What a great old thread! I, too, was recently pondering “Bob’s your uncle” while in London. My guess was that it started as a statement of something purportedly obvious, kind of like our “is the Pope Catholic?” and then morphed into a phrase added at the end of “easy” instructions.
My favorite English idiom will forever be “elbow grease”, thanks to the puzzled look on my Indian-native husband’s face when I first used it with him. I love the thought of what he must’ve been imagining!
Some great Indian (specifically Hindi) idioms:
Daal mein kuch kala – “something black in the lentils” – usage similar to the Shakespearian “something rotten in Denmark”
Bandar kya jaane adrak ka swaad? – “What does a monkey know of the taste of ginger?” Used to insult someone’s taste by way of saying they don’t know what they’re talking about.
Tunawrites mentions his discovery of many English idioms (idomata?) while teaching ESL; I had a similar experience while tutoring my Iranian friends informally back in college.Â They’d come to me with questions and I’d experience a moment of surprise at realizing that they’re right, it doesn’t make literal sense.
(They would also ask me questions I had to take notice of.Â “Why do you say ‘catsss’ with an ‘s’ sound but ‘dogzzz’ with a ‘z’ sound?”Â I had to consider that one overnight and give them the answer the next day; I’d never thought about it before.)
I mentioned l’esprit de l’escalier the last time I posted to this thread, but it just occurred to me that “beat with an ugly stick” is a good one too…though I don’t care to use it much.
Bob Bridges said: “Why do you say ‘catsss’ with an ‘s’ sound but ‘dogzzz’ with a ‘z’ sound?”Â I had to consider that one overnight and give them the answer the next day; I’d never thought about it before.)
Neither did I, but I do now. Running through several examples in my head, I find myself gently transitioning between “zzz” and “sss” depending on the “hardness” of the last consonant.
catsss batsss cowzzz owlzzz freaksss jeepsss lizardzzz buzzardzzz
Is there a pattern there? Not sure. Might be a matter of what rolls most easily off the tongue.
That was my answer, too.Â I believe the term you both are looking for is whether the final consonant sound is “voiced” or “unvoiced” (at least that’s the term I’m used to hearing).Â And it took me a lot longer than 12 seconds to come up with that explanation, back then.
I had to think a little more about “bus”, “axe”,”match”, “wish” and so forth; the final consonant in all those cases is unvoiced (the ‘s’ or ‘sh’ sound), yet we use a ‘z’ (voiced) with the plural.Â But that’s not an exception to the rule.Â Physiologically our mouths are capable of making many combinations of consonant sounds right next to each other (“schedule”, “ant’s lisp”, “schwartz”, “Î±á¼°ÏƒÏ‡Ïá½¹Ï‚”, “Ð²Ð¾Ð·Ð¼Ð¾Ð¶Ð½Ð¾” and so on); but we can’t put ‘s’ or ‘sh’ together that way; we’re forced to putÂ vowel between them, like a Japanese trying to say “baseball”.Â So we insert a schwa, and that means the sound right before the plural indicator is voiced after all.
Index (just for fun):
“Schedule” has two such combinations:Â the leading ‘sk’, and the middle ‘dzh’ (as pronounced by Americans).
“Ant’s lisp” has two, but the first one is a triple.
“Schwartz” (the German word for “black”) also has two: ‘shv’ at the beginning, and ‘ts’ at the end.
“Î‘á¼°ÏƒÏ‡Ïá½¹Ï‚” means “shameful” in classical Greek; the middle cluster of consonants is ‘schr’, where the ‘ch’ is the soft ‘k’ as in “Bach” or “loch”.
I don’t know what “Ð²Ð¾Ð·Ð¼Ð¾Ð¶Ð½Ð¾” means; I was going to make up a Russian example, and then realized I could just find one in my Spam folder.Â (I hope it isn’t something nasty.)Â But it’s pronounced “voz-MOZH-no”.
I was quite deliberate in sayingÂ preceding soundÂ and notÂ final consonant,Â though you may be right aboutÂ voicedÂ as opposed toÂ vocalized.Â But I think we only do theÂ zÂ vs.Â sÂ thing for plural nouns, not just any final s: we sayÂ mattressez,Â yetÂ antithesisÂ (butÂ antitheseez!Â )
Hope I’m making sense.Â Way too late. Good night, all.
Didn’t mean to sound like I was correcting, troboniator, just expanding.Â Yes, I agree; this rule applies only to plurals.Â And other languages don’t do it; in Spanish the plural ‘s’ is always unvoiced, which I thought was fascinating when I first encountered it as a child.
In fact I’m repeatedly surprised and fascinated, every time I encounter some new language, at the ways it does things that I always took for granted.Â Greek (and Latin and Russian) have lots of inflections; it took me a while to appreciate how flexible that is, but I like it now.Â Greek has no indefinite article; Latin and Russian get along without indefinite or definite.Â Swedish has a definite article, but it’s expressed as a suffix to the noun (boker means “books”, but bokerna means “the books”).Â Hebrew has masculine and feminine verb endings.Â Swahili is inflected like many other languages, but it does it by prefixes instead of suffixes.Â Esperanto has a really lovely set of pronouns that cover many more uses than I’ve seen anywhere else.Â And every time, I think to myself “Wow, I never thought of doing it that way!”.Â Endlessly fun.
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