Idioms discussed in this episode: It’s raining cats and dogs, On cloud nineIn seventh heaven and In a pickle.

Welcome back to Ashwini’s Journey! In this episode, Ashwini and Monica talk about their favorite and least favorite idioms, the way language evolves, and interesting expressions from other languages they speak.

Annotated Transcript

[Monica] So today, the idea is to talk all about idioms. Because, you know, on social media most of the posts that I see are all about different idioms, how to use them when to use them. And first I wanted to ask you, do you think learning idioms is important when you’re learning English? Or is it something that is less important compared to all the other vocabularies? Is it kind of the cherry on top to throw an idiom out there?

[Ashwini] I think it’s important to learn idioms, because at some point of time, whenever you go abroad, or whenever you start living in English speaking countries, at some point of time, you’ll have to use that or if you’re not using that idioms, at least, like you will have to, you know, understand, because natives gonna use it all the time. So I think it’s important, I think it’s great idea to like learn idioms over time. But if you don’t want to use them, that’s fine. But like to understand, people, whenever they use it, you should really like learn idioms.

[M] I think, to throw another idiom out there, I think we’re really on the same page. But like, that’s kind of a big debate in the teaching English field. And there’s a lot of people right now pushing that we shouldn’t be teaching idioms and things that are directly tied to a single country because English is becoming more international. But I think, [its] a little tricky, because all of language, to a certain extent, is very idiomatic. And I think it’s really hard because a lot of English speakers don’t realize that we’re using idioms. So if I say, let’s keep in touch, or let’s touch base next week, to me, that’s the most natural way of saying it. Does that make sense?

[A] Definitely! No, like, when, like, one day, I was just wondering if I use, you know, idiomatic expressions in my own language, in my native language. And I never realized that we use it all the time.

[M] Right.

[A] And I was so like, I was surprised. Oh, my God, like we use it all the time. Like, if I’m speaking like five sentences, I would say like one sentence is would be an expression or an idiom. So I think we just don’t realize it as a native speaker. Because we don’t really pay attention to that. But I think it’s the thing is not with American or like, not British, I think it’s with everyone about like, it’s about native language and how you get comfortable just not realizing that you are using it like expression or idioms all the time.

[M] I think that’s such a good point. Because a lot of times, I’ll say that, and a lot of my students will be like, no, like in Spanish, we never use idioms. And then I’ll tell them some of the things that they’ve been saying. And they’re like, Is that an idiom? And I’m like, Yes, that’s an idiom. Because we think of idioms and we think of it’s raining cats and dogs, like something that’s so clearly an idiot. But, I mean, there’s so many things like, I don’t know, let’s think let’s think, like, pick up. Pick up having so many different meanings. Like if you’re just picking up a glass, yeah, that’s pretty literal. It makes sense: pick + up. But if you’re being someone, or you know, pick someone up can have two meanings. It can be you’re taking someone in your car, you pick them up, or it can be kind of a flirty thing, like, Oh, he’s picking some girls up.

[A] Yes.

[M] Or you know what? The girl is picking some guys up, you know, that’s already so idiomatic. And so yeah, all of language is very idiomatic, I think. And so I think it’s hard. But I wanted to ask you, in your experience, when you’re talking to people in your life in English, do you find that you do use idioms? Or not really? Is it just something that you use to kind of learn the meaning so that you understand it when you watch it on TV or listen to other English speakers?

[A] Yeah, okay. So when I started learning English, so I was trying hard to use that. But now, like most of the like, I don’t know, like 20 or 30 idioms, like just became a part of my life. So now I don’t really, you know, try very hard to to use that all the time. Because whenever I speak like that comes natural to me, because whenever I talk to any native speaker or a person who is fluent in English, I don’t really have to think about the idioms or I don’t really realize when I when I’m going to use idioms or expressions. It just happens naturally to me. me now. Yeah, but before when I started learning English, that was quite hard because I wanted to use expressions all the time. So I would write them down and try to you know, just I want to learn this idiom, so I’m going to use it no matter if this if this fits in context or not. That was [the] initial phase when I started learning English. But now it’s… it’s natural.

[M] And is there a particular idiom that you love , that you use all the time? Does anything come to mind?

[A] Yeah, the first idiom [that] comes to my mind is on cloud nine and I use it all the time. So when I’m happy, or I’m on cloud nine, or, or at the seventh heaven, these are the two idioms, which I loved most. At the seven heaven and on cloud nine, because I’ve been fascinating, like, I’ve been fascinated about the sky. You know, as a sciences student, you have to be fascinated if you are interested in science. So I’ve always been fascinated by the things which happens in the sky. So I don’t know why I just chose these two idioms, but it always gives me like, these two idioms always give me good vibes when when I use them. So, I would say these two: on cloud nine and at seventh heaven.

[M] Yeah, I think they’re such happy idioms. I think for me, the one that I use almost every single day is I’m in a pickle, or that’s a pickle, which just means I’m in such uh… this is like a problem.

[A] Is it similar like, to be in hot water?

[M] Um… like hot water is maybe more serious. It’s like, maybe a legal issue, and you might be going to jail. And you’re seriously in hot water. But a pickle is just, it’s very light hearted. It’s not very serious. So for example, if I am applying to something, and the application is so long, and I haven’t been able to finish it, I’ll be like, this application is such a pickle. I can’t get- uuh I hate it. Or if…

[A] … your internet is such a pickle!

[M] Yeah, I love that one, or if someone is telling me that they have too many assignments, and they’re so overwhelmed, and I can’t come up with anything to make them feel better, I’m just like, ‘yep, you’re in a pickle.’

[A] Yeah, that’s great. Do you have any idioms, which you just don’t like? You just hate?

[M] Hmm do I have any idioms that I hate? Nothing comes straight to my mind. Do you have any that you hate?

[A] Yeah, there is one idiom. It is like it is, you know, raining cats and dogs. I just hate this idiom. I don’t know why. And, you know, like I whenever I see, you know, teachers stating this idiom on Instagram. And I will I will say like, I always think like, why are you teaching this? It’s such an old fashioned idiom and nobody use[s] it in real life. Why are you just wasting your time? Oh my god, like, I just hate this idiom, raining cats and dogs. It doesn’t literally mean anything.

[M] I yeah, I think people only use it in like a very joking sense. And it’s just like, if it’s raining really hard. I’ll be like, ‘yeah, whatever it’s raining cats and dogs.’ But I don’t know. I mean, it’s just hard. It’s hard to know which idioms are used more often than others. Because when I google sometimes, like idioms about the weather, or whatever, there’s always five or so that I use all the time. But I’m sure if you ask someone else, they’ll have a different five. You know, it depends on where you live. Because maybe since I live in a really funny place, I know so many idioms about the sun, the heat, the summer, but I don’t know so many about rain and the snow… I don’t know any vocabulary about the snow.

[A] Yeah, definitely. environments always impacts you.

[M] Right. And are there any words that are or idioms that are common in Indian English? Or something that maybe I wouldn’t understand?

[A] Oh, I like this one word, one like of kind of phrasal not- yeah phrasal verb that is used often in India and to signify that you have graduated or you have passed a certain grade. So it is passed out. So, if I say I passed out in 2018, what would you understand by that?

[M] That I fainted in 2018?

[A] It means like, I passed my engineering degree in 2018. That’s [what] it means literally in India, so everybody knows it how it is used in India.

[M] That is so funny…. I learned that from your live with Deepika from AcquirEng when you said that I was like, what?!? I thought it was so funny because yeah, I would never [have] understood it. It would have taken me like five minutes into the conversation to be like, ‘ooh, that’s what they meant.’

[A] And there’s one word like, there is a one word, which is quite specific to India. Do you know what is brinjal?

[M] No, I don’t, what is it?

[A] It is eggplant. So I don’t know like, I read that word when I was in like first or second grade. And one day like when I was talking to someone and he asked me about ‘what are you eating?’ And I said, like, ‘I’m eating brinjal.’ And he said, like, ‘what? what are you eating?’ I said brinjal because I didn’t know like it was eggplant in like in other countries. So then then I found out that ‘oh, it’s eggplant.’ It’s not brinjal. And it’s very specific now. Like, so many people have, like, don’t use it nowadays, but it’s still it is being taught in schools.

[M] Yeah, because I think I’m pretty sure I could be wrong, but in British English it’s aubergine.

[A] Yeah, yeah it’s it’s aubergine.

[M] I don’t even know what it is. Is it a squash? Is it a vegetable?

[A] Brinjal was… brinjal was the only thing that I know. Like I didn’t know about aubergine. You know, the eggplant. I was in trouble when I was talking to that person. And but so like, finally I came to know, these two different words for that thing.

[M] That is so funny. I think language that’s very specific to Miami, a lot of the times, they’re in Spanish. But like, for example, my dad, his first language is Swiss-German. And like, like as a kid, he learned High German and French and Italian. And then he learned English. And he doesn’t necessarily speak Spanish grammatically correct or he never studied it. But he can have a full on conversation and he doesn’t conjugate a single verb. But you understand him. But he even he understands Spanish. And I think anyone in Miami, even if you don’t speak Spanish, there’s certain words that you just know. So what do you think this means? If I say, if you say, ‘Monica, let’s record the podcast at 1pm.’ And I say ‘dale!’ What do you think dale means?

[A] Okay? I don’t know. Like, I’m just guessing.

[M] Yeah, so that’s very Miami. And that’s just in all of South America- well, in a lot of countries in South America, they say dale. And then in Spain, they say vale with a v, so thats funny how you’re like, whoa.

[A] People are so good, like, at ev-, like evolving languages over time, or like, according to the place they live. So I think language is all about evolution.

[M] Exactly. And I think that a really good example of that is that I don’t think it’s – I definitely didn’t start in Miami. But a lot of people in Miami instead of saying regardless, they say irregardless. Which grammatically is maybe wrong. But now it’s in the dictionary because so many people said irregardless. You can search it in a dictionary and it has the same definition as regardless. So even though it might be wrong for a period of time, if you consider the dictionary- what determines what’s right or wrong, it might end up in the dictionary.

[A] You just forced like, you know the dictionary to just add that word into your into the dictionary.

[M] Exactly. I mean, all of my professors always say like, let’s start language change. We follow us irregardless, it will catch on. Because that’s how language works. Whether we like to believe it or not, it’s constantly changing, what’s right and what’s wrong is constantly changing. And it’s not as simple as a lot of us think it is. It’s not just what’s in the answer key. So… Ashwini Do you have any last thoughts about idioms? Anything you want to leave people with?

[A] So my final comment on this would be like it’s there’s nothing wrong in you know, learning idioms. If you just want to be a you know, want to be more understood or if you want to speak more naturally, if you’re interacting with native speakers or if you just don’t want to use you know, idioms or expressions, at least you can understand when you talk to them. So like idioms, that would be that is [a] great idea to learn all these kinds of idioms and phrases.

[M] Yes, I agree. And I would just say, idioms can be really overwhelming, but you already know so many idioms without realizing that they’re idioms. This has been a great episode, check out the transcript and exercises on languagesnaps.com and we’ll see you next time. Bye!

Ashwini’s Journey is available on Language Snaps and Spotify.