The English language is full of fun sayings which are called idioms. These idioms add colour and depth to our conversations and help us understand our culture and history. Idioms change over time, and sometimes, their meaning becomes lost – but there are some that have cemented themselves into the English language, and today’s post looks at where these idioms come from, how they’ve changed over time, and how they make English more interesting and dynamic.
Introduction to Idioms
Idioms are made up of words or expressions that have a figurative, or sometimes literal meaning, which, when combined, makes the phrase have a separate meaning than the individual words it comprises. Idioms are an essential part of the English language, and they encompass a huge amount of knowledge and wealth, some historical, and some cultural. A phrase like “kick the bucket,” for example, has nothing to do with a physical act of kicking, but instead refers to someone’s passing.
The beauty of idioms lies in their ability to convey complex ideas or sentiments creatively, and without the speaker needing to physically come out and say the specific words that make up the phrase. You’ll often find idioms used alongside humour, and when used correctly, they can make a statement much more interesting and personable.
While idioms may seem pretty strange to non-native speakers (they’re often regarded as being one of the hardest things for English language learners to pick up), understanding them can provide a unique perspective into the culture of English speakers.
History and Cultural Significance
Idioms have been a part of the English language for centuries, and their rich history can teach us quite a lot about our past; it’s a fascinating subject to look at where idioms actually came from and how they made their way into the English language in the first place.
So, when were idioms first used? Well, idioms began as everyday phrases used by people in the past. Many idioms we use today have origins from the Middle Ages. For example, the term “barking up the wrong tree” comes from hunting dogs that might have barked at the wrong tree, and is today used to express that someone is pursuing a misguided line of thought or course of action. Over tens or hundreds of years, these phrases became somewhat symbolic, and as they’re passed from generation to generation, they solidify themselves into our language for good.
Idioms also reflect our culture. They can show what was important to people when they were created, which also offers a fascinating historical insight into the times. For example, in the UK, many idioms have their roots in farming and Christianity, as these were two major parts of people’s lives for most of history.
However, idioms aren’t just formed in the past. They continue to evolve, and new idioms enter the English language all the time. For example, we now have technology-based idioms like “pull the plug” or “on the same wavelength”, and this shows how the English language continues to evolve as the world around us does.
Example of Idioms in Modern Language
The English language is full of idioms, each with its unique backstory. One of the most common idioms used today is “bite the bullet,” which is believed to have originated from the practice of having patients bite down on a bullet as a way to cope with the pain of surgical procedures. This was, of course, before anaesthesia was common. Today, the idiom generally refers to facing a difficult or unpleasant situation with confidence – and, often, bravery.
“The ball is in your court” is another common idiom in the English language, and it means that it’s your decision – or responsibility – to do something. The phrase originated from the game of tennis, when the player whose turn it is to serve or return the ball literally has the ball in their court. This term started being used in the 1960s and today, it’s used extensively by English speakers.
“Poker face” is another common idiom, and you’ll find it in use both at poker halls and UK casinos, as well as in non-gambling-related environments. It comes directly from the game of poker, where players do their best to hide their emotions so that their opponents don’t know if they have a good or bad hand – and when used as an idiom, it references concealing your emotions.
When you play slots online, or casino table games in a land-based casino, you’ll see how many English idioms evolved; some other good examples include “Ace up your sleeve”, “play your cards right”, and “when the chips are down.”
Whether rooted in sport, farming, gambling, or technology, idioms are linguistic phrases that reflect our ever-evolving society and changing culture. Embracing them is crucial to the development of our language as whole, and it’s a way of preserving culture, too!