The use of American idioms are common among most age groups as a way of explaining ideas in a few words that are assumed to have global meaning. For someone like me, who tends to take things literally, I am often lost in conversations that over use idioms to illustrate points. Like with understanding sarcasm, I have had to engage in hours of self-training to understand the use of these phrases. Armed with a dictionary of American Idioms, I would watch hours of popular television, looking up phrases as I heard them used when the use of those phrases were followed by the laugh of the in studio audience.
Despite my hours of focused study, there are many phrases I just cannot seem to reconcile. Here are 5 of them.
You have your work cut out for you. – This statement does not paint a picture of the intended meaning for me. When I hear this, I recall being in Kindergarten at the craft table where I struggled to use scissors. The paper would fold between the scissor blades instead of cut, or I would get jagged edges. I ruined most of my projects trying to work the damn scissors, with their dull, rounded end blades riveted to an awful plastic handle that usually creaked like only cheap plastic can creak. If someone had cut out my work for me, my life would have been much easier.
The best of both worlds. – What? What other world is there? And, if we suppose that there is another world, and that world is mine, doesn’t that make my world valid and therefore any further study of Neurotypical social skills a fruitless endeavour because somewhere there is a middle point called “best” upon which we can meet? And does this not presuppose that the viewpoints presented are hierarchical ranging from best to worst, which should be apparent and thus negating the need for a middle ground since one is obviously better than the other? For me, an idiom like this makes the argument that perhaps brought about the use of this phrase become totally obscured by the existential crisis that would immediately follow.
Let the cat out of the bag. – How cruel a world we live in when cats must always be kept in bags. Everytime I hear this phrase, I immediately think of Schrodinger’s cat, which I want to believe is alive because I love cats. This thought is followed by a deep yearning to seek out cats and feed them. Such actions make it increasingly difficult for me to sustain the illusion of my sanity.
To feel under the weather. – Since weather is an atmospheric event, are we not always under the weather? To be above the weather would assume we live in the stratosphere or the ionosphere, which is ludicrous. But let us say that we are only referring to the feeling of being under the weather, and then the analogy loses all meaning. The physical feeling of weather varies from hot to cold, wet to dry, and the emotional experience of weather is usually either satisfaction or dissatisfaction. None of these things adequately describe the experience of being ill.
Best thing since sliced bread. – Stop. Please. Just stop. Containing the innovation of humans to slicing a bar of food constructed of carbohydrates is demeaning to all intelligent beings. If you must say something like this, at least pick an innovation from the past decade.
To further illustrate the ludicrousy of idioms, take the following story:
I was feeling a bit under the weather this morning, so I went to my boss to let the cat out of the bag when I was stopped dead in my tracks by a coworker. She hit the nail on the head when she said I must have been ill because it was written all over my face. She warned me to keep the news at bay because she had heard through the grapevine that the boss had been burning the midnight oil because she was caught between two stools when a former employee bit off more then he could chew, counted his chickens before they hatched, and now it was costing the company an arm and a leg. I didn’t want to add insult to injury, so I left in a jiffy and figured I would cross that bridge when I came to it.
The idea that this story makes sense leaves me questioning the world around me as I seek the true value of the English language. Perhaps, one day, I will make peace with the concept of idioms. Until such time, please pass the Thesaurus.