The Idiomatic Idiom and the Coquettish Colloquialism
This past month I have had my serving platter-sized plate heaped with close to two thousand pages of trial and deposition testimony. One of the many challenging, yet fun, aspects of my job as a scopist (one who proofreads/edits transcripts for court reporters), is working with the spoken word. Witnesses, whether they are experts or laypeople—and let’s not leave out the attorneys—often speak in a conversational style and will quickly start using idioms and colloquialisms in ways that can make one want to pull their hair out. I will never forget one of my first “southern” transcripts years ago when I started working here in North Carolina. The witness kept referring to “dadgum” taxes. Being fresh off the boat from western Long Island, I was feeling quite like a fish out of water trying to deal with the new sights and sounds (accents, I mean). And now there was this type of tax that was foreign to me. This story took place back in the day when I did not have the good fortune of having the World Wide Web to help make me look good. I spent hours and hours investigating this alien type of tax. I combed through all my personal reference books, pored through library books. I finally had to throw in the towel because time had run out. When I delivered the transcript to the court reporter, I apologized for my inability to locate the type of tax the witness had repeatedly mentioned, and that I was at wit’s end. Imagine my reaction when, after she could stop laughing and catch her breath, she declared, “bless your heart,” and then explained to me that dadgum taxes were the same type of *#@% taxes we dealt with in New York. Well, if that didn’t put pepper in the gumbo. And there you have it—the dadgum coquettish colloquialism that will forever remain stuck in my craw. The idiomatic idiom has had its own idiosyncratic effect on my job. I have had my fair share of laughs at another’s expense due to their misinterpretation of an idiom. But let the truth be known, I’ve had many an idiotic idiom mishap of my own. Some of my favorite idioms that are commonly misspoken (misspelled) are listed below. We better git on the stick, time’s a-wastin’.
“Nip it in the bud”
Okay. I admit it. I confess. I used to think the phrase was “nip it in the butt.” In my mind it was a perfect phrase to say let’s put an end to this; as much as it might hurt, let’s nip it in the butt before things get worse. What’s wrong with that? It worked for me.
“Waiting with bated breath”
Here’s my trick for remembering that “bated” is the correct word: I wouldn’t want anyone’s breath to be like stinky fish bait. Of course the more intelligent way of remembering this is knowing that bated means reduced in force or amount, but that’s not nearly as much fun as thinking about smelly fish breath.
“Whet your appetite”
Again, I’ll admit it, a long time ago I thought wet your appetite was correct because when you think of something yummy, you salivate, and … okay. ‘Nuf said. Let’s move on. We have other fish to fry.
Hello?! Have I been living on another planet? I always thought it was “hone in,” like narrowing sharply in on something. Good try, Karen. “E.T., phone home.” I’m homing in on the source of the fishlike odor.
“One and the same”
I cannot begin to tell you how many times in testimony people say “one in the same.” Probably as often as the ridiculous phrase “it is what it is.” Both of those phrases are toe-curlers for me. Come on, people, say it with me: One AND the same – two things are the same. It is what it is. Recently the next phrase piqued my interest:
“You’ve got another think coming”
Me thinks not! Well, after mulling it over and reading the entire phrase that this originates from, it does kind of-sort of make sense. “If that’s what you think, you’ve got another think coming.” This phrase dates back to the late 1800s and over the years has evolved into the more familiar abridged version, “You’ve got another thing coming.” Well, I suppose it’s time to fish or cut bait. We’re pretty much done conversating about these examples of idiotic idiomatic expressions and the coquettish colloquialisms that constitute conundrums in my head.
“Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity.” ~Christopher Morley