In one ear and out the other.

Today’s post is “hot off the presses.” If you understand what that means, then you have interpreted an idiom. Idioms are expressions which have meanings other than their literal meaning.  Most people learn the non-literal meanings of idioms as they grow up by paying attention to social contexts and emotional clues.

But lots of people have trouble understanding idioms.  For instance, non-native speakers of a language may never fully understand common idioms.   And children who struggle with social communication for a variety of reasons can get very confused by idioms.

Last night, as the volcano video was ending, the narrator, who was explaining that all of the atoms in our bodies were once a part of the molten Earth, said something like, “We have all been touched by fire.”

Zach thought about it for a minute and said, “Ezra’s been touched by fire.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Ezra is the only one in our family who has touched fire.”

I just let it go.  It was almost nine and I was tired.  I have to save my energy for the more troublesome conversations.  Like the one a couple years ago that ended with Zach saying, “You mean Grandma Margie was a fish?!!”

Neither of those mistakes were problems with idioms per se, just problems taking language too literally.  But idioms often prove tricky around here, for both boys. And when you think of it, idioms are everywhere.  Here’s a very short list:

  • In a pickle.
  • In one ear and out the other.
  • You’re a chip off the old block.
  • A dime a dozen.
  • Hold your horses.
  • Splitting hairs.
  • Sharp as a tack.
  • Over the hill.

Now imagine taking those sayings literally.  Or living with people who do.  It can be quite funny, actually.

What about you?  Do you have stories to share of people taking you too literally? Go ahead – spill your guts.


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  • Kathy

    Ren brings homework home that's a whole page of idioms. He never knows what half of them mean, and I'm usually stumped by 2-3. I'm too lazy to google them, so I just write on the side "We couldn't figure these out" and sign my name.

    Do I not know common 5th grade idioms at age 46 because I spent the first 2 years of my life speaking Mandarin? How did I miss this??