The Write Way
Friday 11 March 2011
He Said What?
One of our local radio stations has been asking listeners to phone in with their favourite expressions during the week, and there have been some doozies! I know that every culture has its own special way of describing those universal concerns we all meet in our everyday comings and goings, but we have some especially colourful ones Down Under ...
"Don't come the raw prawn, with me, Sonny Jim!" is an expression oft heard when someone is attempting to deceive (a person) or to misrepresent a situation. (And I'm not sure why it's always Sonny Jim on the receiving end. When my daughter visited Scotland, she was amused by the way so many men called each other 'Jimmy,' because she'd grown up hearing the name 'Sonny Jim' applied to a variety of males of our acquaintance -- regardless of their given names.)
"She'll be apples, Mate!" is the sort of phrase you do want to hear here ... it means everything will be all right.
And if someone claps you on the back and exclaims, "Your blood's worth bottling!" it's not the signal to run for cover. It means you're a person of great heart, someone to be admired. This expression originated during the dreadful days of the First World War, when Aussie soldiers received their baptism by fire ...
However, if you hear people describing you as a bludger, it may be time to leave, or at least put a few bob in the kitty for your share of the groceries. 'Bludger' comes from 'bludgeoner' who was someone who carried a bludgeon ('a short stout stick or club'). In the late 1880s, it came to mean 'a thief who will use his bludgeon and lives on the gains of immoral women.' But now anyone who likes to take the easy way or who makes little effort in general is referred to as a bludger. It's not very flattering.
The 'few bob' refers to cash. In the old days of shillings and pence, a shilling was called a 'bob.' And the 'kitty' is the communal purse common to shared accommodation and the cause of many arguments -- "Who pinched last week's milk money from the kitty?"
When someone tells you, "You've got Buckley's, Mate," the best option is to retire from whatever you were contemplating, because it means you have no chance of success. It's similar to the snowflake's chance ... The same sentiment is sometimes expressed as, "You've got two chances, Mate, yours and Buckley's."
And if things start going bad, you'll probably find that the telly will go bung, the washing machine will cark it and the missus will tell you she's crook and just wants a cup of tea, a Bex and a nice lie down-- all these expressions mean that the object or person has broken down, stopped working or become ill.
Other idioms are more widespread in their application and origins ...
"It's enough to make your hair stand on end!" says the man listening to the news about the his favourite sporting team's latest snafu.
To make your hair stand on end comes from the way the hairs on the back of your neck stand up when you're afraid, and was even mentioned in the Book of Job, "Fear came upon me and trembling and the hair of my flesh stood up."
It's from this that we also get the slang term "hairy" to describe something frightening ... "She's just learning to drive, and that was a hairy ride home!"
And as we all know snafu is an acronym for "situation normal all fouled up" or words to that effect ...
"Oh, for crying out loud," says the exasperated father, as his son and heir whines and whinges, "put a sock in it, will you?"
This useful expression dates back to the early days of gramophones, when the music came out of the speaker horn and there were only two controls: On and Off. To adjust the volume, you could stuff a cloth (or sock) into the horn.
Bet you didn't know that, did you?
Idioms can add colour to your writing, provided you do a bit of research and get them right.
Can you imagine how difficult it must be for people learning English as their second language Down Under who are trying to make sense out of idioms like these:
"No more dessert, thanks, Mum. I'm full as a goog!"
"Will you just look at Johnno in that new suit -- he's flash as a rat with a gold tooth!"
He pranged his dad's new car and was off like a bride's nightie before the coppers arrived.
Hmmm ... almost as difficult as it is for us trying to learn a completely new language.
But science tells us that it's good for the brain to learn a new language ... and for those of us in Our Prime, it's a pro-active way to stave off some of those nasties that can afflict us if we let our little grey cells lie idle.
Which is why, boys and girls, I'm currently learning Mandarin!
"Why Mandarin?" I hear you ask.
To which I reply, "Why not?"
More about my Adventures in Mandarin in this week's Little Something Extra!
The following illustrate the point I was making earlier, about getting expressions right ...
I can see through you like a
The writers of these little gems obviously need more than a little help, which they could get if they had access to this nifty self-help guide here.
This week's quiz:Explain the following idiomatic expressions:
1. To bite the dust
And here's a little tale about difficulties in language ...
A Chihuahua, a Doberman and a
Bulldog are in a bar having a drink when a great looking female Collie comes up
to them and says, "Whoever can say 'liver' and 'cheese' in a sentence can have
The Collie replies, "That's not
She says, "That's not creative
Last week's quiz:
1. detain - DETENTION
2. erode - EROSION
3. confer - CONFERENCE
4. achieve - ACHIEVEMENT
5. relieve - RELIEF
6. proceed - PROCEDURE
7. impede - IMPEDIMENT
8. acquaint - ACQUAINTANCE
9. utter - UTTERANCE
10.fortify - FORTIFICATION
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This is a story with a moral ... or three:
The teacher gave her class an
assignment to get their parents to tell them a story with a moral at the end of
it. The next day the kids came back and one by one began to tell their stories.
"And what's the moral of the
story?" asked the teacher.
"That was a fine story Lucy.
Johnny do you have a story to share?"
A Little Something Extra
Get your little grey cells working at their full potential with this free CD here.
Adventures in Mandarin
If you're going to learn a second language, Mandarin is a great choice for lots of reasons ...
For those learning for work-related reasons, you only have to consider some of the economic facts of life to realise that China is very much the Sleeping Giant in world affairs. China now has a mind-boggling $3 trillion in hard currency reserves! That's a nice little piggy-bank to have to invest in business activities, and last year, China accounted for approximately 25% of the world's economic growth.
Then consider that around 20% of our little blue planet's people call China home -- and all these people are potential markets and/or partners for businesses around the world. How many people do you know who can speak Mandarin?
Not many, I'd wager.
Getting a fabulous job (one of those that makes you wake up each morning and thing, "Wow! Work!" and not one that makes you wake up each morning and think, "Ugh! Work!") is all about having skills others don't have and offering extra value to your employer. Can you imagine the extra Brownie points you could earn when looking for a job if you spoke Mandarin these days?
Because it's so different from English, Mandarin is also an excellent way to stimulate your brain. Apparently both music and languages exercise your little grey cells ... and you know what they say, don't you? Use it or lose it, Kiddo!
It's been a lot easier than I ever thought it would be -- and that's coming from someone whose schoolgirl French would drive a real Frenchman to drink!
The trick, as I've discovered, is not to even attempt the written language -- that way madness lies -- but to begin with the sounds of individual letters. One comforting and reassuring aspect is that (using the method I'm using) by speaking English, you already know and can pronounce most of the sounds. But there are 9 different sounds that have to be learnt in Mandarin, and these take a bit of practice. (OK ... a lot of practice!)
My family has stopped looking askance as I suddenly erupt into a series of TZs and ZZs as I prance around the house practising my Mandarin ... I wouldn't recommend doing this outside the privacy of your own home. (And yes, prancing is part of the process for me. We all learn in different ways -- some need to write things down, others need to listen, some to see, some to speak and others to move. I find the more senses I can involve in learning, the quicker I learn.)
The other thing that takes a bit of getting used to is the importance of tones in Mandarin. These tones are what gives Mandarin that wonderful musical quality when you hear people speaking it. To understand what I mean, turn off the subtitles the next time you hire a Tiger and Dragons movie, then fast forward to a scene with a woman speaking and just listen. It's lovely.
That's what tones do.
There are four of them and each has a different lilt (for want of a better word). One tone remains level, one falls at the end of the word, another falls then rises and another rises at the end. One trick I've developed to help me with the tones is to raise and lower my eyebrows as I raise and lower each tone ... Yes, not a habit I'd recommend taking out into the real world, especially not as I also find myself going up on my tippy-toes and then bending my knees as I say the words ... but it is helping me remember the tones!
Each tone can completely change the meaning of a word as this example shows: fei (fly); fei (obese); Fei (African); fei (expense).
That could make for some interesting conversations if you're not careful!
Not that I'm anywhere near to having a conversation yet ... I think I could probably greet someone in Mandarin and respond to a greeting, and that's about it. But that's not a bad start.
I'm using a method developed by a member of our Merry Band's extended family, George Wu, and the best thing about it is that it's so simple to follow. Rather than burden us with the admittedly beautiful, but also maddeningly obscure written language, George has opted to present a course designed to have non-Chinese natives speaking Mandarin that can be understood by native speakers. See more here.
Plenty of Aussie idioms here
Origins of some interesting idioms here
More acronyms than you can poke a stick at here
Hundreds of films in Mandarin here
Oxymoron of the week: wow
This has been dubbed a "passive oxymoron," because "wow" has no capital or exclamation mark.
Clever, don't you think?
Word of the week: Idiom (n) an expression whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its constituent elements, as "kick the bucket" or "hang one's head," or from the general grammatical rules of a language, as "the table round" for "the round table," and that is not a constituent of a larger expression of like characteristics.
The word comes from Latin idioma meaning 'a peculiarity in language, from the Greek word idioma 'a peculiarity, peculiar phraseology, from the expression idioumai 'I make my own,' from idios 'personal, private.'
A nifty Latin phrase that's perfect for Johnno in his new suit ...
Braccae illae virides cum subucula rosea et tunica Caledonia - quam eleganter concinnatur!
BRAH-kay EE-lay wee-REE-deys KOOM soo-boo-KOO-lah ROH-see-ah ET too-NEE-kah kah-ley-DOHN-ee-ah KWAHM ey-ley-GAHN-teyr kohn-kee-NAK-toor]
(Those green pants go so well with that pink shirt and the plaid jacket!)
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Copyright Jennifer Stewart 2011
Individual articles copyrighted by their authors.
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