Archives for posts with tag: Idiom

It seems odd to me that we European English speakers diverge from our US counterparts in our use of the words over and again.

When we on the eastern side of the Atlantic have to repeat something we start again. Sometimes we might have to do it over again. In the US and perhaps Canada they simply start over, never starting again or over again.

It’s a bit like the John Lennon song, no doubt crafted for an American audience while he was living over there with Yoko Ono, I think, called Starting Over. Perhaps he too was hedging his bets when he said It’s like Starting Over, with the ‘like’ seeming to soften the statement somewhat, as if he wasn’t sure.

Speaking of idiom, I was talking with an Iranian friend of my mother’s the other day. He said, after almost a lifetime of living here, “I can’t understand why you English people say ‘Would you like to come in for a nice cup of tea?’ Whoever would ask for a horrible cup of tea?”

Good point, well made. I was careful to ask for a horrible cup of tea the next time I was visiting.

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“I think we’ve lost them. He’s gone and got cold feet on it. The sale is gone.”

When someone gets cold feet, they have second thoughts about making an important decision, and this fear, uncertainty or dread invariably leads to a no decision, or another form of decision that’s not in our favour.

I was thinking recently about what a strange phrase, or figure of speech, this is. When we have cold feet in real life, it’s because we’ve been too static, for too long in cold weather, and the only thing we can do is move, either jumping or stamping on the spot or moving to a warmer place.

In the figurative sense of cold feet, moving is exactly what they’re not doing. They’re simply going to get colder on a decision in your favour, until frostbite sets in.

Perhaps ‘slow feet’ is a better way to describe a loss of momentum to a decision-maker’s buying or thought processes. Not as catchy, but more helpful I think.

Idiom is great, isn’t it? The kind of collection of words that don’t translate directly into anything meaningful in another language.

There are loads of examples of course. One of my favourites is ‘off by heart’, as in ‘I learnt it off by heart’. Strange that we would choose to say that rather than off by head, brain or memory!

Apparently, those ancient Greeks felt the heart was the home of intelligence. Odd, then, that this phrase seems to have survived a translation into another language, completely discrediting my definition…