When new speakers learn a language, they can often get bent out of shape over idioms. Starting from scratch with a new language is daunting enough when trying to learn the literal translations of words, and upon hearing an idiomatic expression when chewing the fat with a native speaker, novices often clam up.
Idioms are a language device to convey a non-literal meaning through a figurative expression. All languages make frequent use of idioms, and English has at least 25,000 idioms, leaving ESL students with an even taller mountain to climb for an already difficult lingual study.
Give (someone) a ribbing
To non-native or fluent English speakers, "ribbing" someone might sound almost violent, but it means teasing and refers to tickling ribs to induce laughter.
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Multiple studies have shown that are brains are hard-wired to understand figurative speech.
Treat (someone) with kid gloves
This idiomatic expression means to deal with somebody carefully and/or gently. The phrase is based on the literal meaning of kid gloves, an article of clothing made of soft leather. Kid gloves are also white gloves often used by servants for handling objects without leaving a trace.
A 2005 study out of the University of California - San Diego found that a region of the brain known as the angular gyrus is at least partly responsible for our ability to understand figurative language.
To come to this conclusion, researchers enlisted study right-handed participants who were fluent in English, intelligent and mentally lucid, but had suffered damage to their left angular gyrus. Each participant was asked to explain the meaning behind proverbs such as "The grass is always greener on the other side," or "An empty vessel makes more noise."
Cut to the chase
If someone asks you to cut to the chase, he or she wants you to get to the point. The phrase originates from the early silent film era, when movies often hit their climax during chase scenes. "Cut to the chase" back then referred to not boring the audience with unnecessary dialogue or exposition and get to the part of the movie they were most interested in.
What the researchers found is that patients often gave definitions for each proverb that tended toward a literal meaning, the metaphorical underpinnings of the expression seemingly lost on them.
"[T]he patients often came up with elaborate, even ingenious interpretations -- that were completely off the mark," lead author V.S. Ramachandran, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at UC San Diego, said at the time.
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