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I am a Czech interpreter working with English. Just recently during a conference a "funny" guy tried to use elaborative Czech idiom with a twist. We often say to win by breast instead of win by a nose. He said:

We won by breast of a Korean woman.

It sounds terrible on an official conference but we are in the Czech Republic, the me too movement still has a long way to go.

He insisted on me translating for him. Is there any way to use win by a nose with a twist? Let me know please. Thanks.

  • Was the speaker who said "we won" himself Korean? – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 12 '18 at 13:35
  • Is the reference to a Koream woman's breasts idiomatic in Czech? I assume from your post it is. I find that randomness very interesting. Why Korean? – Eddie Kal Apr 12 '18 at 13:48
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    @L.Moneta - The Czech idiom translates literally as "by a breast", per the querent. The "twist" of the "Korean woman" is not part of the idiom; it is an attempt (which, as far as I am concerned, failed) to both be funny and to indicate that the margin was very slim - it plays to the stereotype that Korean women (women from most "Far Eastern" cultures, in fact) have noticeably smaller pectoral adipose deposits than women from most European cultures. – Jeff Zeitlin Apr 12 '18 at 15:26
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    Just to clarify your question: You're asking if there is any way to translate the Czech idiom "win by a breast" into English without causing offense? Or, if not, then to substitute a "funny" (but inoffensive) idiom with the same meaning? – Andrew Apr 12 '18 at 17:30
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    "Won by a nose" is used literally in horse racing. (It might also be used in dog racing.) Whereas in human track-and-field, races are determined by which runner's chest starts to cross the finish line first. Thus the original poster's "win by a breast" has a literal meaning for human races. (But "win by a breast" is not idiomatic in American English.) – Jasper Apr 13 '18 at 0:52
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The implication of the “funny” statement is that the win was by even less than the normal very close win (“by a nose”). In English, that can sometimes be expressed as “winning in a photo finish” (link is to Merriam-Webster, online), implying that the victory was so close that one would have to closely examine a picture of the actual finish to determine exactly who won.

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(This answer assumes you're looking for a diplomatic solution that downplays the offensiveness while preserving a sense of humor.)

by a nose hair

Although win by a nose is an standard English idiom, this suggestion is not. But since there is a separate idiom, by a hair (also by a whisker or by a hair's width/breadth), your meaning of "even smaller than a narrow margin" would be understood along with the humorous intent.

by the skin of a hen's tooth

This also combines two existing English idioms for effect.
By the skin of one's teeth means to barely succeed and further implies that luck was involved.
As scarce as hen's teeth refers to something extremely rare in a stereotypically country way.

N.B. Although mixed metaphors are normally to be avoided, their deliberate choice here is the point of the joke. One danger of combining idioms like this is that it may confuse language learners, who may not notice the humor and take the intended joke as a common phrase in English.

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You could refer to the team that came in second:

We just managed to nip the {____} team.

We nipped the {___}.

  • Given the context, nip is a questionable choice. It's even more offensive as a racial slur. – Gossar Apr 13 '18 at 17:16
  • The translation attempted to preserve some of the original's offensiveness. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 13 '18 at 18:45
  • I thought as much. But by not making that explicit, this answer could cause problems for someone unaware of the history of the word. – Gossar Apr 13 '18 at 18:54
  • Maybe you should stand guard. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 13 '18 at 19:10
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    All the more reason to elaborate—perhaps "This translation attempts to preserve some of the original's offensiveness by making a pun on the word nipple. The word nip also has a history on its own as an ethnic slur." – Gossar Apr 13 '18 at 21:02
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Another possibility would be a pun: "It was a clothes call."

The saying is normally "It was a close call," but replacing that with clothes gives it a humorous twist. The two words are pronounced similarly (and often identically, even though they shouldn't be), and the race could have been won "by the difference in the thickness of worn clothing."

  • The pun only works in writing, it's a clever one, but in speech hardly any one would get it. – Mari-Lou A Jun 1 '18 at 19:48

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