I’m An Idiom, Are You?
By Kat Kiefer-Newman
We love our mothers. And because we love our mothers we’ve dedicated a day every year to saying so. By we I don’t just mean here in the US: in Bangladesh, Slovakia, Curaçao, New Zealand, Belize, Iceland, Peru, Chile, Greece, Bonaire, China, Aruba, Denmark, Suriname, Zimbabwe, Italy, Japan, Malta, and more mothers are honored with a special day. We don’t just love our moms with coupons for spa days; we love our moms so much that we give them idioms. I hope all of you had a terrific Mother’s Day; I did. This all got me to thinking…
Some of the best idioms in the world are mom-related, and I’m not just talking about a few. Moms get a mother lode of idioms.
Wait, did someone ask “what’s an idiom?”
You must be in one of my writing classes. Last semester I had a student insist that she had no “idiots” in her paper, and that she was offended that I would suggest otherwise. (OK, I made that up, but I did have a student get upset when I told him he’d said an oxymoron. I felt badly when I learned that he’d thought I was saying he was a moron, and he was confused about the oxy part).
An idiom is a figurative word or phrase, or it’s an expression, or a figure of speech that isn’t intended to be taken literally. Moreover, as I am constantly reminding my students, idioms don’t really translate well, so they make for bad writing (even though I know that some writing guides suggest using them for “color” or “flavor” in your writing). An example of an idiom is the phrase motherland, which can be interchangeable with mother country, and from where we get our mother language. Or, maybe, it’s all about the mother ship?
We also honor our mothers with wisedoms, often learned at mother’s knee, because mother knows best. Not only that, but necessity is the mother of invention, and diligence is the mother of good luck. For better or for worse, we’ve also experienced that a woman is often like mother, like daughter. Mothers, you see, miraculously know things that others don’t. That’s why we know that he that would the daughter win, must with the mother first begin. And who could forget “Mama always said that life is like a box of chocolates” (Forrest Gump 1994).
Mothers love unconditionally, which is why we cherish them so. I grew up hearing the phrase “bless his heart, he has a face that only a mother could love” and I knew it meant, well, maybe you get the point. We know it’s sad to be a motherless child because it means we missed that love. Loving is great, but you don’t want to date someone who’s called a mama’s boy. Perhaps because he’s tied to his mother’s apron strings?
When we’re 5 or 6 we like being mother’s little helper, but sometimes a substance can be mother’s little helper and that’s a whole other thing entirely.
There’s mother love and mother’s milk – both are terrific but for completely different reasons.
If you want to get at the truth of something, then make someone swear on your mother’s grave (this doesn’t work if she’s in the other room, though). And, last, if we wanna really curse then we use our mothers for that, too: your mother wears combat boots, or the more elaborate your mother is a fraggin’ aardvark, but a purist will stick with the clean and simple yo’ mama.
About the Juggler: Kat Kiefer-Newman currently teaches as an adjunct instructor at two colleges in two different departments. In addition to her busy working (and driving) schedule she attends conferences presenting her research, is in the last stages of finishing her Ph.D., takes care of her elderly father, has recently packed up and sent off to college her second daughter, chats in status updates with her students on Facebook, does not hand out her cell phone number to said students despite their pleadings, and in her spare time she plays in her organic veggie garden. (And though she will never admit it, she also enjoys reading trashy vampire novels.)