‘THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM’

‘THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM’

January 13, 2023 @ 9:36 AM 3 weeks ago


YOU have probably found some of the English idioms (or idiomatic expressions)—like “the elephant in the room” and “when pigs fly”—popping up in books, TV-shows, and movies. 

According to Dr. Adam Makkai, a Lingustics professor at the University of Illinois, “If you understand every word in a text and still fail to grasp what the text is all about, chances are you are having trouble with the idioms.”

In 2020, Wiseman’s Books Trading, Inc. published a book titled “IDIOMS for English Language Learners”—which my daughter Paula Ymmanuel M. Tulalian (a Senior High student at Dominican College San Juan City) and I co-authored.

The book aims to acquaint the English Language learners with the commonly used English idioms that make the English language so difficult and yet so entertaining to learn and use—and thereby offer them a good opportunity to broaden their knowledge of idiomatic English. (Although not encyclopedic in scope, the book also seeks to serve as a ready resource for anyone fascinated by the colorful nature, richness and flexibility of the English language.) 

What is an “Idiom”? It is “a combination of words that has a meaning that is different from the meanings of the individual words themselves.” An idiom, according to John Ayto (lexicographer and editor of “Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable”), is “a phrase that behaves like a word.” 

Idioms are numerous and repeatedly occur in the English language. It is estimated that the English language contains “at least 25,000 idiomatic expressions.” (These idiomatic expressions include “the elephant in the room” [a known problem that no one wants to discuss] and “when pigs fly” [used for saying something will never happen].)

Being an essential part of the English language lexicon and vocabulary, idioms are considered inevitable for non-native speakers of English. Prof. Rana Abid Thyab pointed out that “[L]earning the idiomatic expressions of a certain language helps one become more knowledgeable about the history, and social norms of the native speakers of that particular language.”

Verily, idioms have enriched the English language; they add sparkle, charm, wit, color and spice to the works in which they are employed; they “introduce powerful imagery into one’s text, and prompt the readers to think beyond facts.” “Had there been no idioms […] in our language, it would have been barren and unadorned.”(Attarde, “Speak & Write Idiomatic English” [2009])

To obtain mastery over using idioms in a sentence, one must follow Prof. Attarde’s instructions: (1) learn the meaning of idioms very well; (2) learn carefully the various ways of using the idioms in a sentence; (3) watch carefully how the idioms are used in sentences; (4) try to use the idioms in your speech and in your writing; and (5) observe the use of idioms in written English and speech. 

To boot, one should, of course, read authors who write fine English (like William Blackstone [“Commentaries on the Laws of England”], Anthony Trollope [“The Prime Minister”], Harper Lee [“To Kill A Mockingbird”], Stephen King [“Mr. Mercedes”], and John Grisham [“The Firm”]).