Posts tagged ‘idioms’


“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


I was doing my semi-annual browsing in the book, “Dictionary of Idioms” from Scholastic, this morning while sipping my hot tea and enjoying my oatmeal chocolate chip cookie. (Yes, it is oatmeal today as part of my increased healthy diet. Seriously.)

The first idiom I saw was “Ace Up Your Sleeve.” The book stated that in the 1500’s, most people didn’t have pockets in their clothes. Sleeves served many purposes and by the 1800’s, when gambling with cards was popular, the players sometimes hid the best cards, such as the Ace, up their sleeves.

This idea took root as I did my house hike this morning. My hiking pants do not have pockets. It is allergy season, so my tissue goes into my sleeve. As I did that, I remembered that many people have said that only old ladies put hankies up their sleeves. (Surely by now you have an idea that I am way past the starting requirement to get Social Security.)

I wrote “hankies,” not tissues. What woman carries a handkerchief anymore? But when I was a kid, beautiful, fancy hankies were given as gifts. I got a lot of them because of my speaking and dancing recitals. (I believe mom was grooming me to be another Shirley
Temple. No such luck!)

By the time I was old enough to ride the bus downtown without a parent, my best friend and I would go together and she always pulled out a hankie knotted as a bag to retrieve her fare. Even then I found that amusing.

This same friend, when she was much younger, made a gift for her father for Christmas. It was a pocket. Not attached to anything. Just a pocket. It didn’t even have a hankie in it.

Here in Santa Fe, New Mexico, we have a very powerful and rather long allergy season. The city throbs with the sounds of snort, sniff and blow. Allergy medications practically sell out. Get your tissue early. You don’t want to be without.

Our big culprit is the juniper tree. When the wind blows, as it does often in the Spring, white, sticky stuff fills the air, attaching itself to everything. The only escape is to go up the mountains, above 7000 feet.

Well, my eyes are watering and I’m about to sneeze, so I’ve got to grab my tissue from inside my sleeve. Excuse me, please.

COMING NEXT: Flummoxed and Flimflammed