Week of March 20—Language Play for Lively Writing
Friday, March 25—Idioms—Familiar, Wise, and Fun Sayings!
A sentence should be clear, concise, and straightforward. Or should it be? In addition to a slew of precise nouns and verbs, our language includes a rich smorgasbord of idioms and colloquialisms that allow any writer to express a range of ideas. A idiom is a phrase whose meaning cannot be determined by the literal definition of the phrase itself, but refer instead to a figurative meaning known only through common use.
From: Pyrotechnics on the Page: Playful Craft that Sparks Writing by Ralph Fletcher, p. 51.
Idioms, expressions, and colloquialisms--I love 'em. As I read Fletcher’s book I was interested to see that he lumped all these types of sayings into one category under the heading of idioms.
I read in a professional education journal years ago that idioms were a way of helping English-as-a-second-language learners master English. After all, if you can begin to understand these sayings that actually mean more than the words themselves, you truly are mastering the language. As time has gone by, I’ve found that many children are intrigued by this playing with words and meanings. I let students help collect idioms they’ve read, heard, or discovered in other ways. My favorite idiom of all time is from one of my students. Ryan, half of a pair of fourth grade identical twins, added one of his dad’s sayings to our Idiom Notebook:
Silence is golden, but duct tape is silver.
One student after another discovered Ryan’s idiom in the notebook and soon the saying started cropping up in other peoples’ writing. I frequently share colloquialisms and idioms from my upbringing in Missouri. Those, too, start cropping up in student writing. The first step in mastery is often copying the work or ideas of others.
How do picture authors use idioms in their writing? Well, let’s look back at our friend Margie Palatini for an example. (Maybe we’ll find something to copy! LOL!)
Ah, yes! The perfect hide-out. It was close. It was clever. And—eats were included.
“We’ll go on the lam,” chuckled Willy.
“Pull the wool over their eyes,” chortled Wally.
“Fleece the flock,” the both snickered. “Oh, yeah, we’re bad. We’re bad. We’re really, really bad.”
From: Bad Boys by Margie Palatini and Henry Cole, pp. 12-13
Three idioms in a row, all lamb related, and all spoken by two wolves. How hilarious is that? Here’s another example from Margie:
“It’s just Jack. I’m bring my poor mother some magic beans I traded for our cow.”
“Beans? You need a reality check, junior,” said the little man with a stamp, a stomp, and a snort.
The boy held out his hand. “But all I have left are these beans and two pennies.”
“Then hit the road, Jack!” shouted the Troll, spilling the beans into the river.
Poor Jack didn’t have a clue what to do.
“Don’t worry, kiddo,” called out Billy Bo. “Put in your tow centers over here.”
From: The Three Silly Billies by Margie Palatini and Barry Moser, p. 22
Is it necessary that the reader understands all of the sayings/expressions/idioms in this excerpt. No. The piece is funny and effective even if you don’t understand the literary devices. Of course, once you do understand them, the excerpt is even funnier. Fletcher says in his book that many authors don’t expect their readers to understand all the idioms and expressions used in a piece of writing—interesting, huh? But there are ways to help the reader “get it”.
DEFINED WITH ILLUSTRATIONS
Those wacky Amelia Bedelia books frequently use illustrations to explain idioms and other expressions.
“This is my daddy,” said Amelia Bedelia. “He is a telephone operator.”
“Then he helps people make calls,” said Mr. Rogers.
“He does not!” said Amelia Bedelia. “He operates on telephones.”
“I see,” said Mr. Rogers
“This is my mama,” said Amelia Bedelia. “She is a loafer.”
“You mean she does nothing,” said Mrs. Rogers.
“Certainly not,” said Amelia Bedelia. “She words hard. She makes dough into loaves of brea. That’s what a loafer does.”
“I see,” said Mrs. Rogers
From: Amelia Bedelia’s Family Album by Peggy Parish and Lynn Sweat, pp. 7-10
DEFINING IN CONTEXT
Of course, defining a word, term, or idiom in context is the easiest and most effective way to help a reader understand meaning.
The Three Silly Billies were ready to kick up their heels and have some fun in the sun. They packed up their old jalopy, and with a spit, a chug, and a honk, off they tootled. Down the hill and through the woods went the billies until they came to a small wooden bridge that crossed a very deep river.
From: The Three Silly Billies by Margie Palatini and Barry Moser, p. 4
MIXED UP MEANING FOR FUN
Sometimes authors don’t really want us to understand—they just want us to enjoy. Below is a great example.
But the middle bill, who was Bo, had an idea. “What we need is—a car pool! We can share the fare!”
So Billy Bob opened the trunk. Billy Bo pumped up the pool. And Just Plain Billy fetched some pails of water. With a splish, a splash, and a slosh, the Three Silly Billies grabbed their rubber duckies and jumped into their car pool.
From: The Three Silly Billies by Margie Palatini and Barry Moser, p. 10
It’s Your Turn!
1. Why not start collecting idioms, colloquialisms, and other figures of speech in your writer’s notebook? Who knows when you might pull one out and put it to good use!
2. Go on an Idiom Hunt through some of your favorite picture books. Add the idioms you discover to your list. (It's ok to copy! LOL!)