Thursday, April 28, 2016

Save the Idioms!

by Patricia Cates

I am currently raising school age children in the western United States. It may be different elsewhere…but sadly I am seeing more and more often that my honor students, who love to read, are completely ignorant when it comes to the meaning behind many of our old idioms and adages. They are constantly asking me what things mean, which, by the way, is great! They can pronounce and spell the words fine. However they have no idea what on this good green earth any of it means. Maybe I am over the hill and that is why I know of such things, but isn’t it our rightful duty to pass along these words and phrases?

An example of this came up last night. This past Saturday my 16 year old daughter was bidding adieu for the evening, to (pardon the expression) a beau she has recently been talking to a lot via text. So she seemed a tad bit perplexed last night as to why this young man had not texted her in four days. They have been getting along famously for weeks. She felt pretty down and seemed to really want to analyze why he had become silent. In sleuthing as to what she could have said wrong, and looking through their conversation, I saw that the last thing she had typed to him was, “Good Riddens!! Not only did my straight A student (AP Calc, History and Lit) misspell the phrase, but she may have given him the slightly wrong impression? 

I quickly explained to her that this was, in fact, an awful thing to say to someone. You would never say that to anyone you hoped to ever see or speak to again. What a doozey! She honestly thought it was an old English way of saying toodles, good talk. She seriously did not believe me, and so she googled it. Upon her realization of the error...we laughed so hard she almost fell over and I was literally in stitches. She later decided to text him (first this time) in an attempt to smooth things over. He had not misconstrued her meaning and indeed he had gathered that that was their final good-bye. Such fun!

My mother is from the south. My father’s father was born in 1898. Adages of all sorts were in my upbringing. I really enjoyed the best of both worlds. Even back when I was growing up I do not think many of my close friends had heard a lot of these odd sayings, unless their parents were as old as mine, or they read newspapers, or spent time among adults who used a lot of euphemisms.

Hence my concern for our modern day youth. Will they be able to carry on these phrases for future generations or will it all be lost in a decade or two? Is it already lost? Will they know what “Six of one or a half dozen of the other” means? Will they be able to pass on more than “A friend in need is a friend indeed?” I am sure they understand that “Almost doesn’t count.” But for sake’s alive, I’m even a little worried about that one!

I’ve noticed that some of our television stations are running old shows. Perhaps our kids could watch “I Love Lucy” or “Gunsmoke” to hear a few choice phrases. I may be off my rocker, but I personally believe it would help our youth to become better readers and writers when they have a few more idioms under their belts. Or I could just be barking up the wrong tree.  


  1. LOL! Oh my, I feel so bad for your daughter! Seriously, though, my kids do that with all sorts of words and phrases. I feel like Inigo Montoya, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

    One thing that helps our whole family to learn more of those idioms is reading older books- we recently finished reading Anne of Green Gables and it was full of words and phrases we don't hear often anymore. I even had to look up a few I didn't know! (ex: grippe = flu)

    I'm currently reading The Scarlet Letter and finding lots more. And yes, we also watch I Love Lucy! :-)

  2. Kasey, that's fantastic! Keep your young family reading all of those old books! Make sure they ask questions too when they don't understand...instead of assuming...which we know gets many of us in trouble at some point?
    I like that you are finding some fun new words too. Isn't that the best? I always tell my kids to keep a thesaurus next to them when they are reading so they can look up words they don't know...but no one listens to mom! Haha
    This one daughter of mine has read The Scarlet Letter and The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables and Emma and Madame Bovary...sprinkled with tons of other classics (and almost every Nancy Drew Mystery available!) It just shows how much there is to learn. Isn't it wonderful!?



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