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Using Idioms in Everyday Speech. Knock Your Socks off!

Medical Pharmaceutical Translations • Apr 11, 2016 12:00:00 AM

It was an idiomatic kind of day. You may be wondering how I knew.  Well, on this particular day, I knew almost immediately when my boss walked in and said, “That’s it! I am no longer beating around the bush. We need to lay our cards on the table, kill two birds with one stone and get on the ball! It is time to get back to the drawing board!” Boy was she fired up!

I told her, “Listen. Hold your horses! You’re barking up the wrong tree! I haven’ t been missing the boat! I have been giving it the whole nine yards!”

“No. Not you,” she replied, “You, my magnificent employee, are the best thing since sliced bread. I am talking about burning the midnight oil to drum up business.”

Up until now I was taking this with a grain of salt, but this was straight from the horse’s mouth, not heard through the grapevine. I knew she meant business.

“Would you like my two cents?” I asked her.

“Yes. I’ll give you a penny for your thoughts. The ball is in your court. I am all ears.” She replied and sat back to listen.

I cut to the chase, “I have been working on just that. I grabbed the bull by the horns! I even made a presentation all about increasing our marketing presence without it costing us an arm and a leg.  And you know what they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.” With that we viewed my PowerPoint presentation laden with photographs and charts.

After our impromptu meeting, my boss said, “I think you hit the nail on the head! You’re right on the mark!” On we went with our day. Just like that. Idioms galore. I was a delightfully fun day.


Idioms abound. And they take up a large chunk of our every day. Think about the extensive amount of idioms we use. When we wear our hearts on our sleeves, come full circle, or go on a wild goose chase, we are using idioms coined by Shakespeare. Just try talking to an inquisitive young child and have them ask, “What does that mean?” Invariably that which they are demanding clarification of is an expression, a phrase, an oft-used idiom.  The same goes when we try to learn another language or when a teaching English as a second language.

Language learning is more than the study of the proper mechanics, vocabulary, grammar, formalities, conjugation and finding out where the bathroom is. Take the students out of the classrooms and place them in a local bar and it is as though they are entering yet another foreign world that breaks all of the rules they just learned. Language is looser, less structured. Even advertising may seem confusing upon first glance. It is trendy, glitzy, and full of slang and idioms not often taught in school.

Not easy to look up in a dictionary, idioms are vital to language learning.  Incorporating colloquial language reduces the level of formality and stress involved in holding a conversation and can be helpful in making new friends in a social gathering. They also make a student of any language sound as though they are more proficient in the language and feel less like “fish out of water” when they come across these idioms in daily life.

Each language has their own idioms that have evolved over time. All are difficult to translate into another language. For example, this website claims the French idiom “Ne pas être dans son assiette” literally means to “not be in one’s own plate.” As an idiom, it means one is feeling under the weather or not quite oneself. So when you proclaim, “Je suis désolé, mais je ne suis pas dans mon assiette aujourd’hui,” you are telling someone, “I’m sorry, I’m just not feeling myself today.” That is not easy for a human translator. Imagine how impossible it would be for a machine translator! In fact, one machine translator I used defined this idiom quite literally as “do not be on his plate.” This misses the mark by quite a bit and it relegates language to a colorless, staid, stagnant mass — quite opposite its ever-evolving and expressive nature.

When it comes to learning another language, each student’s language learning goals, differ. For board room meetings and graduate school essays, students must use a more formal tongue to communicate properly in these circles. If, on the other hand, they need or want to socialize, they will encounter and use colorful idioms along the way. And once in a blue moon if the cat doesn’t have your tongue, idioms can make for a fun-filled work day as well.

It is time for me to hit the road.

By Ilona Knudson

#translations #idioms #knockyoursocksoff #translatingidioms #aiatranslations

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