Saturday, May 18, 2013

Saturday Idioms

By JccKeith

Hey, hey, hey – it’s Saturday!  Again.  That means I am going to rant or rave about something.  I know what you’re thinking – what’s it going to be?  Will it be a rant?  Will it be a rave?  Will it just be an opinion about something completely ludicrous and insignificant?  I just know you are on the edge of your seat with anticipation… so I’ll not keep you waiting any longer! 

Today is the day I rave about something.  Something we all use on a regular basis – idioms.  Yes, those cool, nifty little phrases whose meanings are not what you might think.  Just to be clear, for those not paying attention – I did not say I was going to rave about idiots.  I have a few opinions on idiots but they are fairly negative so I won’t post them here.

Idioms, according to, are nouns.  Their definition is as follows as I quote:
1. an expression whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its constituent elements, as kick the bucket or hang one's head.

I like idioms.  I use them all the time.  Just today I was thinking about the recent rain and the phrase, “It’s raining cats and dogs.”  I decided to look up this quaint little saying and find out where oh where it originated.  I’ll skip that part because frankly, how it originated is unclear and boring.  The part I want to share is that on one page, I found a person who felt it necessary to clarify that the phrase is not in any sense literal, “i.e. it doesn't record an incident where cats and dogs fell from the sky."  
Hmm… because you needed to be told that cats and dogs have never rained down from the sky.

Anyway, back to what I was going on about.  Idioms are fantastic!  I love using them in everyday life if for no other reason than because I can.  Unfortunately, I have become aware that the idioms I use everyday are not widespread.  Kick the bucket, bucket list, hang one’s head in shame may be universally understood but many used locally would not be.  An example of this, off the top of my head – or really from Burn Notice as I watch it quite frequently – is the phrase “catch a fey.”  According to the show, this is gangsta type talk for ‘catch a bullet to the head’ or just ‘catch a bullet’ or something to that effect.  See, only people who a. understand this specific type of talk or b. people who watch Burn Notice would know the meaning of the phrase.

This is because idiom can also mean “the language peculiar to a people or to a district, community, or class: dialect.”  So I have to be careful in my writing to not include idioms in the general sections.  In the dialect between characters, sure a character from a specific area would use certain idioms.  Or a character that belongs to a certain group of people, such as RPG players – note, if you don’t know what RPG stands for you clearly do not belong to the group of people who play them – might say, “Roll for initiative.”

The phrase “Roll for Initiative” does not conform to the first definition of idioms.  Its meaning is not unclear if you
belong to the group of people who play RPGs.  Its meaning can be deciphered from its components: Roll is because you will roll a 20 sided die, Initiative is a dexterity check made at the beginning of a battle or activity in RPGs.  The higher the initiative roll the sooner your character gets to take their turn.  This phrase is an idiom because it conforms to the second definition of being a phrase employed by a certain community of people.

Now you know and knowing is half the battle.  So the next time you use some phrase that either a. has an unclear meaning that cannot be deciphered from the individual components of the phrase or b. is specific to a certain community, group or area of people – celebrate because it’s an idiom.  And I like to say the word idiom.  Let me say it again, idiom.  Just don’t confuse idioms with euphemisms.  Euphemisms are words put in place of other words because the original words or phrase is unpleasant, unsettling, abrasive, disliked, inappropriate, you get the idea.  Yay for idioms!  Any other fans out there of idioms?

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