Thursday, February 25, 2010

An Idiotic Idiom

An Idiom is a phrase that has a meaning different from the dictionary definitions of the individual words themselves. Idioms are pretty common in the day to day language of we Americans. But imagine being in America from a foreign country – say France, and trying to figure out with a French-to-English Dictionary how to interpret an idiom.

Consider the phrase - “Keep your shirt on”. The poor Frenchman is standing there looking up the words – “Let’s see, ‘keep’ translates Écouter… meaning to continue”. And while he’s trying to determine what it is he needs to continue, an American would have already given the appropriate response, “Oh yeah? Well, blow it out your ear, buddy!”

You may think I got up on the wrong side of the bed, or that I’m not playing with a full deck, but I have an ax to grind...

Another good example of an idiom would be “fire a shot across his bow”. It comes from naval warfare, when they want to fire a warning shot without doing damage to the other ship. You don’t actually get a gun and shoot across somebody’s bow. I’m not even sure what somebody’s bow would refer to (although I’m quite sure what somebody’s stern refers to!) Nowadays such a warning shot would probably be performed with a letter or a phone call… a stern phone call.

A really bad example of an idiom would be “wrap my head around that”. I heard one of the singers on American Idol say that the other night, and I thought “that’s been used to death”. It apparently means someone is having a difficult time understanding something, or perhaps accepting something.

Country singer Lucinda Williams has a song titled “Wrap My Head Around That”. I’d never heard of it – or her either for that matter - so I went and listened to it on the internet. Well, in truth I only listened to about half of it. It was so bad it made me want to wrap my head - into a wall. Hey, that makes more sense anyway, doesn’t it! Maybe I should write a song.

Now, I’m not pulling your leg, and I don’t mean to get in your face, but lend me an ear. You may be on the fence about this, or we may be on the same page. See, the overuse of idioms just drives me up the wall. You may think I got up on the wrong side of the bed, or that I’m not playing with a full deck, but I have an ax to grind. So, at the risk of going out on a limb, let me cut to the chase.

I may be barking up the wrong tree, I may have bitten off more than I can chew, but, come hell or high water, I’m ready to get down to brass tacks. Maybe I should just let sleeping dogs lie, but I’m not going to pass the buck... in fact, the buck stops here! I’m ready to pull the plug. The past is water under the bridge, but now I’m going to use everything but the kitchen sink to put a stop to the use of annoying idioms. And I’m not quittin’ ‘til the cows come home! You can bet your bottom dollar on it.

That hits the nail on the head!

Photo Columbia Figurehead by Andrew Schmidt

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