“Cut off your nose to spite your face.” If you haven’t heard that phrase during your lifetime, where have you been? Of course, if English is your second (or more) language, perhaps you are now recoiling at such a thought.

Our language is filled with idioms, phrases, sayings and expressions that make no sense if you “take them at face value.” I’m guessing that there are a lot of other languages that have the same situation but I’m an English-only person.

If you’ve read my book, “Ticked Off and Tickled About It,” then you know that I am a lover of trite phrases. When I first got the “Dictionary of Idioms,” by Marvin Terban, in around 1997, I was astonished to find that I had heard almost every one of the over 600 sayings in his book. I’ve often wondered if that is because of the area in the country where I grew up or is it a generational thing? Over the years, I’ve sometimes been asked to explain what I mean when I blurt out an idiom and that never ceases to surprise me.

Language is such an incredible thing. After helping young children for over fifteen years with learning to read, I realize that it takes so many diverse elements in a person to make it possible to learn a language. Some kids pick it up easily and others may struggle all their lives. And when it comes to learning more than one language, it seems that even age is important. I’ve heard and read over and over that after your teen years, it becomes much harder to learn more than one language.

Most serious writers avoid using idioms because they are considered to be trite, and they are. I have written about this before, which I guess makes this whole thing I’m about to write–trite.

My so-called theory is that trite idioms are like trite traveling. When people go to Paris, for example, are they going to avoid seeing the Eiffel Tower? If they land in London, are they going to close their eyes when passing by the Tower of London? I think not. These places are not original choices in expressing yourself, but they are known by most people and are rated “fun.”

So, what sent her off on this rant today, you may be wondering. Well, when I got to “cut off your nose to spite your face,” in the book, it just “stopped me cold.” I thought, what if you said that to a child, and I shuddered.

Anyway, I “had to get this off my chest” and you can just “take it with a grain of salt,” if you like.

COMING NEXT: Babies Are Eager To Walk



  1. I like the analogy with travel. So idioms are the big tourist spots that people see first. Once they’ve seen them, to know the country better they need to explore off the beaten track and see all the places where locals hang out.
    Each country has the big tourist spots and each country has its peculiar idioms.

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