A Penny for My Thoughts on Idioms

1400 x 500-English Idioms

Idioms. Are they the best thing since sliced bread? Are they a far cry from sprucing up the English language, or do they actually bring new life to what could be mundane conversations? Let’s dive a little deeper into this.

Learning any language often can be an excruciating task, especially when it’s in addition to your native language. People often claim the English language is one of the hardest to learn for a multitude of reasons, but perhaps the straw that breaks the camel’s back in this case is the overuse of idioms. This reason is what I usually hear when people say the language poses problems for newcomers. At first, I did not realize just how many idioms we use on a daily basis. It was not until I took a course in linguistics and we studied idioms that I saw the light and understood how complex they make the English language.

First of all, let me cut to the chase. What exactly makes an idiom an idiom? Idioms can be defined as a phrase that’s meaning cannot be established based upon the given definition of each of the words in that phrase. If you’re still with me, hang on tight, because it’s about to get even more complicated. But, please have an open mind. Don’t be a fuddy-duddy. Go out on a limb with me, here. I’ve got a gut feeling that the rest of what I have to say will just be the icing on the cake when it comes to idioms.

Let’s try a common scenario in the English language and explain an idiom with more idioms. That sounds like fun, right? Of course I’m right. Now, fasten your seatbelts because here we go. . . .

I’m currently inspired by the weather outside.
One might say that it’s raining cats and dogs.
Oh, you’re not sure what that means? Well, let’s just say that a real storm is brewing out there.
I was as right as rain—on cloud nine so to speak, but now the weather seems to be raining on my parade.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that every cloud has a silver lining, but it seems to me that when it rains, it pours.
Now, I’m quite literally under the weather.

Wasn’t that a joy to read? Could you imagine trying to explain all of this to someone who is not a native English speaker? It’s times like these when I gain new perspectives and understand how hard it can be to learn all that a language has to offer. So, now that I’ve given you some ideas, jump on the bandwagon and try to speak a conversation in idioms and see how far you can go! As for me, I better hit the road, but thanks for letting me bend your ear on idioms.

KGarrettKaitlynn Garrett
Associate Student Representative, Southwestern Region, 2017-2018
Omicron Mu Chapter
Henderson State University, Arkadelphia, AR


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  • I had an American colleague giving a presentation in Nigeria. English is the official language there, but it’s a second or third language for most. My colleague used an idiom and realized they didn’t understand it, so he tried to explain it and without thinking used another idiom … so tried a different explanation and used another idiom! I so wish I was there so I could have written down that series of mishaps to share, but now he doesn’t remember what the idioms were.

    • That would be a wonderful string of mishaps to have recorded! Idioms are such second nature, it can be so hard to identify them and replace them on the fly when you are speaking to a second language speaker who simply would be unfamiliar with their meaning.

  • This blows my mind, since I never realized the issue is such a hot potato! I think you’re right on the ball and hit the nail on the head with this one.

  • Thanks for this. I tried to chew the rag about it with my young son, but he couldn’t cut the mustard, so I sent him packing!