Give Him 2.54 Centimeters and He’ll Take 1.6 Kilometers

Posted on July 2, 2012


I’ve spent the majority of my adult life living abroad in Germany and China. When you study foreign language you learn how to speak in the simplest manner possible and avoid the use of idiomatic expressions that obviously wouldn’t exist in another language. When business has required me to translate meetings in German or Chinese, people who only speak one language are much more likely to ask me to translate idiomatic expressions without it ever occurring to them that none of those idioms would exist in another language.

‘Alright, tell him this in Chinese: I’m ready to get down to the nuts and bolts of the thing. I don’t want to ruffle anybody’s feathers but my supervisors will only strike a deal if he’ll meet us half way on price.’

Because this sentence contains four idiomatic expressions that don’t exist in Chinese, I would translate his sentiments as:

Please lower your price.

And if the English-speaker gives me a look like he expected my translation to be longer I would add:

Your city is very scenic. Everyone has been so friendly. I hope after this meeting you’ll invite me to a fifteen-course dinner featuring weasel meat and shots of 52% alcohol baijiu.

If I ever use idioms with my international friends who may speak English but find themselves confused by American expressions–especially because our idioms don’t use the metric system–I try and provide a conversion.

That guy takes advantage of everyone. Give him 2.54 centimeters and he’ll take 1.6 kilometers.

I wouldn’t touch that with a 304.8-centimeter pole.

It wasn’t until my last birthday when I realized how old I was getting and it suddenly hit me like 907 kilograms of bricks.

You know what they say? 28.35 grams of prevention is worth 453.59 grams of cure.

The guy wouldn’t shut up. He was talking 1.6 kilometers a minute.

Or if the person I’m talking to comes from one of those countries that are still using hourglasses instead of minutes:

He’s talking 1.6 kilometers an hourglass.

If I say something embarrassing:

Aww, man, I always seem to be putting my 3/10ths of a meter in my mouth.

If I make a bad first impression:

We seem to have gotten off on the wrong 30.48 centimeters.

When I make threats:

Get your hands off my wife’s leg or I’ll beat you within 2.54 centimeters of your life.


Our weekend performances of The Real Inspector Hound were a success and continue through next week. We received multiple positive reviews, but I’ve chosen to feature the review containing a picture of me which also calls attention to my unconventional handsomeness.

‘An unconventionally handsome Inspector Hound (Paul Johnson) ices the cake as the eponymous detective, prancing across the stage and flinging his cloak about him with every single pronouncement that drops from his lips.’

I think the ‘unconventionally’ was referring to the reviewer’s expectation that the role wouldn’t necessarily call for a handsome actor, not necessarily that my handsomeness isn’t conventional. I would actually argue my handsomeness is unusually conventional in the universal and classic sense in that it will never go out of style and appeals to all generations.

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