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COMMENTARY

English language teems with idioms, challenges, regional expressions

Posted on July 14, 2021

OpinionColumnsLife

Sanda Baucom Hight

Sanda Baucom Hight

Our English language is not easy; neither is it boring. It constantly challenges us to follow numerous grammatical rules, to understand usage, to interpret the meaning of idioms and to use confusing words correctly. And for fun, it charms us with a dash of humorous, regional expressions.

Those who are learning English as a second language and some who grew up speaking it are baffled by a long list of idioms, a list that seems to grow longer whenever the wind changes direction. With each new invention, each historical event and each change in fashion, idioms crop up to make our language more challenging, interesting and humorous.

Most of us have known a number of common idioms since our childhood. Some of the easy and common idioms include these: best thing since sliced bread; cut to the chase; in the red; let the cat out of the bag; the whole nine yards; it’s not rocket science; chew the fat;  Elvis has left the building.

Some of the less familiar idioms may be a little more challenging to interpret, especially if they are outside of our cultural experience. How many of these are familiar to you?  The world is your oyster; sending someone to Coventry; throw a spanner in the works; the tail wagging the dog; it jumped the shark; to go pear-shaped; stop ironing my head; ride an elephant to catch a grasshopper.

If you are clever, you might want to make up your own idioms and start a trend.

Our English language is known for words that are confusing because they can be used in several ways. Someone learning English may find this problem particularly confusing.  Think about these troublesome words and how they might pose a problem for a person who is new to the language: the bandage was wound around the wound; the soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert; to help with the planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow; when shot at, the dove dove into the bushes; the insurance was invalid for the invalid; the farm used to produce produce; a seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

To make English more confusing for beginners, think about the logic behind these expressions: there is no egg in eggplant; there is no ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine is in pineapple; french fries were not invented in France.

Although English can be confusing, it can also be fun, especially when it is sprinkled with amusing, regional pronunciations and expressions. North Carolina is blessed be associated with hundreds of expressions to illustrate charms and peculiarity.

You may not be familiar with these gems: arn (iron); to git shet of (get rid of); pizon (poison); cheer (chair); salet (salad); cowcumber (cucumber); kiver (cover); mater (tomato); te-touncy (tiny); hern/hisn (hers/his); picayunish (nit picking); poke (a bag); rat cheer (right here); haint (ghost); giggle soup (alcoholic beverage);  to-reckly (immediately); piddle-diddle (procrastinate); rosnears (corn); slipperslide (shoehorn); to fling a Joe Blizzard fit (to have irrational behavior).

Let us all be thankful for our language, even if it sometimes leaves us “plum tuckered out.”

Sanda Baucom Hight is retired from Wilson County Schools after serving as an English teacher.

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