Apparently an idiom is a ‘word or group of words that take on a new meaning when used in a different way to their usual sense’, which just sounds complicated.
‘Raining cats and dogs’, at the tender age of 17 hoping to learn once and for all the meaning of the word ‘idiom’, upon looking it up in the family dictionary, reading the explanation but drawing a blank, was the example given…
Idioms are perhaps better recognised as those hackneyed or clichéd words or phrases, often involving metaphor, hyperbole or other parts of speech that don’t strictly remain true to a word’s literal meaning, but which bring to the party a particular, often light-hearted and usually more memorable meaning.
…I would have put money on the fact that the idiom in this case was the word ‘raining’, but then the whole ‘cats and dogs’ thing really didn’t sit right with me either; 17-year-old me felt that he was pretty clued up when it came to recognising metaphors though – so did it turn out that ‘idiom’ was really just a fancy way of saying ‘metaphor’? …
Idioms can be described furthermore as the inane and largely meaningless, daft little quips, two-bit remarks, or silly additions/tags/add-ons at the ends of sentences that really offer nothing extra but which pompous folk are sometimes heard to utter in the belief that their words make them appear clever in the opinions of their audience, while in reality, as we all know – because it honestly doesn’t take a brain surgeon to work it out – unnecessary words are a good way to lose your readers’ interest.
…’Raining cats and dogs’, in my 17-year-old-opinion, was a cheesy saying that old people used to use when it was pissing down outside, which was all well and good but I still couldn’t for the life of me work out which word in that sentence was actually the idiom…
To a nervous orator speaking off the cuff, idioms are a Godsend – prefabricated statements that slot effortlessly into speech and which are easily recognisable to an audience – yet there is a major issue to be taken with idioms: they’ve lost their way.
…I recall glancing hopelessly between the definition presented to me and the example, thinking, ‘Yes, but what does it mean?’ All I (thought I) knew was that somewhere within the saying ‘raining cats and dogs’ there was an idiom, but God only knew where…
Idioms are generally figurative/metaphoric by nature (meaning that when someone says ‘literally’ then proceeds with an idiom, someone else might well shake their head despairingly), for example (‘literally’) ‘that car must have been going a million miles an hour’, and are renowned also for being hyperbolic (refer again to the above bracketed segment), for example ‘that car couldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding’ (despite earlier being spotted travelling at somewhere close to a million miles an hour).
…A little way down the track it dawned on me, ‘raining cats and dogs’ was the idiom; therefore, I concluded, an idiom was basically the same as what I’d been referring to for years as ‘an adage’, ‘a cliché’, ‘a proverb’ or, to a lesser extent, ‘a saying’, and, if I’m honest, regarding the revelation I mean, the whole thing was a bit of a let down.
No question, idioms are out of control. Some of the world’s more modern idioms are just so ridiculously figurative that they do indeed take some figuring out, and even then they sometimes make no sense at all.
All at once it seemed that the world population started to notice they’d been putting on large amounts of body-fat; this was around the same time that Political Correctness had come into vogue though, so instead of implementing logical (but potentially inflammatory) labels to describe these corpulent characters, such as ‘big’, ‘large’ or ‘oversized’, as a global populous we developed the pleasantly inoffensive, also decidedly ambiguous, compound idiom ‘overweight’.
Shooting into fashion almost immediately after, or perhaps as a result, was the ‘dieting’ phenomenon; better yet were the variants of these poor life choices – ‘the nut diet’, ‘the vegan diet’, ‘the Atkins diet’, ‘the kiwifruit diet’, ‘the lemon-detox diet’, ‘the seafood (also the beloved adaptation, the ‘see-food’) diet’, ‘the low-carb diet’, ‘the high-protein diet’, ‘the gluten-free diet’, ‘the Paleo diet’ and so forth, and often around again – from which another single/compound/duel-word idiom was borne, ‘weight-loss’; then to go with this newly coined idiom, of course, was the counterpart – even though if they’d just done some exercise they could have eaten practically whatever they’d wanted and there would have been no unexpected – ‘weight-gain’.
The exception to the above convoluted formula is when throughout this (hypothetical) exercise regime a dieter builds significant muscle – because that also surely weighs – but apparently this ‘over/weight-loss/gain’ thing doesn’t actually refer to weight at all but to body-fat – which surely weighs as well – yet if somebody is visibly larger than they were last time they were seen, they are not said to have ‘grown’, ‘swelled’ or ‘upsized’ as one might expect, but to have ‘gained weight’, and if another is maintaining a steady weight on the scales but is becoming flabby to the eye, they might also consider they are ‘gaining weight’; but then if someone reduces their actual weight but doesn’t consider they’ve downsized at all, technically, in their opinion, apparently, that’s not ‘losing weight’, either.
I did give ample warning that these idioms could be complicated but please, bear with me, I have examples for Africa.
Speaking of international countries – also ridiculous state-of-the-art idioms – it turns out that in order to fill the void in New Zealand’s construction sector, we are having to bring in tradies from abroad, while also encouraging more people to undertake training to become tradies…
This sounds logical – tradies of course being tradespeople, such as plumbers, electricians, carpet-layers, mechanics, carpenters, bricklayers, greens-keepers, engineers, hairdressers, butchers, bakers and cabinetmakers – indeed more tradies sounds like just what New Zealand needs at the minute.
…Imagine my confusion to hear on the News the other night, backed by footage of a team of carpenters busy at work, that a ‘number of high school leavers were keen to be starting their apprenticeships as tradies’, implying that ‘tradie’ is now a position all of its own and perhaps more worryingly, a young person with no skills can start their career as a tradie…
I recall during my apprenticeship as a diesel mechanic, I had a boss who was recognised as a ‘qualified tradesman’; I know furthermore how every apprentice aspired to earn that recognition as a ‘qualified tradesperson’ in their respective industry – bricklaying, plumbing, engineering etc – where we could then refer to ourselves as ‘tradespeople’ or, I guess, as fashion seems to be dictating, ‘tradies’.
…Yeah, turns out that somewhere amid the confusion of the rebuilding of Christchurch, the term ‘tradies’ became the universal reference – idiom – for ‘carpenters’ or, as I believe they like to be known among their cohort and around the traps, ‘builders’.
For the record those of you who wish me to stop speaking might like to tell me to ‘shut up’, of course forgetting that I can be equally, if not more annoying with my lips sealed as with my mouth agape; why then would someone seeking the cessation of speaking use such a cryptic command as ‘shut up’, when they could be straight to the point with ‘silence/be silent’, ‘quiet/be quiet’, or simply, ‘hush’?
Maybe the most infuriating form of idiom though is spoken through a ‘pleonasm’ – a term which essentially translates to ‘unnecessary words’, about which we spoke previously before but in a disparately different context – meaning that when the good Samaritan can see with his eyes that he must retreat to go back to transport and deliver the still-living breathing tuna fish to the safe haven then revert back again to solely one of his various different types of pre-existing psychological mindsets before stopping in to visit his old grandmother by 4 p.m. that afternoon while the sun still shines brightly up in the sky, he could well be considered the embodiment of ‘pleonasm’ and as such, be outcast for the rest of his idiomatic life.
On that note, please pardon me while I tuck in my shirt for it is hanging out; also hanging out were a bunch of mates rocking it at the beach while lapping up the sun but whom, incidentally, weren’t even wearing shirts, if you get my drift.
Tell you what though, if all that exposure to the UV Index ended up giving those young bucks the Big C, well, their lives could soon be hanging by a thread, but, ah well, can’t win ‘em all you know, I suppose, them’s the breaks, I mean, if I’m honest, you can’t control fate so, I don’t know, you know, to be fair, literally, it is what it is, done and dusted, stick a fork in me I’m done and whatnot, so, let’s face it, like, to be honest, I mean, to be fair, what are you gonna do you know – know what I mean?
Typical of the way the cookie crumbles, as a child I was blessed with a nervous bladder; unwanted urination in this capacity was usually referred to as ‘an accident’…
‘An accident’ nowadays of course, is a traffic incident but they don’t call it that, do they? They being the Police Force, the media, and the population in general; no, they don’t even have the decency to call it the infinitely more logical title of ‘an incident’, they just go on blindly calling it ‘an accident’, as though it was unavoidable and nobody involved had any choice in the matter, simply because it was accidental.
…Understandably then when I heard on the News last night that an old lady had ‘had an accident just one hundred metres from her home’, every shred of my empathy went out to her; I felt I knew exactly what she must have been going through – I have always found it frustrating how the urge to urinate seems to compound the closer you know you are to a toilet…
One has to assume that, as they are unintentional the majority of traffic incidents are mistaken happenings, or mishaps, thus not the intention of anyone on the road at the time, but to have ‘an accident’ just sounds so very smelly and, in fairness it doesn’t really do justice to the severity of the situation, as I am confident would be done by the term ‘incident’, ‘mishap’, ‘smash’ or just plain old ‘crash’.
…So imagine my shock to hear the poor old biddy had also caused a car crash.
Pee in your knickers and your Vitz in a fence, what a day.
Article by Tim Walker
Edited by Vic U Oss
Photography by Ed A Umb