Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Esther from Fremont, CA. Esther Wonders, “Why are idioms so confusing?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Esther!

Has anyone ever told you that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence? How about that you might be jumping from the frying pan into the fire? We’re sure you’ve seen it raining  cats and dogs before. What do all these sayings have in common? They’re all idioms, of course!

What are idioms? They’re a type of figurative language. You can’t rely on the words in an idiom to tell you what the phrase means. That’s because they have a meaning that is different from the literal meanings of the individual words themselves.

In other words, you wouldn’t be able to glean the meaning of an idiom from the meanings of the words that make up the phrase. Thus, idioms are not to be taken literally.

Let’s look at an example. When someone says it’s raining cats and dogs, they don’t mean that there are actual animals falling from the sky. It’s an idiom! The phrase means that it’s raining very heavily.

Likewise, jumping from the frying pan into the fire doesn’t involve either frying pans or fires. It means you go from one bad situation to an even worse one. How about the grass being greener? That simply means that a different situation often seems better than the one you’re currently in.

Idioms can be found in all languages and cultures around the world. In English, idioms are used frequently. This can make learning English much more difficult because you can’t always rely on a word’s definition to tell you what a phrase means. To understand idioms, you have to hear them used in context. If you ever hear someone use an idiom you don’t understand, just ask them what they mean. That way, you can better understand the phrase the next time you hear it.

Language experts have found that idioms aren’t just for fun. They’re an important part of how we communicate. Some experts suggest people may have as many idioms as they do words in their common vocabulary.

Do you think idioms seem odd? After all, why would we use so many phrases with meanings different from the literal meanings of the words that make up those phrases? Some experts suggest that this is powerful evidence of the fact that humans aren’t meant to function on only a literal, logical basis.

Instead, our language reflects the complex beings that we are. Rather than using only literal, logical words and phrases, we choose to use expressions that paint word pictures and create humorous mental images. In this way, our languages and communications become richer and more robust—and, some might say, even more human!

Standards: CCRA.L.5, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2

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