Mirror Idioms: Hello??
Ever since the singer Adele started compulsively phoning her ex on the hit single “Hello,” I’ve been wondering about the origin of that word. A quick internet search reveals that using Hello as a greeting only dates back to the invention of the telephone in the US. Prior to that, English speakers used the term …Read More
Number Idioms: More than the Sum of their Parts
This installment of Mirror Idioms focuses on a few idiomatic uses of numbers, and the relative uncertainty that surrounds their origins. But first, a joke: Why is six afraid of seven? Because seven eight nine! You see, seven is a cannibal, and six, who is standing right beside him, might be his next victim. No wonder …Read More
The Comb-Over: An International Phenomenon?
Mirror Idioms is back with some information about what appears in one’s own mirror, specifically, one’s hair. Hairstyles are a rich resource for colorful speech – for example, when busy or stressed out, your “hair is on fire.” Or if someone’s bothering you, you say “get out of my hair” (or sing “I’m gonna wash …Read More
Nothing to Sneeze At?
In recognition of allergy season, our mirror idiom centers on sneezing. Specifically, if you want to say that something should be taken seriously you might refer to it as “nothing to sneeze at.” The idea of “sneezing at” something to dismiss or pooh-pooh it first appeared in writing in the early nineteenth century (“It’s a sort …Read More
What are you, yellow?
Two related (and ridiculous) American idioms used by cartoon wild west cowboys to describe a coward are “yellow-bellied” and “lily-livered.” Old European medical folklore found the source of human courage in the liver, so “yellow bellied” probably refers to jaundice, a symptom of liver disease that turns the skin and eyes yellow. Or you might just call …Read More
Put that in your pipe and smoke it!
One of my favorite English language idiomatic phrases is “Put that in your pipe and smoke it!” Greta Garbo as Anna Christie (at :25) and Dame Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess of Downton Abbey (at :22) both delivered this phrase with aplomb, and Rita Moreno as Anita in West Side Story (at 2:50) gave it a …Read More
Written with a Pitchfork on Water
In our Mirror Idioms series, we will compare idiomatic expressions to explore how different cultures use colorful language to describe the human condition. We welcome your comments, corrections, and especially your contributions of related idioms in your own language! Translators are writers, so in honor of the craft, our first post on Mirror Idioms will …Read More