David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
A Complete Idiot's Guide to Idioms

Not sure of the date on this one. I'm guessing February 2005.   It's a testament to Gary that he literally woke up one time and had the "Purple Rain" line ready right as that section was being worked upon.


WCAC/QuAAC Corner:  A Complete Idiots Guide to Idioms

David Fleming, executive director of faculty development and assessment

Gary Franchy, division chair, math


Dear Experts (please notice how politely I left off the quotation marks around that last word):

I keep coming across references that the play/film "La Cage aux Folles" means "Birds of a Feather," and I know it was remade into a film called "The Bird Cage." This didn't seem right to me; despite taking French 101 twice, I can't remember "cage" meaning "bird," nor "folles" meaning any kind of "feather." When I translated "la cage aux folles" using Google's Language Preferences, I received "cage of the insane ones." It seems to me that it's a giant leap from "cage of the insane ones" to "birds of a feather"...is this just a French idiom?

Your fan,

Loretta Sharma

Gary: I think "Birdcage" as a translation of "Cage of the Insane Ones" is "right on target," so long as the birds are loons.

Dave: [groan] I should leave now.

Gary:  Oh, just get "off your high horse", Mr. E.D. of Faculty Development and Assessment.

Dave: That's Dr. E.D. to you, buddy.

Gary: Must I always "feed your ego", DOCTOR Skippy?

Dave:  So, that's how it's going to be, eh?  Nothing but idioms throughout the whole article.

Gary:  At least you're "off the hook" from having to "lend an ear" to my usual parade of pop culture references.

Dave:  A discussion of idioms could really "shed some light" on the challenges they pose to communication with our ESL students. The consequences of such miscommunications can vary from serious to comical.

Gary:  Harold Ramis in Stripes?  Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam?

Dave:  So much for no pop culture references.

Gary:  It's a disease; you're free to "turn a deaf ear."

Dave:  And you're free to "zip it." Anyway, check out this site [dead link] on using idioms.

Gary:  It's pretty scary when the government is handing out tips on how to speak more clearly.

Dave: Back to "Cage of the Insane Ones"...

Gary: No! I'm not going back there! The doctors told me I was cured!

Dave [continuing, while ignoring Gary]: ...it's clear that we are dealing with an idiom here, in which case "all bets are off" regarding literal translation. According to one source, an idiom is "the assigning of a new meaning to a group of words which already have their own meaning" (Makkai). Idioms tend to be informal or even slang, and often become cliches through overuse; they also may take the form of traditional sayings or proverbs.

Gary: Can I "get a word in edgewise?" Here's an excerpt from an article I just found in a magazine. Try the following experiment: copy the paragraph, then go to Google Search. Click on the tiny blue "Language Tools" that appears to the right of the search box. Paste the paragraph into the text box, and translate it into Japanese. Now, take the foreign translation, and re-translate it back into English. What happens?

Holiday Gift-giving a Snap

Take it easy this holiday, and forego beating the bushes and battling crowds in search of the perfect gift. Instead, consider sending these holiday treats. For those who are keeping an eye on their budget, these recipes will not cost you an arm and a leg, only a little elbow grease.

Dave: "Holy cow!" Listen to this:

This holiday of the holiday which easy that the gift is given seeking the finishing all the gifts, strikes the bush in urgent acquisition, crowd puts off the fact that it fights.  However, consider the fact that treat of holiday is sent to these.  Budget is watched because of the ? ? and others, these cooking methods do not require in you the arm and the foot, but the grease of the small elbow.

Gary: ? ? ?!! I preferred his earlier stuff, like Purple Rain.

Dave: Well, a Japanese student would be relieved to know we don't cook with our feet.

Gary: "Strikes the bush" would certainly elicit a special visit from Homeland

Dave: "Crowd puts off the fact that it fights" pretty much covers the hiatus in bickering that my family observes during the holidays...

Gary:  Well, that last one doesn't apply to the combat shoppers responding to the announcement of a K-Mart blue-light special...

Dave: ...or the fans at a Pistons game...

Gary:  It certainly seems that students taking English as a Foreign Language are really "up a creek without a paddle."

Dave:  And in West Virginia that creek was always a "crick."

Gary:  You know, now that I think about it, what is it with the horse idioms.  I mean, what do they think about phrases like "straight from the horse's mouth?" That our barns are full of Mr. Eds?

Dave:  I said that's "Dr. ED" to you!

Gary: Yes, it is dread to me.  Meanwhile, what about "horse of a different color?" They must think our horses look like My Pretty Ponies.

Dave:  Back to the point.  For probably the fifth time in the history of this column, I'm going to have to make my relative point again.

Gary:  Not another West Virginia joke!

Dave:  Actually, in a way it is.  In graduate school at Indiana, I was in a class with a foreign student who was puzzled that I was from West Virginia.

Gary:  As we all are.  You really have cleaned up well, you know.

Dave:  Ha Ha.  No, I told him I was from the east, West Virginia.  You could see the befuddlement.  It wasn't helped that the guy from North Carolina told him he was from the south, or that the South Dakotan talked about living up north.

Gary:  "My head is splitting."

Dave:  About time that it's YOUR head that hurts.  Anyway, we tried to explain to him that these names, as is most language, are relative, dependent upon context.

Gary:  Well, you have "beaten a dead horse" with that point.

Dave: PETA would undoubtedly want that one changed.

Gary:  They certainly must prefer the Italian idiom "to catch two pigeons with one bean" to our "kill two birds with one stone."

Dave: No, I'm sure they have a problem with both.  "Two pigeons with one bean?"

Gary: Yes, I found it at this site of foreign idioms [another dead link] with their literal translations that made me "roll on the floor." Many of them are very similar to English phrases and some are "out of this world." 

Dave: Nice. I like the French idiom "save your saliva" as a retort for those who are "foaming at the mouth" about some issue, rather than our English admonition to "save your breath."

Gary: I agree, "save your breath" sounds more like a tag-line for Tic-Tacs.

Dave: Back to the point, I think we've really "hit the nail on the head." It's difficult to remember to watch for idioms when speaking with people who are still in the process of mastering our language.

Gary: "On the other hand," it's fine to use idioms, so long as one takes the time to explain them to the foreign student.

Dave: Exactly.  Well, I'm sure that we could "go on all day" with this, but I think we've answered the question.

Gary: So you feel you "got in your full two cents' worth" on this topic?

Dave: Yep. "End of story."