Today, as you are reading this, I am most likely sitting in the waiting room of the oral surgeon, waiting for my older daughter to recover from the procedure to remove her wisdom teeth. She isn’t the first, and she sure isn’t going to be the last, but I’m still not really looking forward to it.
But as usual, talking about something common, “wisdom teeth,” makes me wonder about our language, and all the silly idioms we use. Where do these things come from? Here are some of the things I sometimes ponder.
1. If these are “wisdom teeth,” why on earth are we taking them out? With all the brain cells we kill, don’t we need all the help we can get? One would think these excess teeth should be called something else, like PITAs. “Yes, I am having my PITAs out tomorrow.” That makes more sense, don’t you think?
2. Does a “gut stuck pig” really bleed like no other bleeding thing alive?
3. Even kindergartners knows that with the exception of Disney movies, birds do NOT talk. Well, for the most part. Parrots and some parakeets REPEAT. But they don’t talk. They mimic. So who is this “little bird” that keeps ratting on everyone? Shouldn’t someone find a big cat to take out this little bird? Just saying….
4. A “month of Sundays” indicates a long period of time, and yet, if it were really a month of Sundays, it would be a four-day MONTH–five days max. That’s not a long time. Well, if you are waiting for something it might SEEM like a long time, but the older you get, the faster life goes. That’s why old people drive so slow. They have figured it out. SLOW DOWN. You will get there quick enough. Sorry, I digressed a little there.
5. “A penny saved is a penny earned.” Huh? Yeah, that’s pretty much all I have to say about that one.
6. “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Well, see, here’s the thing. I’m a writer. I do that better than I take pictures, although I enjoy both. But I’d like to see someone tell a story like any of the ladies here at MSW using JUST a picture. Go ahead. Try. I dare you. Yes, I know that sometimes just showing someone a picture is easier than explaining or describing. But that only means you are FAILING TO COMMUNICATE. Maybe rethink what you are saying.
7. “About as useful as a chocolate teapot.” I can think of many uses for a chocolate teapot. Many. Would it be milk chocolate? Are there nuts involved? I would say this little idiom is just ridiculous. Any wise woman recognizes the usefulness of ANYTHING chocolate.
8. “When life gives you lemons, make lemonaide.” Yeah, well what about the sugar? I don’t see anyone mentioning the SUGAR here. Do you KNOW how much sugar is necessary to make lemonaide drinkable? The lemons alone are pretty useless, unless, say, you were using them to squirt over fish. Then it might make some sense. But I guess “When life gives you lemons, squirt it over fish,” doesn’t have the same ring. But that would not require another ingredient, like SUGAR. See my point?
9. “Add fuel to the fire.” Okay, I see the point here, but IF you don’t add FUEL to the fire, it won’t burn. So if you started the fire on purpose, and don’t add fuel, then you are wasting your time!
10. “Ants in your pants.” What I want to know here is, who is the first person caught with ants in their pants? How did this happen? A practical joke gone awry? Is there someone who has actually experienced ants in their pants, and if so, WHAT was it like? A kindergartner on crack? We all want to know.
Idioms are one of the things that makes English such a difficult language to learn, and we use them all the time. The question I wonder, though, is should a WRITER be using them in a novel of fiction?
My personal thought on this is no. They are very much a part of personality, or “voice.” Unless your book is first person, an idiom is jarring to the reader, and makes them stop and think, “Huh? Why did this book just stop me and tell me that? Oh wait, this book was written by a real person who must talk like that.”
Now putting an idiom in dialogue in a different thing. We DO speak like that. In fact, I have a friend who uses them every other sentence, and sometimes I just want to shake her and beg her to STOP. If I had a nickel for all the times she has told me that….. AUGH. Stop me now.
TGIF! Ack! Ahem. So what do you think? Do idioms bother you? Do you use them often? Should writers use them?