Archive for the ‘Idioms’ Category

A Plethora of Knowledge from a Young Polyglot

Posted on April 23rd, 2013by admin
In Education, German, Idioms | Leave a Comment »

If a 17 year old polyglot can do it, with 23 self-taught languages under his belt, then anyone can. Starting with Hebrew as his first foreign language, Timothy Doner memorized lyrics from Israeli hip hop songs and repeated them to other people until he was able to construct sentences. Talking to taxi drivers, street vendors, and people across the world on Skype, he has mastered each individual language in just a few weeks. A huge fan of the internet, he finds that being able to contact people from all over the world at any time is a great learning tool. He uses online forums to talk with other people and flashcard apps on his iPhone to help him with the learning process. As well as the usual, expected, European languages such as French, German and Spanish, this amazing teenager has learned obscure languages such as isiXhosa which is an official language of South Africa and is comprised of clicking noises specific to that language.

It’s believed that there is a universal grammar which underlies all languages but there is no doubt that a simplistic and positive approach has definitely helped Timothy conquer his linguistic abilities. Through sheer determination he now holds the title of ‘hyperpolyglot’ being one of a select demographic of linguists who have this capability. Living in the cultural melting pot that is New York, Timothy has access to numerous languages from different nationalities and is clearly determined to use this wealth of knowledge to his advantage. With the two languages of Sudanese and Malay next on his agenda, this talented individual clearly doesn’t intend to stop learning any time soon.

So, you can see how it can be done, that it has been done, and now it’s your turn. Learning a new language is easier than you think; you just need the right motivation and perseverance. An obscure South African language is probably not the greatest choice to start with, so how about something a little closer to home. One of the more traditional languages learned, why not enrol in some German classes in Edinburgh to start you on your linguistic journey!

Go tell that to your Dutch uncle

Posted on March 24th, 2010by Michelle
In English, Idioms, Words | Leave a Comment »

Visiting my grandparents recently, I was struck by a phrase my grandmother said frequently: “go tell that to your Dutch uncle”.

I’d never heard this before, and neither my grandfather or mother use the phrase or could tell me where it was from. A quick search doesn’t reveal anything of its origins. My grandmother used it jokingly when she thought someone was saying something fanciful or that she didn’t believe. I got the impression that the “Dutch uncle” was someone fictional, who would believe the stories you would tell.

A “Dutch uncle” is referenced here as “a term for a person who issues frank, harsh, and severe comments and criticism to educate, encourage, or admonish someone”, whereas here it is “a person who bluntly and sternly lectures or scolds someone, often with benevolent intent”. Perhaps my grandmother was using it more in the sense that the Dutch uncle was someone who would punish the story-teller for their lies.

My grandmother is in her eighties and from the West Country in England. Perhaps this is a regional idiom?

Can anyone shed any light on this strange phrase?

Idioms by kids

Posted on September 6th, 2009by Michelle
In Education, English, Hints and Tips, Idioms | 1 Comment »

Cloud 9 idiomA friend sent me the link to this website, which has quickly become a favourite. is a project run by a schoolteacher in Nanaimo, Canada. He explains:

These pictures illustrate what an idiom actually says and not what the idiom actually means. We used a loose definition of idioms to basically define idioms to be idiotic. In other words they are expressions that generally need explanations to be understood. They often have very interesting origins but sometimes their origins are not even known. What each student did was draw pictures of exactly what the idiom said, not what the idiom meant.

(For the full definition of an idiom, along with a list of English idioms, click here.)

Idioms can be hard for language learners to understand, so perhaps drawing pictures could be helpful. You could even add your pictures to the website – and see if you can be funnier than the kids! My current favourites include dead meat, a bit at sea, and doggy bag.

The Rosetta Stone

Posted on August 18th, 2009by Michelle
In Culture, Demotic, Greek, Hieroglyphics, Idioms | 2 Comments »

The Rosetta StoneIn London recently, I dropped by to see The Rosetta Stone at the British Museum. This slab of granodiorite is so famous that I could barely get near it for all the people craning over each other to take a close look.

So why were all those people so eager to look at a big stone? And why is it so important?

Weighing in at around three-quarters of a ton, the stone is approximately 118cm high, 77cm wide and 30cm deep. Discovered by Napoleon’s army in 1799, the Rosetta Stone is named after the place it was found – near el-Rashid (Rosetta) in present day Egypt. When Napoleon’s army was defeated, the stone became the property of the English, and has been on display in the British Museum since 1802 (although its presence is debated).

The Rosetta Stone is inscribed with three columns of different languages – Greek, Demotic and hieroglyphics, which all have the same message. The inscription on the stone is a decree passed by a council of priests – but it’s not so much what is written that’s important (although it does tell us a lot), it’s what knowledge can be gained from the inscription.

The decree is inscribed on the stone three times, in hieroglyphic (suitable for a priestly decree), demotic (the native script used for daily purposes), and Greek (the language of the administration). The importance of this to Egyptology is immense. Soon after the end of the fourth century AD, when hieroglyphs had gone out of use, the knowledge of how to read and write them disappeared. In the early years of the nineteenth century, some 1400 years later, scholars were able to use the Greek inscription on this stone as the key to decipher them. Thomas Young, an English physicist, was the first to show that some of the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone wrote the sounds of a royal name, that of Ptolemy. The French scholar Jean-François Champollion then realized that hieroglyphs recorded the sound of the Egyptian language and laid the foundations of our knowledge of ancient Egyptian language and culture.

(Source: British Museum).

As you can see, it is hugely important to language, and the term “Rosetta Stone” has become idiomatic

as something that is a critical key to the process of decryption or translation of a difficult encoding of information. (source)

Its importance is highlighted with the Rosetta Project, which I will be looking at in my next post….

Ya flamin’ galah!

Posted on April 25th, 2009by Michelle
In English, Idioms, UK vs US English | Leave a Comment »

Aussie Genteleman
I found this postcard in a souvenir shop in Australia recently, and it greatly amused me (click for legible full size).

Australians have come up with some excellent phrases that (sadly) have not made it into general use in British or American English. “Ya flamin’ galah” is perhaps my personal favourite, and will be familiar to anyone who watches Australian soaps. It basically means “you fool” and is best delivered in a broad Australian accent.

Whilst most of the slang on this postcard you’re unlikely to hear in the major urban areas of Australia, I can’t wait to get to the outback (or “the bush”) to see if someone really will call me a drongo and give me an earbashing for having a barney!
For more Aussie slang, see here.

Déjà what?

Posted on April 4th, 2009by Michelle
In English, French, Idioms | Leave a Comment »

Deja sentiWe commonly use the term “déjà vu” in English to describe the sensation that a current situation has happened to us before (current research suggests there’s a rational theory). For example, we may walk in to a friend’s house for the first time and feel like we have been there previously.

The French, however, have a range of terms to describe the different feelings that in English we may all describe as déjà vu. Déjà is the French word for “already”, and vu means “seen”. There’s also déjà senti (already felt), déjà vecu (already experienced) and déjà visite (already visited).

The example I provided above then, would more accurately be described as déjà visite. Next time you get that odd feeling of having previously experienced a situation, think about it a bit more – it may not be déjà vu!