If you’ve “seen the elephant,” it means you’ve been in combat. But why an elephant? Martha and Grant also discuss some odd idioms in Spanish, including one that translates as “your bowtie is whistling.” And what names do you call your grandparents?
This episode first aired January 22, 2011. Listen here:
Download the MP3 here (24.9 MB).
If you’re in Bangladesh, the expression that translates as “oiling your mustache in anticipation of the jackfruit tree bearing fruit” makes perfect sense. In English, it means “don’t count your chickens.”
A discussion thread on Reddit with this and many other examples has Martha and Grant talking about odd idioms in other languages.
A Marine stationed in California says that growing up in North Carolina, he understood the expression fixin’ to mean “to be about to.”
Some office workers say their word processor’s spellchecker always flags the words overnighted and overnighting. Are those words acceptable in a business environment?
“You really love peeled potatoes.” That’s a translation of a Venezuelan idiom describing someone who’s lazy. Grant and Martha share other idioms from South America.
Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a word puzzle called “Blank My Blank.”
A woman in Burlington, Vermont, says her mother used to use the expression land o’ Goshen! to express surprise or amazement. Where is Goshen?
A Yankee transplant to the South says that restaurant servers are confused when he tells them, “I’m all set.” Is he all set to continue his meal, or all set to leave?
A woman in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, remembers a ditty she learned from her mother about “thirty purple birds,” but with a distinctive pronunciation that sounds more like “Toidy poipel blackbirds / Sittin’ on a coibstone / Choipin’ and boipin’ / And eatin’ doity oithworms.” Here’s the Red Hot Chili Peppers version.
Martha offers excellent writing advice from the former editor of People magazine, Landon Y. Jones.
A former Texan wonders if only Texans use the terms Mamaw and Papaw instead of Grandma and Grandpa.
Martha shares some Argentine idioms, including one that translates as “What a handrail!” for “What a bad smell!”
A West Point graduate says he and fellow members of the military use the expression He has seen the elephant to mean “He’s seen combat.” Grant explains that this expression originated outside the military.
Do you flesh out a plan or flush out a plan?
Another Argentine idiom goes arrugaste como frenada de gusano. It means “You were scared,” but literally, it’s “You wrinkled like a stopping worm.”
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