The idiocy of idioms

Being the host family for a couple of Euros, my wife and I have needed to tone down our use of idioms. My dictionary defines an idiom as “a group of words established by usage as having meaning not deducible from those of the individual words.”

I believe a more acceptable definition would be an expression that on the surface doesn’t make sense. We refer to “carrying out the plan” when there’s no hint of hefting something out of a room. And we speak of fixing breakfast when nobody was aware of anything broken. Except maybe a fast.

Idioms tend to be accepted (although not always understood) in particular regions. Ana Granado and Phaedra Wouters, our exchange students from Spain and Belgium, respectively, will be with us until next June and thus will have plenty of opportunity to pick up a few idioms, expressions that mean something to some but generally don’t make sense even if we examine each word. And that makes most of these expressions, well, difficult to express.

Collectively, we call Ana and Phaedra our Euros, a convenient term for people who crossed the Atlantic and needed to learn idioms in a hurry. When I was chatting with a neighbor, one of the Euros asked what I’d been doing on the porch. “Oh, just shooting the breeze with my neighbor,” I said.

Now how the blazes would that make sense to a child from Spain who speaks fluent Castilian Spanish? Did our student expect to see firearms targeting the wind? Ana learned quickly that the Spanish of her home in Madrid doesn’t have a lot in common with the Spanglish spoken in West Las Vegas, where she and Phaedra attend school.

The difference between Southwestern Spanish and Spain Spanish is somewhat reminiscent of a quotation variously attributed to George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and Winston Churchill, commenting on English spoken here as compared to that across the Atlantic: “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.”

Although not strictly idioms, expressions in last week’s column invited readers to explain the meaning of various terms. Three readers, Geri Herrera, Dorothy Maestas and Phil Brown scored almost 100 percent. Geri Herrera is a former alumni director at Highlands and now co-owner of Family Options, a local health care provider.

My older sister, Dorothy Maestas, is a Las Vegas native. She taught languages in San Diego colleges before retiring and returing here. Phil Brown lives on a small ranch near Rociada. He is a retired insurance broker from the Dallas area.

Here are last week’s expressions and the likely translations:

  1. Embryonic poultry tallies are inadvisable. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
  2. Plasmic density exceeds that of H2O. Blood is thicker than water.
  3. A dyad is mandatory for Latin dancing. It takes two to tango.
  4. Existence equals nutritional sustenance. You are what you eat.
  5. A man who defends himself in court is expeditiously relieved of his wherewithal. He who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.
  6. In the event that the footwear properly conforms to the foot, don said footwear. If the shoe fits, wear it.
  7. Directing equine aquatic discovery is feasible, but forced consumption is unattainable. You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.
  8. Do not disturb dormant domestic companions. Let sleeping dogs lie.
  9. Desist vessel agitation. Don’t rock the boat.
  10. Conclusions by genteel menfolk are invariably ultimate. A father’s word is law.

Dorothy’s comment with her submissions was, “These are too easy.” Therefore, here are 10 more, created by Craig McNair, in Games Magazine, guaranteed to be more challenging.

  1. Simultaneous possession and consumption of layered pastry is denied.
  2. Diversity flavors existence.
  3. The benefit of a solitary captured avian subject is tantamount to a brace of secured quarry.
  4. Launching of geologic materials is not recommended for inhabitants of silica-based domiciles.
  5. Maintain your dactyls in an entwined configuration.
  6. Planetary rotation can be directly attributed to amorous human sentiment.
  7. Unavailability triggers intensification of attachment.
  8. Weighed against rhetoric, behavior articulates at a higher decibel level.
  9. Do not fail to flip a single pebble.
  10. Forgo a fit of rage; however, hesitate not to exact revenge.

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