Idioms or not

Thursday 19 March 2009, 2.26am HKT

A conversation about using English idioms, ca. August 2003:

gws145034J: “What is your personal taste in using idioms in your writing? Well, they are hackneyed and we’ve always been taught that trite statements are dull and boring. Personally, since I’m a rebellious writer, I’ll use idioms whenever I feel necessary.”

M: “I try to use them […] because, if I don’t use them, I tend to forget them. I wouldn’t normally be holding a conversation using a lot of idioms: I wouldn’t definitely like to put the other person off. But I would be inclined to think that native speakers use them now and again. I would say it would be more useful simply to recognise them.”

I: “Hey, no doubt idioms sound stylish, but I think you should do some research on where exactly to use them and where not. For example, in my early days, I used a few of them in some letters and my teacher was mad at me, but at times they do add spice to your articles. By the way, any good site suggestions for idioms?”

K: “Idioms are not always informal. There are formal idioms as well, and they are appropriate to formal situations, just as informal ones are appropriate to informal situations. Idioms are fabulous because idioms, slang, sayings, etc., have a narrower range of connotations than most words. They can add a lot of colour to your writing when employed well.”

K (continuing): “And, yeah, it’s kind of silly to ask whether something is a good stylistic effect, because, well, pretty much anything can be stylistically useful if you know how to use it. The problem comes when these things are used poorly. For that reason, it’s dangerous to use colloquialisms. Unless you are very familiar with how an idiom is used, I would recommend avoiding it.

J: “But why is it that those so-called teachers of mine get all gritty when they see idioms and metaphors. Teachers loved those in high schools. Oh well, I’ll wait ’til I become the teacher, hopefully, and have my revenge on my students. *LOL*”

K: “Possibly you are using them inappropriately. But I couldn’t say for sure without seeing specific examples.”

J: “I guess I should just listen to my current teacher. Besides, my teacher now is the judge of the current state of my writing. So far, I haven’t had problems with my first college English teacher because I didn’t feel [like] using idioms during that time. The only teachers I’d have problems with were people who think they are teachers and stuff — I guess, I shouldn’t have used the word ‘so-called’ earlier, huh? It made it sound like they were real teachers … anyhow, so, yeah. I should ask [for] inputs from people who don’t know me, like forums—and real teachers.”

K: “Actually, ‘so-called’ generally means that they are not what they seem. They are called teachers, but in your opinion [they] are not actually. The expression is generally used derisively rather than literally.”

J: “Actually, I meant they were not really teachers, but they view themselves as teachers, by the way they act and stuff.”

(ca. August 2003)

5 Responses to “Idioms or not”

  1. Only “K” is the native English speaker.


  2. Vivi said

    Maybe just to “show off ” heehee


  3. Suzanne said

    Well, it’s quite complicated for me to use idioms when i realise that even native speaker cannot handle idioms well. i think i should keep my english as simple as possible because i’m afraid that if i try to use idioms, my expression will be confused. Also, thank for your patience to teach me so much.


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