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Strange idiomatic expressions


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Hello everyone,

Do you ever come across idiomatic expressions that you find strange? I'm talking about idioms that don't seem to make any sense at first when you hear them, although they may be used by everyone. They may not even be amusing and don't seem to have any real meaning. For example, "It's a piece of cake".

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One idiom that would be even more confusing is "that was a cakewalk". I suppose at some point in time there were people who walked for the sake of cake, but it really is a stretch. After a while it becomes recognized more and more and people just accept it, though. I suppose it helps if it just rolls off the tongue, or if its a catchall kind of answer.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I commonly come across this idiom "live and let live”. To many it seems strange and confusing as I have always heard most people say that it means to stay alive as long as you can but in real sense the idiom means to do what one wishes and let others do the same.

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I would argue that a lot of idiomatic expressions that are in use today have a pretty long history. This makes "the etymological study" of idioms really interesting. How people come up with those idioms? That's a really difficult question. Still, I would say that most of the idioms make sense in one way or the other (at least at the time when they were invented but then later on, we might not be able to understand the "connection" of those "concepts" anymore)

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Oh, cakewalks! Funny story about that one, at least as far as I understand it. Cakewalks in the modern day are 'competitions' at county fairs and the like. The people running the cakewalk buys a bunch of cakes and numbers them. People pay into the pot for a spot in line, and then they walk in a circle for a set amount of time, around a ring of numbers written on the ground. When the music stops or someone shouts 'stop,' everyone stops on the number closest to them, and then the person running the cakewalk gives out cakes to people standing on the matching numbers.

So, as I understand it, a cakewalk is just a competition that's exceptionally easy to win.  :wink:

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"Raining cats and dogs" is the strangest idiomatic expression that I've ever heard of until now.  :confused: Though I would really love to find out its origin. If anybody can care to explain how it came to be?

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  • 4 weeks later...

To continue the animal theme: "a dog with two tails". I had no idea what this meant the first time I heard it, then someone told me he was as pleased as a dog with two tails when his son was born. Dog wagging his tail = a happy dog. Dog wagging two tails = an incredibly happy dog!

I still think this is an odd expression, though!

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To continue the animal theme: "a dog with two tails". I had no idea what this meant the first time I heard it, then someone told me he was as pleased as a dog with two tails when his son was born. Dog wagging his tail = a happy dog. Dog wagging two tails = an incredibly happy dog!

I still think this is an odd expression, though!

If this is the true "nature" of this idiom, it is indeed very odd...but also quite funny, no? :=)

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I was watching the captions on an English show and  in parenthesis it said "car turns over".  I wonder about that phrase since it means the car engine started after turning of the ignition versus a vehicle flipping topsy turvy.  Another one I find out is "blue in the face" although I realize it must refer to trying to the point of losing oxygen-hence turning blue.  I still find it an odd turn of phrase or at least one I just do not like as it is sounded.

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I was terribly confused with the expression "have your cake and eat it too" until I looked it up recently and after that 20 years of mystery just disintegrated which I'd say felt pretty good. Another one that always kind of confused me is the expression "sweating like a pig". I wonder why it became widely used when pigs don't really even sweat at all if I'm not mistaken.

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I would argue that a lot of idiomatic expressions that are in use today have a pretty long history. This makes "the etymological study" of idioms really interesting. How people come up with those idioms? That's a really difficult question. Still, I would say that most of the idioms make sense in one way or the other (at least at the time when they were invented but then later on, we might not be able to understand the "connection" of those "concepts" anymore)

You have a point there. I guess the same can be said for those internet meme, you know stuff like "rustled my jimmies", "swag" and "cool story bro". A few decades from now the next generation may not know what these terms mean but almost everyone who uses the internet in recent times knows these stuff.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I find that even though circuitous logic sometimes, once you know the history, there is a little basis in fact or observations that lead to the phrase.  Some are really hard to see so you really have to "squint" to get it.  Others make no sense at all.

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I know it's not technically an idiom, but someone recently asked me why we say "Ok" to mean "It's all good." I've heard this expression came from American President Martin Van Buren, who was in an elite club called the Old Kinderhooks. When he would introduce new people from the club around, he'd say, "He's an O.K, he's a good guy" kind of thing. Is there any truth to this story? Because I know speakers of many different languages besides American English now use Ok or Okay now, so it would be interesting how this word has circulated the world since then.

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  • 4 months later...

I was always confused by the one "cat got your tongue?" What does that even mean?  :nerd: Who first came up with that one? Did some mean kitty attack someone's tongue?  :confused:

The idiom, "cat got your tongue?" has nothing to do with the same. It is usually directed at someone who may have found themselves in a sticky situation and has frozen and won't speak up or refused to give a response.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Dead Ringer. it means an exact duplicate, something (or usually someone) that looks exactly like another.

Here is the ridiculous explanation for this that was circulating in emails several years ago:

In the 1500's, when people died, the body was not chemically treated, etc., the way they do it today. The body was just put in a coffin and buried. There was a concern, therefore, that the person could possibly still be alive. So a string was attached the the body's hand, through the coffin, and up to the the surface, where is was attached to a bell. If the "dead" person awoke, he could pull the string and ring the bell and be rescued. He'd be called a "dead ringer." (This ridiculous story has also been used to explain the expression "saved by the bell.")

This is, of course, complete balderdash, and offers no explanation as to the actual meaning of the phrase.

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  • 1 month later...

I never really thought about the strangeness of some of the idioms. I guess we have taken them for granted over the years, that we haven't really questioned its literal significance. But its safe to say, they all have a relation to what they mean. For instance when you say 'kick the bucket', we all know that no bucket was kicked in the process. But it must have been derived from a particular situation, where a man was hung while he was standing on a bucket.

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  • 3 weeks later...

My favorite is still "It cost me an arm and a leg". I know what it means (I am a native english speaker) but it is awful... who in the world pays in arms and legs?

Did some guy have not enough change to pay a cannibal?

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  • 3 weeks later...

For me it would be:

Bob’s your uncle - A weird way to say ''there you go!''

Hairy at the heel - Someone who is either dangerous or untrustworthy.

If you’ll pardon my French - I think everyone knows this one already, I've always wondered why they use ''french'' and not another language?  I guess it sounds better?

Chew the fat - It basically means to have a chat. A weird idiom if you ask me.

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I always found "piece of cake" to be very strange too. I never understood why it was structured that way since it's not even the right term of measure for a cake. It should have been slice, but I am just overthinking it at this point, of course. My pick for one of the strangers would be "raining cats and dogs" though, since even just picturing it already makes me chuckle.

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One that always gets me is "Happy as a clam." Are clams really that happy? HOW is a clam even happy? I feel like there's so many things that are happy and yet someone somewhere went with a clam, and I just really want to know why. Other ones that get me are pretty much any idiom for "It was fantastic" i.e. "The bee's knees," "The cat's meow," etc. Don't get me wrong, I love the phrase "the bee's knees" and I actually use it sometimes but how is a bee's knee great? Or a cat's meow? I don't know, so many questions with these idioms.  :laugh:

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Yes, hahaha, i've come across several expressions that are weird.

One is: "running around like a chicken without a head".

Another: "he has balls". I mean why do you need balls to have courage? And what is balls? Is it the balls in the scrotum? If yes, doesn't he have a couple anyway since he's a man?

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  • 5 weeks later...

I never really thought about the strangeness of some of the idioms. I guess we have taken them for granted over the years, that we haven't really questioned its literal significance. But its safe to say, they all have a relation to what they mean. For instance when you say 'kick the bucket', we all know that no bucket was kicked in the process. But it must have been derived from a particular situation, where a man was hung while he was standing on a bucket.

Me, too! I have always taken idiom for what they are. As they're used for figurative language, I really have not given it a second glance. It's when they are taken literally that when things get funny. In Korean SAT (KSAT), there is always a question there involving idioms. A specific situation is presented, an idiom is used, then another person is taking the idiom literally. Students are then asked to pick the correct meaning of the idiom and how the other person misunderstood the meaning.

As to the 'kick the bucket' idiom, yeah, its meaning can really traced back to a person hanging and ending up dead. When a person is hanged or a person hangs himself, he normally stands on a bucket and then kicks it to tighten the noose around his neck. Naturally, the person eventually ends up dead.

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