It's Idiomatic

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Christine Ammer, author of more than three dozen reference books, including The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, Second Edition, gets to the heart of American English idiomatic phrases, including newly coined idioms, like "control freak."

Tomorrow's Assignment: Are there idioms you learned incorrectly, like "intensive purposes" or "making ends meat"?  Share your "misheard" idioms.


Listener suggestions for digital-age idioms that could replace phrases like "turning over a new leaf":

  • Danny: can't load an old phone with new apps
  • Phil: "Swiping clean the screen."
  • Holly: Modify your profile
  • Miguel: "Get a new screen", "update", "upgrade", "reboot"...
  • Elaine: "refresh"
  • Jeff: "opening a new app"
  • Hugh: it would be "swiping a new screen". But maybe the metaphorical sense would be better served by "Update your status" (The age of poetry is dead...)
  • David: Shifting a new leaf?
  • Darren: 'Lost in cyber space' could be the new 'head in the clouds'
  • Savithri: download a new app
  • Carolita: update yourself.
  • Tommy: Time to put a new set of apps in your dock.
  • Lisa: We still say the phone is "off the hook," and we go to the "Movies" (as in, moving pictures vs. still pictures) so why can't we just leaf it alone!
  • Vesna: change your profile
  • Stanley: "I feel like I keep getting a 404." For those relationships where one person can't seem to get through to the other.
  • Edith: For the longest time as kid, (having grown up in countryside) I thought this actually meant turning over a real leaf, like from a tree. I made my own sense of it, that had to do with my experience of nature. The change of seasons linked to changes in the heart & soul. To this day, When I hear the expression I see those Maple leaves from Vermont. So I guess changes in tech wouldn't matter that much to me, loll!  Whitman's famous poem, updated: Swipes of Grass.....
  • Alexander: Deleting the archive...?
  • Barbara: "You can judge an app by its icon."



Christine Ammer

Comments [10]

Amy from Manhattan

Leslie Sisman, I'm so glad you mentioned wrong emphasis! I hear it more & more, even from professionals. For example, months ago on WNYC I heard someone say that a man who had a great relationship w/his girlfriend but had to /win/ over her father, when he meant the man had to /win over/ her father. The narrator said it so it sounded like "win over him" (beat him in a competition) rather than "win him over" (convince him to be on his side).

Feb. 22 2013 12:12 PM
Yoichi Hariguchi from Menlo Park, CA

It's a bit different from idioms I learned incorrectly, but I thought 'buck' in "The buck stops here." was a dollar. I later go to know that 'buck' here came from the game of poker in which a marker or counter, frequently in frontier days a knife with a buckhorn handle, was used to indicate the person whose turn it was to deal.

Feb. 22 2013 04:51 AM
Mark Johnson Rehnstrom from Astoria

I grew up in Kane, Pennsylvania, a small town in Northwest PA. I always thought the phrase, "Raising Cain" was "Razing Kane." When you went out on a tear you were "Razing Kane", or "Razing Brooklyn" or "Razing Chelsea" etc. Imagine my shock when I heard a fellow student at my undergraduate school, Mansfield University in PA, say "We were out raising Cain last night." My mouth dropped and it was only then did I learn what the idiom really meant.

Feb. 21 2013 02:38 PM
Leslie Sisman from New York City

A non-native English speaker thought I was being fussy about his use of a popular idiom... "He flipped over it." Instead of saying, "He FLIPPED over it," he said, "He flipped OVER it." Totally different meaning.

Feb. 21 2013 12:34 PM
Amy from Manhattan

There's a great book by Sue Brock called "Idiom's Delight," which gives equivalents of English idioms in Spanish, French, Italian, & Latin.

Feb. 21 2013 12:27 PM
lisa Small from Maplewood NJ

I found out years ago that I was saying for all intents and purposes incorrectly as for all intensive purposes. Nip in the bud is another one I used to say incorrectly but I can't remember what I used to say.

Feb. 21 2013 12:10 PM
sean from Brooklyn

My sister's favorite and Im not 100% sure that it is an idiom cause it does relate directly to a game but she once spent 25 minutes explaining to some German the meaning of a crap shoot. Might be too vulgar for the FCC.

Feb. 21 2013 12:03 PM
Max from Northern NJ

Okay, literally, it's "blow cow," but in the very literal sense. Get your mind out of the gutter, eh?

Feb. 21 2013 12:03 PM
Max from Northern NJ

As bad as English is with idioms, Chinese is horrific. Everything is idiomatic, even simple terms like "improve" ("step in") and "brag" ("puffing cow").

Feb. 21 2013 12:00 PM
Bud Plautz from New York City

I believe that an idiom of recent origin that will be around a very long time is, "...they drank the Kool-aid."

Feb. 21 2013 11:54 AM

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