What are idioms?

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What are idioms?
10.30.03 (7:20 pm)   [edit]
The English language has thousands of idioms. idioms are expressions in which the meaning of the whole expression has a different meaning from the meanings of the individual words.

If you want to understand a language, you have to know what the idioms in that language mean. You have to figure out its "hidden" meaning, not the literal meaning.

I am working with a great little group of fifth graders who are excited to be learning about idioms.

So we are going to talk about idioms, their meanings, and their origins. We may illustrate them, write sentences, tell stories, and use idioms because we love learning about language. Some of us have spoken English all our lives and some are just learning. this blog is going to be a place where we can read and speak with new understanding and have lots of fun as we learn! The next post will spotlight our first idiom that we will be studying and enjoying using in many ways!

We want to give credit to [b][i]Scholastic Dictionary of Idioms [/i][/b]by Marvin Terban. It is the best book to learn idioms because it gives definitions and origins of idioms. We love this book. It is fun to read and we're learning a lot.

We get a kick out of learning about idioms!


posted by: Mrs. D (reply)
post date: 12.10.03 (7:48 pm)

This is a test.

posted by: Noe (reply)
post date: 01.22.04 (7:19 am)

I told my brother to pull himself together when he was crying when my baby brother broke his toy.

posted by: Luz (reply)
post date: 01.22.04 (7:29 am)

I told my sister to pull herself together when she was upset about my younger sister throwing up on her.

posted by: newbie (reply)
post date: 02.07.04 (2:43 pm)

putting on the dog

posted by: Israel "izzy" Cohen (reply)
post date: 06.18.04 (2:47 pm)

It seems to be not generally known that an idiom (in English) is generated and understood (in English) in much the same way as any other foreign word or expression, e.g. "bon appetit", "deja vu", or "e pluribus unum". The difference is ... when we say or write an obviously foreign expression, we know it is "foreign" and we expect the hearer/reader to recognize it as such and understand the meaning it has in the foreign language.

An idiom is a word or (usually) a phrase from an ancestral or foreign language that has become (re)spelled as common words of the target language. This "definition" is in complete agreement with the etymology of the word "idiom"... from Greek for: something that you (borrow and) make your own.

When you use idioms, you do not feel like you are using a foreign word/phrase and the words used may indeed call to mind their ordinary referrents. "It's raining cats and dogs. Be careful. Don't step on that poodle." But the meaning you convey remains the meaning of the original foreign/ancestral term.

There are several types of idioms:

Type 1 - "Clear text" foreign words/phrases that have been transliterated directly into common target-language words. Often the motivation for the original transliteration was to make a pun.

Examples using the [ancient sound] of some letters:

Hebrew maBooL GeSHeM SHQi3a = torrent rain descends, anciently sounded like maBooL Ge[T]eM [T]Qi[G]a ==> PoLe CaT aNd DoCGa ==> (raining) cats and dogs. Docga was OE for a 4-legged dog. In Pennsylvania Dutch, one hears (raining) cats and ducks, because their common word for dog is (German) Hund.

Aramaic KiSHoT BaGaD = truth + betray, or betray by revealing the truth, anciently sounded like Ki[T]oT BaGaD ==> (let the) CaT ouT (of the) BaG.

The same KiSHoT = truth occurs in the expression "Has the cat got your tongue?" ... usually said to a child who doesn't want to lie but also doesn't want to utter the truth.

The same BaGaD = betray occurs in the idiom "left holding the bag". You have been betrayed by your friends/associates. They got away, but you are left holding the "bag".

German acht/Achtung = (pay) attention + (Beweg)Grund = (motive), ground(s), basis, reason => "an axe to grind". In other words, beware the motive.

Type 1b - Similar to Type 1 but the ancestral/foreign phrase was a metaphor with a coded (not "clear text") meaning.

I'm gonna beat the "livin' daylights" outta ya < liver and lights. The liver is the most dense body part and "lights" was the OE word for lungs, the least dense body part. The meaning was figurative. The speaker did not intend to literally extract the liver and lungs.

"kick (the) bucket" < Semitic aiyin-gimel-bet bet-aiyin-dalet-nun as in Hebrew 3aGav B'3a:DeN = to make (physical) love in Paradise. This is still a Middle-Eastern metaphor for dying. On a less erotic note, we say "He went to his eternal reward." Both expressions are a euphemism for dying, a way to avoid saying "He died."

Type 2 - Translation into the target language of foreign-1 puns that had been transliterated from (usually) "clear text" foreign-1 or foreign-2 words/phrases.

The classic example is Job 19:20 (to escape) "by the skin of my teeth" meaning "hardly, barely, with difficulty". In Hebrew, Job said B'3or SHiNai = skin of my teeth. But Job was making a euphemistic pun on the Hebrew word B'QoSHi = barely, with difficulty ... at a time when the Hebrew aiyin had a G/K-sound, as in 3aZa = Gaza. Compare SKiN of Teeth with SCaNT = barely enough.

I have found several examples of Latin => Hebrew pun => English translation of the Hebrew pun:

Latin sopor sond = sleep soundly ==> Hebrew (li)SPoR tZoN = count sheep (to go to sleep)

Latin Saccharomyces cervisae = Brewer's yeast ==> Hebrew Sa3aR MiNSHaKH KeLeV = hair bite dog, i.e., "hair of the dog that bit you" = a hangover remedy. Cf the Greek 3-headed dog CeRBerus. Brewer's yeast is a very ancient remedy for a hangover.

Type 1 and Type 2 are sometimes combined in the same expression to form a somewhat redundant idiom.

Example 1: "break a leg" said to an actor to wish him/her good luck. The normal term in Hebrew or Yiddish would be BRaKHa = a blessing. The pun is the Hebrew term for a knee or leg: BeReKH. Both BRaKHa and BeReHK sound like the English word "break". Hence, "break a leg" instead of "a blessing" (on your performance).

Example 2: (cold enough to) "freeze the balls off a brass monkey". It means, cold enough to make you shiver. This phrase probably entered English from Arabic, most dialects of which convert a P-sound to B.

Hebrew PeLeTZ = shiver, tremble. Compare English palsy.
Hebrew P'LiZ = brass
P to B => BaLLS

Hebrew K'Foo = frozen
Hebrew KoF = monkey
Drop the K in KoF => oFF

So, "balls off" is a transliteration, while "brass monkey" is a translation, of the Semitic pun P'LiZ KoF = brass monkey on the plain text PeLeTZ K'Foo which means "shiver frozen". ==============================================================

To machine-translate idioms without table look-ups, one may need to determine the original source-language and sometimes to determine an intermediate language from which a translation was made.

As for human usage, the etymology is irrelevant. If e pluribus unum = "out of many, one" had become an English idiom, it might have been spelled "a flower-bush you name", but it would still mean "out of many, one". And it would have been used just like the foreign phrase is used.


Israel "izzy" Cohen

posted by: paolo (reply)
post date: 02.09.05 (2:13 am)

Patricia has a midas touch and have money to burn! what's the meaning? read!
Patricia has a talent to make money easily and very wealthy

posted by: carol walker (reply)
post date: 03.06.06 (9:47 am)

idims are great

posted by: Marleen (reply)
post date: 03.26.06 (9:17 pm)

I would say you Gotcha a great viewpoint.

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