Tackling Idioms

Anyone who has ever had to learn English as something other than their primary language, has had to struggle through the task of discerning idioms. As a public service I've decided to do my small part to help out. Consider the below as a small but helpful reference for a handful of idioms. It's intended for those who are still having trouble understanding these unusual and rather unique forms of communication.

“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth“ - In the early part of the seventh century horses were still to be allowed to take part in various trades and compete directly with humans. Trades such as cooks, salon owners and gift wrappers. Horse gift wrappers or gift horses, wrapped beautiful presents, and were quite sought after. They used their teeth and tongues to wrap. As a matter of fact many humans looking to usurp their roles, tried to learn these skills. Horses re-acted by not wrapping gifts for any human caught trying to steal these tricks of the trade. Hence the phrase, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth“ At that time this was a popular way of saying, just enjoy the wrapping and don’t try and steal the secret. A simple lesson in being content. In fact, up until the Great Equestrian Revolution of 1052 when humans finally realized horses could be used for hard labor and transportation, horses enjoyed many human benefits. They owned houses, gardened and had monogrammed feedbags. Their only major disadvantage was not being able to remove a bit and bridle with that nimble tongue and agile set of teeth.

“Getting down to brass tacks" – This is very simple idiom. It means simply to get going, or get down to business. It comes from the nest building habits of the severely speckled horn tooter. The Horn Tooter, or simply Tooter for short, makes a nest completely out of brass tacks. As such, they tend to settle down near millinery and furniture repair shops. The point is the Tooter, would much rather toot it’s horn than care for it’s young. So as soon as the eggs hatch the little fellas learn to fly in a remarkably short period of time, or die trying. Severely Speckled Horn Tooters are very rare.

“Pie in the sky” - When commercial airlines first got started there was a bit of incision about what to serve for snacks on shorter flights. Most people believed that pretzels or peanuts would be the easiest but Earnest Bortman had another idea. He suggested a slice of pie for every passenger. Though many argued that this was neither convenient nor feasible Bortman would not be dissuade. This might also because he held large amounts of stock in giant pie distribution company. Who can guess? Anyway Bortman pitched the idea to every airline he could find and he was eternally optimistic about the outcome. In the end he became a laughing stock, but he will always be preserved by this idiom of wishful thinking.

I hope I have helped out in some small way for everyone wishing to know more about this truly unique language called English. And of course for anyone who is of a less then than trusting nature, please feel free to visit here, here and here.

7 comments:

Boston Love said...

"Better to serve just one evil master" is what I heard at my Board meeting last night. I was taken aback - was I (management)the "evil master" or the CPA? Be careful with your Idioms they can make you look Idiotic. ;)

kludge said...

Boston Love -

Agreed. Clearly the point was lost in translation. I don't even know what that means! They should make an "idioms for dummies" book...

...not that the right people would buy it.

SJ said...

Thanks for the lesson :) It was cool to hear where some of these things come from. I did a whole unit with my students in Missouri on idioms. Fun time.

kludge said...

SJ-

I presume you are talking about the links at the bottom. I was trying to come up with one for "don't try to teach your Grandma to suck eggs," but nothing was working...

I love idioms, but then, the proof is in the pudding I suppose.

J Crew said...

idioms are quite good. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water

SJ said...

I do enjoy them - I looked up "Paint the town red" - - and what was fun was when I taught them in MO, I had the kids illustrate them - that was pure entertainment!

jenylu said...

Thanks for the education Kludge -- it explained a lot. I didn't bother checking out your links, I could tell your explanations were legit!