday of the endless month")
  • Ukrainian – коли рак на горі свисне ("koly rak no hori svysne"), "when the crawfish whistles on the mountain"; or a longer variant коли рак на горі свисне, а риба заспіває (koly rak no hori svysne, a ryba zaspivaye), "when the crawfish whistles on the mountain and fish sings". Another expression is не бачити тобі ... як своїх вух ("you'll never see [something] like you will never see your ears").

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Ashcraft 2014, pp. 124-125.
  2. ^ "Definition of 'when hell freezes over' - English Dictionary". Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus. Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 12 June 2017.
  3. ^ Heacock 2003, p. 46.
  4. ^ Obert 2015, p. 44.
  5. ^ "few and far between". Retrieved 2019-12-28.
  6. ^ "kiskedd" is fictional counterpart of "nagykedd" i.e. Holy Tuesday
  7. ^ "When pigs fly / When hell freezes over".
  8. ^ Scribby (7 May 2010). "Retro".
  9. ^ Britto, Patricia (September 17, 2014). "'Nem que a vaca tussa' governo mexe no 13º e nas férias, afirma Dilma". Folha de S. Paulo (in Portuguese). Folhapress. Retrieved 12 June 2017.

Works citedEdit