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Thoughts on Idioms

By Joshua Hoffman

It would not be an absurdity if one were to say that words have power. Of course they do. Words are the foundation of our society. Without them, any form of communication would be almost impossible. That is not to say, however, that you can take all words or phrases at face value. Take idioms, phrases established purely by frequency of use, and not deducible from the literal meaning. They are a most intriguing piece of the literary device pie.

A great example of an idiom is the phrase, “Barking up the wrong tree.” We all know that it means that the “barker” is looking for an answer to something in the wrong place and not a dog (or human imitating a dog) barking at an inherently wrong tree. I especially like this Idiom because I still see it in use quite a bit in tv shows, movies, literature, and everyday life. How often do we stop to consider the origin behind a phrase like “barking up the wrong tree?” While I doubt there is a clear point-of-origin, I would lobby an educated guess into the realm of a dog chasing an animal into a tree and then barking at the base of the wrong tree.

I’ve found recently that my thoughts have turned towards the origins of idioms. It would seem that any phrase could be an idiom if one tried hard enough. With the rise of social media and influencers, it’s easier than ever for hypothetically, someone like Charlie Demillio to influence the English language. Idioms are a  producing facet of our world. The phrase “shitting bricks” probably didn’t become popular until the last couple of decades. 

It is my goal to explore the origins of idioms with you readers. This exploration will take place in a series of flash fiction pieces that occur at different points in time. I hope you enjoy your journey with me throughout this exploration of idioms.

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