Idioms of the World

Idioms of the World

The following guest post originally appeared on HotelClub.com.

We use idioms to pepper our speech and writing, often without even realizing we’re doing it. These odd little phrases are used to express a sentiment other than their literal meaning. It doesn’t really rain cats and dogs, as the world and his wife knows.

I’ve always been fascinated by foreign idioms; they give us a unique insight into the culture that uses them. Did you know that in German you can say “to live like a maggot in bacon” instead of “to live the life of luxury”? Idioms can tell us a lot about what matters to a nation. They’re a window to the soul.

We wanted to explore the world in all its linguistic glory, so we asked artist and illustrator Marcus Oakley to draw some of his favorite idioms from across the globe. We hope they inspire you to learn the local idioms next time you travel.

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Five Color Idioms Part 3: Green

Today we’re “going green” in the third installment of the color idiom series!

Green is considered one of the basic colors and is one that is associated with jealousy, nature, good luck, and growth in Western/American culture according to this beautiful graphic.

Check out the following five green idioms! Also be sure take a look at more color idioms from previous weeks’ blog posts. See white and black.

(1) (to be) green with envy


Meaning: very envious
Sample Sentence: I was green with envy when I heard that my cousin would be going to London for a week.

(2) to give the green light


Meaning: to give approval to proceed
Sample Sentence: The company finally has the green light to start the project.

(3) (to have a) green thumb


Meaning: to be good with plants/gardens
Sample Sentence: I should ask the green thumb next door what he recommends for my droopy daffodils

(4) the grass is always greener on the other side


Meaning: a place or situation that is far away or different seems better than one’s present situation
Sample Sentence: I sometimes think I’d be happier living in Spain. Oh well, the grass is always greener on the other side!

(5) green around the gills


Meaning: sickly
Sample Sentence: My friend looked green around the gills after the long bus ride.


Militza Petranovic
Militza is a Pedagogy and Research intern at Voxy. She is currently finishing up her master’s degree in Applied Linguistics at Columbia University’s Teachers College and received her bachelor’s degree in Theoretical Linguistics from the University of California – Santa Cruz in 2012. Militza is interested in researching all aspects of how web technology can help facilitate learning, particularly language learning.

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pot-kettle

Five Color Idioms Part 2: Black

In the second installment of the series on idioms and colors, attention will be turned to the opposite of color of white: black.
What associations do you have with the color black? Taking a look back at the beautiful graphic posted in last week’s blog post: authority, death, eternity, evil, mourning, and style are all cited as Western/American concepts that correspond with the color black.

Let’s see how the following five idioms exemplify these ideas:

(1) blackmail (someone)

Meaning: to extort or take money from someone by threatening him or her
Sample Sentence: The photographer tried to blackmail the famous actress with some photographs that he had taken.
In Pop Culture: A famous Alfred Hitchcock thriller drama film from the 1920s is called Blackmail.

(2) the new black

Meaning: used to say something is the most popular of fashionable color or thing at the moment
Sample Sentence: Designers say that brown is the new black
In Pop Culture: A recently popular Netflix original show Orange is the New Black came up with its name by playing with the fact that women in American prisons often wear bright orange jumpsuits which are not considered very fashionable, to say the least.

(3) black sheep (of a family)

Meaning: a person who is a disgrace to a family or group
Sample Sentence: The man is the black sheep in his family and has not made a success of his life.
In Pop Culture: This comic strip is entitled Black Sheep and its content focuses on nonconventional ideas.

(4) blacklist (someone)

Meaning: to exclude or ostracize someone, to write someone’s name on a list if they break some rules
Sample Sentence: The sports federation blacklisted the swimmer because he was using steroids.
In Pop Culture: A new hit TV show on NBC about the FBI, fugitives, and dangerous criminals is called The Blacklist.

(5) pot calling the kettle black

Meaning: the person who criticizes or accuses someone else is as guilty as the person he or she criticizes or accuses
Sample Sentence: My friend criticized me for not changing jobs but that is like the pot calling the kettle black. She will not change jobs either.
In Other Cultures: This image here shows similar idioms in other languages that mean the same as “pot calling the kettle black” in English.


Militza Petranovic
Militza is a Pedagogy and Research intern at Voxy. She is currently finishing up her master’s degree in Applied Linguistics at Columbia University’s Teachers College and received her bachelor’s degree in Theoretical Linguistics from the University of California – Santa Cruz in 2012. Militza is interested in researching all aspects of how web technology can help facilitate learning, particularly language learning.

Like what you read? Follow me on Twitter and Facebook:


brain-color

Five Color Idioms: White

It can be said that color succeeds in communicating without uttering a word. However, what exactly is communicated is very much culture dependent due to the multitude of symbolic representations associated with colors in any given culture. It makes sense, then, that colors often appear in various language expressions and are used to convey non literal meanings.

Today’s color of choice is white, in what will hopefully become a mini series on idioms and color in the English language.

Check out the following five white color idioms below.
For idioms with the color black, see: Part 2: Five color idioms: black.
And for green, see: Part 3: Five color idioms: green.

(1) raise (or wave) a white flag

Smiley face
Meaning: to indicate that you have been defeated and you want to give up
Sample Sentence: After we captured them, they had to raise a white flag.
Pop Culture Reference: Pop singer Dido references the symbolism represented in this idiom in her song “White Flag,” singing: “..and I won’t put my hands up and surrender. There will be no white flag above my door…”

(2) white-tie event/affair

Meaning: an event that requires guests to wear formal dress such as men wearing white bow ties with formal evening attire
Sample Sentence: There was a white-tie wedding ceremony last week which I had to attend.
Pop Culture Reference: Band names are known for being creative or including play on words. The pop/electronica band The White Tie Affair chose to name themselves with this idiom.

(3) white elephant

Meaning: a useless, an unwanted possession that often costs money to maintain
Sample Sentence: Your car is a white elephant, as it often breaks down, causing you too much expenditure.
Pop culture reference: As one alternative to the Western Christmas gift exchange tradition of “Secret Santa,” a White Elephant gift exchange includes a group of family, friends, or coworkers each of whom gets one wrapped gift. Staying true to the idiom’s meaning, the gifts are usually inexpensive, humorous, or used items from home, seeking to provide entertainment for those involved rather than value.

(4) white lie

Meaning: a harmless or small lie told to be polite or to avoid hurting someone’s feelings
Sample Sentence: He told a white lie when his father asked where he was going.
Pop Culture Reference: The popular TV series Breaking Bad has gained so many fans across the world that some have decided to craft special beers in honor of the protagonist Walter White who told many white (and perhaps even more unwhite) lies throughout the show. The india white ale beer is a play on words in itself, named Walt’s White Lie.

(5)  white as a sheet

Meaning: pale
Sample Sentence: Jane was as white as a sheet because of the illness she had suffered for months.
Pop Culture Reference: In the poem Song of Myself, in the famous poetry collection Leaves of Grass, the great Walt Whitman writes the line: “The captain on the quarter-deck coldly giving his orders through a countenance white as a sheet…”

This beautifully done graphic by Information is Beautiful illustrates 84 different emotions, ideas, or symbols represented by 10 majorly recognized cultures. Take a look and see if any of the aforementioned English idioms match up with the ideas represented by the color white in Western/American culture.


Militza Petranovic
Militza is a Pedagogy and Research intern at Voxy. She is currently finishing up her master’s degree in Applied Linguistics at Columbia University’s Teachers College and received her bachelor’s degree in Theoretical Linguistics from the University of California – Santa Cruz in 2012. Militza is interested in researching all aspects of how web technology can help facilitate learning, particularly language learning.

Like what you read? Follow me on Twitter and Facebook:


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It’s a dog-eat-dog world– and other animal idioms

An idiom is a combination of words that have a symbolic meaning. Understanding and using idioms is tricky because an idiom’s meaning is different from that of the words that comprise it. We know it’s hard, but we’re here to help!

Alright, lets begin with “dog-eat-dog”. This expression refers to a place or situation that is highly competitive. In a dog-eat-dog world, people will do whatever it takes to be successful, even if that means harming others. Here’s an example: “The music industry is dog-eat-dog; one day you’re on top and the next, everyone forgot you!”

 

What about “cat got your tongue?” This question is used when someone is at a loss of words or being unusually quiet. If someone asks you if the cat has got your tongue, it means you seem to be speechless and can’t think of something to say. “What’s the matter Lucy, cat got your tongue?”

 

To “weasel out” of something can mean two things: 1. that you are trying to avoid an obligation, duty or  job like in “I weaseled out of helping my mom with the laundry!”.  2. That you are literally squeezing your way out of something as in “my little sister got stuck under the bed but she weaseled her way out.”

 

And the last one for today, “let the cat out of the bag”. You do this when you accidentally reveal information you weren’t supposed to, like sharing a secret. “Tim let the cat out of the bag about my surprise birthday party”.

Can you think of other idioms with animals and their uses? Share more examples with us!! Don’t be shy, or cat got your tongue?

 


Mariana Aguilar Ramírez
Mariana is a Pedagogy and Research summer associate at Voxy completing her Master’s degree in Learning, Media and Technology at UMass Amherst with a Fulbright- García Robles grant. She is passionate about instructional design, educational technology and has been teaching ESL in Mexico for many years. She has studied foreign languages all her life and is now tackling German. She loves to travel and spends a lot of time in the kitchen perfecting her ice-cream making skills.