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I have been trying laboriously to find an equivalent idiom or a catchy phrase to the one we have in Arabic مثل الأطرش بالزقة which simply means, “He is like a deaf man at a wedding procession”.

It is used when two or more people are talking about a specific topic and one person in that group (or someone who happens to join in) is completely ignorant about the topic and cannot follow the conversation. That person might then say, “I’m like a deaf man at a wedding procession”, or the others may say it about him.

I was just curious if there was any similar idiom in English; or if not, is there anything in vicinity of it, or some catchy phrase which people usually say or any casual sayings?

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Depending on your age and the informality of the conversation you might say, "So, I'm totally clueless here, but ..." –  Jim Jul 23 at 4:19
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Your explanation of the Arabic phrase is quite hard to follow. Do you mean when someone comes along from ‘the outside’ and butts into a conversation without knowing what the conversation was about at all, turning it into whatever he wanted to talk about? Or do you mean that he gives his viewpoints on whatever the conversation was about without knowing anything about the topic? Or something else entirely? If it's the former, a common phrase is “(He butted in) with all the tact of [something clumsy and tactless]”. The last bit can be anything that fits. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 23 at 7:31
    
"Like a dog in an art gallery" (with surprisingly few Google hits) has been used to describe the situation where a person is totally unaware of the significant events taking place all round them. –  Edwin Ashworth Jul 23 at 10:01
    
@JanusBahsJacquet what it means is not butting in, it's just that someone has no idea about what a group of people are talking about (he is part of that group) so he uses that kind of simile in Arabic both humorously and in order to know what they are talking about, so is there anything in English likewise. –  Keffiyeh Jul 23 at 18:36
    
@Keffiyeh So you mean that he is aware that the group is talking about something he is unable to follow, and then he himself might say, “I feel like a deaf man at a wedding procession!” to indicate that he doesn’t understand the topic? –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 23 at 18:40

5 Answers 5

Possibly: "Being the odd man out."

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Or maybe something like "he was in dreamland" ... or, "Earth to cloud nine!" ... that type of thing? –  Joe Blow Jul 23 at 7:45

The most common figure of speech in a situation like the one you describe is to say that something (a conversation, a topic, or especially a joke) is (or goes) over someone’s head, as in sense 1 of this Oxford Dictionaries entry:

Beyond someone’s ability to understand:
the discussion was over my head

If the person who does not understand the conversation is the one saying it, it will often be in a slightly self-deprecating form, such as:

Woah … this is way over my head.

If others say it about him, they are quite likely to come off as fairly condescending.

From the notion of something passing over one’s head come two closely related gestures that are often used together:

  1. Moving one of your hands quickly over your head (from the front to the back), as if imitating something physically flying past you above your head; and
  2. Saying, “Whoooosh!”, imitating the sound of someone whooshing past very close to you.

Once again, this is seen as slightly self-deprecating if done by the person who does not understand, and definitely offensive if done by others.

 

An alternative to expressing that something goes over one’s head is to state that one is out of one’s depth (sense 1.2), an extended sense of a phrase meaning ‘standing in water that is too deep’:

In a situation that is beyond one’s capabilities:
they soon realized they were out of their depth in Division One
I find it difficult to talk in a situation like this—I’m out of my depth

This is a bit more polite and less self-deprecating; it’s also less of an idiom and more of a straightforward collocation. Something like the following is a quite polite way of saying that you don’t understand the topic:

I’m afraid I can’t follow you. I’m a bit out of my depth in this conversation.

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If you don't understand a conversation you might say I couldn't make heads or tails of what they were saying.

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The lights are on, but nobody's home, meaning that the person gives the appearance of being alert and attentive but they really are not. Sometime this is because the subject is beyond their comprehension, but it is also used to mean that they are more generally incapable of coherent thought (i.e., they are not very smart). (ref, ref)

Poor Jen tried to keep up with the conversation. After returning from so long in that backwater on the west coast, we could see that all the lights were on, but nobody was home.

This is not a phrase one would use when referring to oneself.

Closer to your own phrase is he's as deaf as a post (ref), with the simile attributed to John Palsgrave's Acolastus:

How deaf an ear I intended to give him ... he were as good to tell his tale to a post.

This is literally about the ability to hear, and not about ability to comprehend, and could be used in a self-deprecating reference. I might say to someone (although many hearing impaired people would refuse to make such an admission):

You know I'm as deaf as a post, and I can't hear anything you're saying with all of this racket.

But shorter is better, and one wouldn't usually be so emphatic about oneself, so

You know I'm deaf...

would be better.

It is similar to the invective he's as dumb as a post, but that would not be used reflexively because it refers to one's intelligence rather than one's ability to speak.

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"Lost the Thread"

He lost the thread of the conversation.

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No, that implies he knows what was going on but what momentarily distracted and then couldn't get back into the flow of the conversation again; it doesn't mean that he doesn't understand what the conversation is about. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 23 at 22:32

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