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Understanding English-Language Idioms

Idioms are one of the most interesting yet curious aspects of language due to their often comical references which may actually have absolutely nothing to do with their real meaning. However, we often don’t realize how odd most idioms actually are until we begin learning a foreign language and are confronted by this new language’s unique phrases. Needless to say how important it is to learn how to use them properly if you want to seem like a native speaker!

One of the most common idioms in English is:it’s raining cats and dogs, which simply means that it’s raining quite hard. Although, somebody just beginning to learn English, who understands the present continuous tense and the termsrain, cats, and dogs, will mostly likely understand the literal meaning of the idiom, but will probably end up rather confused at what it is actually referring to.

So, why do the world’s languages have idioms and where do they come from? To fully understand an idiom’s origin it is necessary to also understand the culture and history of the language and the people, as well as that of the specific regionswhere the idiom is used. Idioms also tend to vary greatly within the same language. In most cases, idioms come from some historical situation in which the literal meaning of the idiom was somehow associated with the real meaning. Take for example, the one I mentioned earlier, it’s raining cats and dogs. It is said that the origin of this idiom comes from sometime around 17th century London. In that time, when there was a strong downpour of rain, a great amount of water would often surge down the streets and sweep along dead animals (cats and dogs) with it. Hence, strong rains became associated with this morbid phenomenon and the idiom stuck.

Another common idiom in English is to beat around the bush, which means to avoid answering a question or exposing information by speaking around the topic. The supposed origin of this idiom is rooted in medieval times, when hunters of small game hired people to literally beat around the outside of bushes with a stick in order to provoke animals such as rabbits or squirrels to emerge. They were characterized by their cautious way of beating the bush, in attempts to not startle the animals too much.

As we can see, idioms can present a great challenge for language learners as well as translators and interpreters who are often faced with how to properly translate these deceiving phrases. Often times, a translator must decide whether or not to translate the idiom literally or to find a creative, culturally relevant equivalent, as discussed in this previous blog post “Creative Translation or Literal Translation?”

In any case, we here at Trusted Translations are experienced in the translation of all types of languages, no matter how culturally specific oridiomatic. We look forward to your request for a free quote (you can link it to the on-line form)!