With respect to Socrates, my unexamined life is not worth living. The front room is the face we show everyone but we hide our true self in the back room.
As I have said in previous postings, my bride is not indigenous to the United States of America. I often say certain phrases without thinking, commonly known as idioms, only to turn back and see the confused look on her face.
She makes me realize how much of my speech is mired in idiomatic expressions i.e. “cooking with gas” “a bat and ball to play with” “thrown a curveball” “you’re aces in my book” “Johnny-on-the-spot” “on the nose” “get the juices flowing” etc. Often, when she asks where these phrase came from, I have no earthly idea.
She patiently accepts my American expressions and even creates her own idioms out of my mine, to better suit her comprehension and at times, enhance our secret communications. However, my inherently American upbringing delivers new expressions every week. After gauging her curiosity, I decide to buy her a book of common American idioms so she will not feel so excluded by my flippant verbal shorthand.
I purchase Barron’s A Dictionary of American Idioms edited by Adam Makkai, Ph.D. At first she skims through the book looking for my idioms only to close the book dejected. Then we begin to notice certain strange patterns in the book.
The book, as clarified in the introduction, is not interested in an idiom’s origin, but rather to be used as a tool for recent immigrants and linguists alike. It is arranged alphabetically; with the idiom first, followed by its usage in a sentence.
While this is the fifth edition, the book was initially published in 1975. This information is important as it informs the sentences used. Needless to say, my bride and I have had countless hours of enjoyment with this book, possibly for unintentional reasons.
Through the month of July, the month of American independence, I will share example of idioms and the sample sentences from the book.
Kicking it off, we have a modern reference.
Stop one’s clock
President Obama sent drones to stop the clocks of the Taliban fighters.
This idiom is interesting to me because I was unaware of its fatalistic semantics. In fact, I first heard this idiom in the film Harvey with James Stewart (the one with the imaginary rabbit). In the film, Stewart’s character, Elwood P. Dowd (what a name!) tells medical professionals that Harvey, his furry friend, has the ability to “stop your clock”. He says, “You know the expression he has a face that could stop a clock? Well, Harvey has the ability to stop anyone’s clock. And they can go wherever they like for as long as they like.” A face that could stop a clock meant a face that made you freeze. You were mesmerized or transfixed by overwhelming beauty, perhaps. Now it apparently means to kill someone.
How times have changed.