No. 830



It is often said that an honest confession is good for the soul. I certainly hope this is true. This is because I am about to make one. For most of my life I have known what an idiot was, but I had no idea what an idiom was. Do you know? If you do, you are way ahead of me in this area of our various language peculiars. Fortunately, this changed for me several weeks ago while attending an interdenominational prayer breakfast at one of our local churches. A well-versed gentleman by the name of Joe Heird, who has become my friend, brought the program that day and he talked about Idioms.
In case you don’t already know, an idiom is an expression, word, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is comprehended in regard to a common use of that expression that is separate from the literal meaning or definition of the words of which it is made. There are estimated to be at least 25,000 idiomatic expressions in the English language. In linguistics, idioms are usually presumed to be figures of speech. Moreover, an idiom is an expression, word, or phrase whose sense means something different from what the words literally imply. When a speaker uses an idiom, the listener might mistake the actual meaning, if he or she has not heard this figure of speech before.
Idioms usually do not translate well -- in some cases, when an idiom is translated into another language, either its meaning is changed or it is meaningless. As you can guess, this drives teachers of ESL (English as a Second Language) crazy. If you are like me, you have probably been using idioms all the time and did not know what they were. Here are some of the more common, with maybe a comment or two by me, thrown in here and there. You will recognize that a good number of these come from the Bible, and if you are interested you might even look up the scripture references from where they came.
Here we go: “Fly in the ointment. My heart’s desire. Three score and ten. See eye to eye. Put words in one’s mouth. No rest for the wicked. Go the extra mile. Fight the good fight. O ye, of little faith. Woe is me. Living off the fat of the land. Can a leopard change its spots? Fall from grace. Don’t cast your pearls before swine. Wolf in sheep’s clothing. Writing on the wall. Sweat of your brow. Thorn in the flesh. Pride goes before a fall. Skin of your teeth. It is better to give than to receive. Love thy neighbor as thyself. Man after his own heart. Wash your hands of the matter.”
There is a little difference in an idiom and a cliché. A cliché is just a truth used so many times that it has grown old, while an idiom is a figure of speech that is separate from its literal meaning. In preparation for writing this column, I went to the Internet and found scads of other idioms. One that struck me was “Zip your lip.” Now we both know that you cannot put an actual zipper on your lip but another way to say the same thing is “keep your mouth shut.”
When I read the idiom, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” which comes from the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible, I had the mental picture of a monkey sitting in a cage in the zoo, being fed by his caretaker and the monkey was asking himself this question, “Am I my keeper’s brother?” For sure, an interesting way to close this chapter on Idioms.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a public speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034. To begin a bookcase literacy project visit www.bookcaseforeverychild.com. You won’t go wrong helping a needy child.)