Friday, April 10, 2009

Phrases that make you go "huh?"

I love the idiosyncratic phrases that weave their way into the American culture that people hear all the time but rarely think about what is actually being said in a literal sense. It's no wonder that our language is difficult to assimilate for people coming from other cultures.

Such as:
  • more than several - This is a favorite of Johnnie's brother who uses it in sentences frequently, as in "I have gone to this house more than several times to contact the owner." Johnnie's brother nearly flunked college and then went on to get three master's degrees and is just a couple credits away from his doctorate. He is now renovating houses for a living and a more scholarly person/handyman/remodeler you would never hope to meet. If he doesn't have eight $20 dollar words in a sentence, he's just not trying hard enough.
  • A bit of a language tangent: Once this same brother twisted his ankle on a rut of frozen mud. His very serious explanation, "I stepped off the precipice of a rut." Uh, OK, I suppose that's true but it's tough to visualize a rut of mud actually having a precipice. However, it gives you some idea about his language skills. Endless amusement for Johnnie and me.
  • thinking in my mind -- I love this one. You'll hear someone say, "I was just thinking in my mind that I should call my old friend ." It begs the question: where else would you be thinking but in your mind? On your elbow? Out your butt? (guess that one is a definite possibility for some people).
  • visualizing in my head -- a close corollary to the one above. "Yeah, I was visualizing in my head how I might rewire that closet." Um, once again, where else could you be visualizing since that's almost exclusively a human trait (thanks to those opposable things on our hands and the intelligence most of us receive at birth). Tough to visualize in your tummy or perhaps in your ear.
  • Yeah, no -- typically spoken when asked (a) two questions back to back without a chance to answer in between or (b) acknowledging and then responding to a question such as, "Are you going with me to the store?" "Yeah, no, I think I'm gonna stay here and rewire the closet."
  • watch your head and watch your eye -- spoken as caution to someone who may be in jeopardy of hurting themselves. Exactly how do you truly watch your own head or your own eye?
Two other language anecdotes:

When I was in my teens in the 1960s, I went with my dad to a nearby party store while he picked up some liquor and beer. I was browsing the book rack and picked up a book that looked interesting. The title was Have you had it in the kitchen. I took the title to mean a libidinous licentious romp in the kitchen. I was sorely disappointed to realize it was a feminist manifesto to help liberate women from their housebound shackles. I've never forgotten the double entendre of that title.

Another similar episode happened more recently. The book title is Getting Into Your Pants. Again, it could be quite titillating depending on who is saying it and whose pants they want to get into. Alas, it's a diet book to help people, particularly women, get back into their own pants. Sad, isn't it?

1 comment:

Maggie's Mind said...

Hehehe, loved those last two. :) Yep, our language is not the easiest.