Idioms Are Strange Short Stories

An idiom is a cultural expression whose meaning does not relate to the literal meaning of its words. When speaking with friends from China, Taiwan, India, Venezuela, Canada, and New Zealand, I have learned that you cannot assume the things you say mean something to someone else. My wife Cindie taught an English class to some friends in India in 2019 and one of the challenges is to be thoughtful about the phrases we use that we think others will understand. Some words, when put together, might make sense to the people in our culture, but they sound strange to the people who are trying to learn English. Here are some examples:

My wife has a green thumb.

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

He looks like he is green around the gills.

That new soldier is a greenhorn.

Show me the green.


These short stories, when translated mean:

My wife is a skilled gardener.

I think my life will be better if I change my location or my job or my relationships.

He looks like he is sick or nauseous.

That soldier hasn’t been in a real fighting situation or battle.

Before I commit, I want to see the money.

Give that Kid a Chocolate Fish

From my New Zealand friend, Nicola, I received a wonderful box of New Zealand treats and treasures. She included a couple of sheets explaining the reason each was included. One item was a Queen Anne Raspberry Marshmallow Fish. It is dark chocolate, which is my favorite type of chocolate. It is also gluten free, which was a thoughtful choice by my friend. The chocolate fish she sent me was made by a company in business since 1925. However, without her explanation, I would have enjoyed the lollies (candies) she sent me without understanding.

In New Zealand, “Give that kid a chocolate fish” is, in Kiwi culture, “a common reward for a job well done.” It was her way of saying thankyou for the Zoom investment training I gave her over the course of several weeks.

The gift from my New Zealand friend Nicola.

Check for Understanding!

The next time you use an idiom (you will use one today) be certain your audience knows what you are saying. In fact, a generally good rule for communications is check for understanding!

By the way, chasing the green is not a wise life choice. Proverbs 11:28 says, “Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.” (ESV)

Five Minute Friday

This post is part of the weekly Five Minute Friday link-up.