[Repost] If You’ve Never Used These English Idioms, You’re Probably Not a Native English Speaker (by Lana Winter Hébert)

If You’ve Never Used These English Idioms, You’re Probably Not a Native English Speaker

LEISURE LIFESTYLE OCTOBER 9 BY 

 Those of us who grew up with English as our first language have been exposed to idioms and idiomatic expressions for most of our lives. They may have confused us a little when we were children, but explanation and constant exposure not only increased our understanding of them, but likely drew them into our own vernacular. If you’re in the process of learning the English language, you may come across some of these and not be entirely sure what they mean. Here’s a list of 20 that you’re likely to come across fairly often:

1. A Chip on Your Shoulder

No, this doesn’t mean that you’ve dropped part of your snack. To have a chip on one’s shoulder implies that the person is carrying around some grudge or bad feelings about something that happened in the past… like having walked through the wreckage of a building, and ended up with a chip of that building stuck to them for years afterward.

2. Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

Like taking a HUGE bite of a sandwich that will fill your mouth up so much that you can’t move your jaw, this idiom implies that you’ve taken on more than you can handle successfully. An example would be agreeing to build ten websites in a week when normally you can only handle five.

3. You Can’t Take It With You

You can’t take anything with you when you die, so don’t bother hoarding your stuff or not using it except for “special occasions”. Live now, because all your stuff is going to be around long after you’re gone.

4. Everything But the Kitchen Sink

This implies that nearly everything has been packed/taken/removed. For instance, if someone said: “The thieves stole everything but the kitchen sink!” it meant that they took everything they could carry; it’s damned hard to remove a sink and carry it around.

5. “Over My Dead Body”

When the only way you’ll allow something to happen is if you’re no longer alive to stop it.

6. Tie the Knot

To get married. This is left over from the old tradition of handfasting, wherein the hands of the bride and groom would be tied together with a length of ribbon to symbolize that their lives were fastened together permanently.

7. Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover

Things aren’t always what they appear to be at first glance, so it’s a good idea to give something a chance, even if its outward appearance isn’t immediately attractive.

*The exception to this might be actual books that have hideous covers: those tend to be terrible all around, and in cases such as these, it’s best to contact the author or publisher and recommend a good graphic designer.

8. When Pigs Fly

This means “never”. Pigs aren’t about to sprout wings and take flight anytime soon, so if someone says to their kid that they can get a forehead tattoo when pigs fly, it’s not gonna happen.

9. A Leopard Can’t Change His Spots

Basically: you are who you are. Just like a leopard can’t concentrate really hard and change the pattern on its skin, people can’t change who they really are at heart.

10. Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve

To freely show and express all of your emotions, as though your heart were on the outside of your body.

11. Bite Your Tongue!

Stick your tongue between your teeth (gently), and then try to speak. You can’t say a word, can you? To bite one’s tongue means to stay quiet: literally to hold the tongue still so it can’t make a sound. This goes along with:

12. Put a Sock In It

The idea behind this is that if you stuffed a sock in your mouth, you’d be quiet… so if you tell someone to “put a sock in it”, you’re telling them to shut up.

13. Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

If a couple of dogs had been fighting and are now sleeping peacefully, it’s best to just leave them alone. The idea behind this one is to avoid bringing up old arguments so they’ll just be argued about again.

14. Foam at the Mouth

To hiss and snarl in anger like a rabid dog (whose mouth would be foamy as he jumps around like crazy and tries to bite people).

15. A Slap on the Wrist

A very, very mild punishment. To be slapped on the wrist doesn’t hurt much, and isn’t a deterrent from misbehaving again.

16. You Are What You Eat

This is the idea that everything you eat influences your health and well-being. If you eat nothing but junk food, you’ll end up unhealthy and malnourished, so be sure to eat a well-balanced diet.

17. “It’s a Piece of Cake!”

…meaning that it’s incredibly easy. No-one has a difficult time eating a piece of cake, do they?

18. It Takes Two to Tango

A person can’t dance the tango alone, nor can they fight by themselves either. If an argument has occurred, there were two people involved, so two were responsible.

19. Head Over Heels

To be incredibly excited and joyful, particularly with regard to being in love. Imagine someone so happy that they do cartwheels down the street: like that.

20. An Arm and a Leg

When something is so ridiculously expensive that you might have to sell your own body parts in order to afford it, it’s said to cost “an arm and a leg”.

Featured photo credit: Opened book with letters flying out of it on bright background via Shutterstock

[Repost] On mother tongue, native speakers and other linguistic myths (by Pierre Fuentes)

On mother tongue, native speakers
and other linguistic myths

It is often said that real professional translators translate only into their ‘mother tongue’ because only ‘native speakers’ are fully competent in ‘their language’. I wish to question these linguistic myths.

What does ‘mother tongue’ mean?

The meaning of the expression ‘mother tongue’ is ambiguous.

Admittedly, the only language that monolingual speakers generally claim to know is that of their mother. They first learnt that language through interaction with their mother, at an early age.

But the world is diverse. Some people first learned their father’s tongue. Some did not have parents. Some were raised by people who spoke different languages.

Moreover, the expression ‘mother tongue’ poses an ideological problem, because some people imply that their mother tongue is the mother of their identity, as if, without it, they would not be ‘their true selves’.

Such a claim can bring people together, as in the case of the Irish slogan ‘ní tír gan teanga’ (no land without language).

But we must not forget that romantic slogans can also be used to discriminate towards the Other.

The Nazis, for instance, used mother tongue fascism to justify linguistic discrimination towards multilingual Jewish Germans. They claimed that these multilingual speakers were perverting the ‘mother tongue’ because they were not true ‘native’ German speakers.

I will let you reflect on what ‘perverting a tongue’ might mean and move onto my second question.

Who’s the ‘native speaker’?

One can only marvel at the term ‘native speaker’. This bizarre expression implies either that we were born speaking – a rare achievement – or that we were born into a language. My non-native instinct tells me we’ve got a metaphor on our hands.

Obviously, ‘native speaker’ does not imply that we are linguistically autonomous from birth. In fact, nothing much happens linguistically in the first year of our lives. Any parent of a young child will confirm this: what first happens with your newborn is communication.

When we use the term ‘native speaker’, we imply that a person has alegitimate competence in a given language.

But how do we make it legitimate? By being born with it, or by acquiring it? In other words, does native legitimacy come from innate or learned behaviour?

As sociolinguist Deborah Cameron recently pointed out, UK statistics suggest that the test for British citizenship applicants advantages native speakers of white European ancestry. So it would seem that there are different types of native speakers and that they are not all legitimate.

Interestingly, discourses that promote the ‘native speaker’ concept are often qualified with adjectives like ‘pure’, ‘perfect’, ‘authentic’ or ‘unique’.

Let’s take a look at translators

Some of us have developed a high level of oral or written comprehension in various languages, but cannot speak or write such languages as ‘correctly’ as ‘native speakers’ would. Some of us can even write languages that we cannot speak.

Sounds weird? Try speaking like Julius Caesar. While we can read him and write like him, no one really knows what this true native Latin speaker sounded like.

In any case, we don’t need to interact with living people to read or write a language – be it ancient or modern. These activities involve a different type of language use than, say, buying a pint for your mates on a Friday night.

Indeed, it has to do with how we use languages. Since we do not speak like we write, conversation plays a limited role in the work of most professional translators. Speaking like a true native is therefore far less important than having excellent writing skills.

The second mother tongue

Using the language of your mother on a daily basis does not make you a professional translator. And English has in common with many minority and endangered languages the fact that most of its speakers were not ‘born into it’.

While these ‘new speakers’ are often criticized by those who claim to be ‘natives’ – for their mistreat of language conventions, ie illegitimate use – some of these new speakers reach a level of competency that is so high that their new language becomes their language of habitual use – a fact that ITI’s Code of Professional Conduct takes into account.

Such competency allows them to claim certain legitimacy, at least in some areas of language use. They may not be able to have a laugh in that language at the pub on a Friday night, but they can translate medical reports that most ‘natives’ would simply not understand.

As a group of intellectuals commissioned by the EU once put it, some people are capable of adopting a ‘second mother tongue’. Language diversity is not about building walls between languages. It is about recognising the diversity of use human beings make of their tongues.

About the author:

Pierre Fuentes is a French translator and a registered architect who works mostly with texts in the fields of architecture, design, property and construction engineering. He suffers from lingophilia, having been severely exposed to English and Spanish and, to a lesser extent, to several other languages, including Galician, German and Irish.

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