Friday, March 30, 2012

Idioms, an Interesting Ingredient in Language

Language and all its components isn't usually a table topic for us.  Today, however, I said something that caused my husband to stop dead in his tracks.

I received an offer from an editor to work with her.  I know several people with whom I can work and was saying so to my husband.  He questioned if I knew her.

"No, I don't know her from Adam's off ox, as my grandmother would say."

"What did you say?"  When I told him, he said he'd never heard of any such thing and what was it.

I decided we'd have a little language lesson.  I started with the fact that it was an idiom.  As defined on The Free Dictionary, an idiom is a noun meaning one of the following:

"1. A speech form or an expression of a given language that is peculiar to itself grammatically or cannot be understood from the individual meanings of its elements, as in keep tabs on.
 . . .
3. Regional speech or dialect.
4.  a. A specialized vocabulary used by a group of people; jargon: legal idiom.  
 . . ."

"Adams' off ox" is definitely a regional expression arising in the South.  To get a clear picture of its origin and history, we did a search on World Wide Words and found an incredibly fascinating history of the expression. 

Usage of this unusual phrase dates back to 1784.  Michael Quinion, author of World Wide Words, provides an interesting piece on "Adams' off ox" here.  Please take some time to read this interesting item.

Once you've read the article on Adam's off ox, return here to look at the photograph to the left.  It gives a clear image of what Quinion describes.

Our discussion here at home ended in some good-natured laughter and teasing, my Pacific NW husband poking fun at the idioms found in the South.  And as always, I managed to get a few pokes in myself at some of the things heard in the NW.  

Man is a creature who lives not upon bread alone,
but primarily by catchwords.
~~ Robert Louis Stevenson

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