Idiom (ˈɪdɪəm) n A phrase which cannot be understood from the meaning of the individual words it contains, for example, “It’s raining cats and dogs.”
My mom introduced me to idioms when I was a kid by using them frequently. When I was misbehaving (roughly 23 hours per day), she would warn me that she had eyes in the back of her head. I can still picture them peering out at me. And in the evenings, she’d would ask me to go “stick your head through the door and tell your father dinner’s ready.”
Years later, my circle of friends included a roommate from the Netherlands named Constant who knew very little English. But that didn’t hinder him; he’d just transliterate colorful Dutch idioms. In the midst of a conversation he’d say something like, “Yeah, that’s like handing your uncle a fish while he’s riding a bicycle.”
Another foreign-born friend, an adorable woman from Bulgaria named Yolly, was fluent in English, but used delightfully quirky imported idioms. For example, she’d often tug below her eye and say, “See any boats?” I finally asked her what it meant. She said the phrase and accompanying action were used whenever anyone over-explained something. In fact, the idiom was so common in her country that the eye-tug was usually all that was needed.
She didn’t know the idiom’s derivation, but we figured it must mean something like, “Do you think there’s no brain in my head, just a lake with boats floating around in it?” For years after that, I’d tug on my eye when anyone over-explained something. Just so I could tell them about my wonderfully idiomatic friend Yolly.
What are some of your favorite idioms?