Fun with Idioms

Do you know what an idiom is? A dictionary says an idiom is:

an expression in the usage of a language that is peculiar to itself either in having a meaning that cannot be derived from the conjoined meanings of its elements (such as up in the air for “undecided”)

OK, so what does that mean?

It means we use phrases that don’t make sense if you just look at the words and their meanings; however, the phrase itself does have a meaning that’s separate from the words’ meanings.

OK, so what does that mean?

It’s probably easier to show you. If you say, “It’s raining cats and dogs,” most speakers of English who have been raised speaking the language know that the phrase is an idiom and just means that it is raining heavily. It does not mean felines and canines are falling from the sky. That would be horrible.

  • Don’t get bent out of shape does not mean a person is twisted like a pretzel. It just means don’t get upset or angry about something.
  • If someone says they will do a certain thing when pigs fly, they are not crazy—they just mean they will probably never do it since pigs will never grow wings and fly.
  • You can say that again does not mean you are being asked to repeat yourself. It just means the person agrees with you.
  • If you are asked to break the ice, no one wants you to find ice and shatter it. Instead, that idiom just means to make people feel comfortable, perhaps by introducing them or saying something that they have in common.
  • If you are warned about the elephant in the room, that does not mean there is a pachyderm lumbering around. It means there is a topic/subject that no one wants to talk about, or everyone is avoiding.

There are thousands of idioms of all kinds, so it takes years and years to encounter them and make them part of speaking in English. Be aware of new ones, enjoy using them in conversation, but be careful using them with someone who has not spent years and years speaking English because you can obviously create a lot of confusion!

< Easy to Confuse: Many and Much

At a certain point in learning to speak, read, and write English, we arrive at…