Idioms make English
language even more ridiculous
Monday, September 23, 2013 4:37 AM
We all know English is a ridiculous language. Week after week, I manage to escape a barrage of convoluted syntax, grammar traps and the mystifying tenets of phraseology. Articles appear in newspapers with apparently no battle wounds, but if you asked me, I would tell you they are lying.
Some of these wounds of confusion are self-inflicted and among the greatest perpetrators are idioms. Idioms are figurative phrases that have a different literal meaning, but take that with a grain of salt. Each language and culture has its own set of idioms that are used in day-to-day communication.
I'm not a linguist by training, but I find languages fascinating. Truly, there are limitless ways to communicate. Unfortunately, translation is thus made necessary for people who use different languages or methods of communication. Phrases get jumbled as grammar worlds war. Necessary embellishments of tone and meaning get exaggerated or diluted. Things get lost in translation.
I am always impressed when I meet someone who can speak multiple languages. I myself studied a little Spanish in high school, but didn't pursue opportunities to further my grasp of the language. I have the feeling now, which I think people who quit learning piano may have in their later years.
Learning more than one language is a great idea. After all, wouldn't it be nice to be able to clearly communicate with as many people as possible? Unfortunately, idioms are the devil of clear communication. While literal language is the friend of inter-linguistic communication, idioms are the bane of languages' existence.
I knew several foreign exchange students in high school. They impressed me with their knowledge and ability to use English. When I first met them, I remember becoming hyper-aware of what I was saying and how I was saying it. I have a similar awareness whenever I talk to someone for my job. I constantly evaluate myself. Am I getting the point across succinctly? Am I using the right words? Am I unintentionally conveying a different meaning through my words?
During these conversations, I suddenly realize the words I have been using do not promote clarity. My understanding of the effect of my choosing to be literal versus figurative is heightened. Then I stop in mid-sentence, back track, and suddenly have more issues than perhaps I would have if I had just continued speaking figuratively. Semantics. The word escapes my mouth curse-like.
I assume there were many instances when the foreign exchange students were utterly mystified by the English coming out of some people's mouths. Perhaps they were sitting in math class when the teacher assigned a problem to a student who responded, "Piece of cake." Sorry, I don't see any cake in this room, only some pi that I can't eat.
Maybe they are in chemistry class when the teacher draws a complex sugar structure on the board and asks a student to identify it. The response comes as, "It's all Greek to me." Sorry, but there are zero words on the board with just a picture that looks like a tessellation of hexagons.
Perhaps a teacher is repeating a concept over and over again and a student mutters, "Stop beating a dead horse." Sorry, this is English class and we're talking about punctuation, not animal cruelty.
I could go on, but I think you understand. We live in an interesting world, don't we? It's a world where people can say one thing and mean another while sounding like they mean what they are saying.
It's a world where sarcasm and sardonicism have become an acceptable way to communicate even though they do little to promote understanding. It's a world where people gain understanding based upon their own interpretation instead of taking people at their word. This promotes diversity and richness in our language, but it has come at the expense of better and more understanding relationships with people.
How do you communicate with others and is there a way it can be improved?
My first ironic suggestion: use idioms. I'll be honest. Idioms are some of the least controversial phrases to use in everyday language between two native speakers. It's when you learn another language that they become a hassle. Otherwise, they do add to the culture of language quite nicely. Of course, there are some that I will never understand.
I did some acting in high school and so I would hear the idiom, "Break a leg." Sorry, I'm not jumping off of the stage so I don't know how it is possible and why would you say such a thing?
I'll cut to the chase, you are driving me up a wall with your cock and bull story and don't think I won't get down to brass tacks about this. Yeah, I'll give a taste of your own medicine.
How idiotic . . . or idiomatic.