"Like carrying coals to Newcastle"
April 29, 2015 3:29 AM   Subscribe

I used the expression "Like carrying coals to Newcastle" with my wife, who is originally from Ecuador. There is a different version in Ecuador. What other linguistic and regional variations do we know?

When my wife didn't understand the phrase, I explained that it is a British idiom that "connotes a foolish action, because, historically, you would have been taking a commodity (coal) to a place where it was already plentiful (Newcastle)."

"Oh!" she said. "Es como llevar piñas a Milagro! ["It's like carrying pineapples to the town of Milagro", where they grow pineapples.] That's what we say in Ecuador."

I'd be fascinated to know other variants worldwide.
posted by quarantine to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Selling ice to an Eskimo.
posted by pipeski at 3:40 AM on April 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

In Russian, В Ту́лу со свои́м самова́ром не е́здят, means "You don't take a samovar to Tula."
posted by stinker at 3:44 AM on April 29, 2015 [5 favorites]

Preaching to the choir? (I'm from the US South, where there's lots of choirs and preaching.)
posted by mibo at 3:47 AM on April 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Some more are suggested at this livejournal post, for example: ‘(bringing an) Owl to Athens’ in classical Greek; and ‘to take cumin to Kerman’ (Persian).
posted by misteraitch at 3:49 AM on April 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

In Dutch "Water naar de zee dragen": Carrying water to the sea
posted by PaulZ at 4:19 AM on April 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Busman's holiday (also British)
posted by atlantica at 4:24 AM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Bringing sand to the beach.
posted by readery at 4:54 AM on April 29, 2015

Busman's holiday (also British)

Not quite the same - it's a holiday where you do something like your job.

More options:

Vizet hord a Dunába. (Hungarian) He is taking water to the Danube.
es como llevar naranjas a Valencia (Spanish) It's like taking oranges to Valencia.
gi bakerbarn brød (Norwegian) To give bread to the child of a baker
vender mel ao colmeeiro (Portuguese) to sell honey to a beemaster
posted by zamboni at 5:39 AM on April 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Selling ice to an Eskimo

I have always known this to have a different meaning than coals to Newcastle, which is about futility or foolishness. I most often hear "She could sell ice to an Eskimo," in which idiom the phrase is praise (of a certain sort) for a person's persuasiveness.
posted by OmieWise at 5:50 AM on April 29, 2015 [11 favorites]

Selling sand in Sahara (Danish).
posted by AwkwardPause at 5:55 AM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Alcinoo poma dare (Latin) To give apples to Alcinous. (Bonus: sending cider to Herefordshire.)
Crocum in Ciliciam ferre: (Latin) to carry saffron to Cilicia.
Levar ferro a Biscaia (Portuguese) Taking iron to Biscay.
posted by zamboni at 5:58 AM on April 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Tereciye tere satma (Turkish) Don't sell cress to the cress-seller.
to carry Pepper to India (Persia)
To go sell a needle in the street where blacksmiths work (Gujerati)

And via this thread, the motherlode.

The Antiquity of Proverbs: To Carry Coals to Newcastle
A farthing to the millions of Croesus. (Greek).
Carrying saut to Dysart and puddings to Tranent. [Sometimes this saying is used only in part and treated as two proverbs.] (Scotch).
Carry vegetables to the town of vegetables. (Hebrew).
Like selling needles in the blacksmith's street. (Telugu).
Like selling pots in Potter's Street. (Telugu).
Putting salt into the sea. (Gaelic).
Selling needles at the iron mungers [sic]. (Bengali).
Sending salt to the salt pit. (Welsh).
That were sending butter to a dairyman's house. (Gaelic).
That were sending wood to Lochaber. (Gaelic).
To add a farthing to the riches of Croesus. (Latin).
To act cupbearer to the frogs. (Greek).
To carry apples to Alcinous. (Greek).
To carry blades to Damascus. (Asiatic).
To carry box to Cytorus. (Greek).
To carry brine to Apamaea and fish to Acco. (Hebrew).
To carry cockles to St. Michael. (French).
To carry cumin seed to Kirmin. (Persian).
To carry fish to the Hellespont. (Greek).
To carry indulgences to Rome. (English).
To carry leaves to the woods. (French).
To carry muria to Spain or fish to Acco. (Ancient Hebrew).
To carry oil to the city of olives—sometimes quoted " To carry oil to Olivet." (Hebrew, Greek).
To carry owls to Athens. (Greek).
To carry peppers to Hindustan. (Persian).
To carry straw to Ephraim. [Ephraim being the wheat growing district of Palestine.] (Ancient Hebrew).
To carry the clod to the plowed field. (Greek).
To carry water to the river. (French).
To carry wood to the forests. (Latin).
To carry wood to the mountain. (Spanish).
To cart water to the Thames. (English).
To offer honey to one who owns beehives. (Spanish,Portuguese, Italian).
To pour water into the Severn. (Welsh).
To send enchantments to Egypt. (Hebrew).
To send fir to Norway. (Dutch, Danish).
To send water to the sea. (French, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Spanish, Osmanli).
To sell shells to those who come from St. Michel. (French).
To show the path to one who knows it. (Welsh).
To throw brine into the sea. (Welsh).
To throw water into the river. (Persian).
That's probably enough for now.
posted by zamboni at 6:22 AM on April 29, 2015 [15 favorites]

Wood to the forest (Polish)
posted by migurski at 7:59 AM on April 29, 2015

"Like taking coal to Newcastle" works perfectly for Newcastle in Australia too. I always thought that was cool. Newcastle, Australia, is also a coal town. They're not very original with names down there...
posted by jujulalia at 8:36 AM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hey, it's relatively creative, as far as Australian placenames go. Before that, the settlement was named Coal River, because there's coal… and a river. Coal to Coal River doesn't quite have the same ring to it.
posted by zamboni at 9:38 AM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Coal River is about as creative as Newcastle, which was named after the New (1080AD) Castle.
posted by fings at 9:52 AM on April 29, 2015

Bringing tulips to Holland.
posted by mefireader at 11:08 AM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Carrying tea to China (US South)
posted by mmiddle at 12:22 PM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I suspect this one might be apocryphal, but: vampires to Santorini?
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 10:43 PM on April 29, 2015

It works for New Castle, Pennsylvania too, jujulalia!
posted by holybagel at 12:50 AM on April 30, 2015

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