Have you ever stopped to consider how many idiomatic expressions are used in conversation throughout a day?
While waiting for one of my walkers to be picked up, I instructed the poor soul to “keep your eyes peeled” for a brother — her pick up person. The confused and horrified expression on her face immediately told me I had ventured in to idiom land — a land strewn with language landmines for my second language learners — and also for some native speakers. After I explained to her that keeping your eyes peeled was akin to watching for someone or something, her deep relief was hard to miss. I think she was fearful her whacky third grade teacher might actually have some extreme measures in mind for children who were late being picked up!
Alas, my fondness for idiomatic expressions has also been problematic for my spouse, who I can attest is not a second language learner unless you factor in translating Amy-speak as a second language. One of my family’s favorite idioms is that someone is “burning hard coal”. I can only guess how this expression came into my family dialogue — even people from my generation didn’t burn coal to keep warm! Did you guess that it means that someone is steaming mad?
One can hardly imagine the confusion caused by literal translation of some of my family’s gems, gems that seem to find their way into my daily dialogue. “Shoulder to the grindstone”, “in deep poop” (does shallow poop make a difference?), and a sentimental favorite courtesy of my Dad – “drier than a popcorn fart”. Just typing that one “cracks me up”.