(3.2) Idiomaitc English -- Idioms

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Aug 7, 2017 00:37
Some English idioms originated from English classics, such as Shakespeare’s works (pound of flesh, wear my heart upon my sleeve), and George Orwell’s works (Big Brother). But the number of idioms in this category is not on a par with that of in Chinese.* This is because, I extrapolate, English changes phonetically over time, and thus ancient English texts from thousands of years ago might become nearly unintelligible to the average layman, whereas most native Chinese speakers can intuitively understand the meanings of chengyus, i.e. four-character idioms (mostly ancient Chinese in origin), because characters don’t change much.

Some English idioms have interesting stories behind them, like “catch-22,” or come from fables such as Greek myths (Achilles’ heel). The same is true of Chinese; we have a good number of idioms with background stories that may take many words to tell.

In terms of borrowing foreign words to form idioms, English, as a phonetic language, is more assimilative than Chinese. In English, there are many foreign idioms or idioms that include foreign words. For example, “Cest' La Vie/en route/a tour de force” from French, “Hasta la vista,” and “enchilada” from Spanish as in “a big enchilada,” and “caboodle” from Dutch as in “the whole kit and caboodle.”

*I’d like to translate a Tang dynasty poem here some day, and show you how many idioms from a single piece are stilled used today.
一些英语习语来自英语经典文学作品,比如莎士比亚的作品 (pound of flesh, wear my heart upon my sleeve), 乔治奥威尔的作品((Big Brother). 但这种来自文学经典的习语数量,英语比不上中文。我猜测,可能是因为英语的语音随着时间变化,所以几千年前的英语文学作品普通人看不懂了,但是大多数中国人能够看懂成语(大多数来自古代汉语),因为汉字不怎么变化。

一些英语习语有有趣的背景故事,比如catch-22,或者是来自希腊神话((Achilles’ heel),中文也一样,我们很多习语后面都有小故事,一两句话解释不清楚。

英语吸收外来语构成习语,这方面,英语由于是字母语言,比汉语更加兼容并蓄。英语中不少习语来自外语。比如,Cest' La Vie/en route/a tour de force 来自法语。 “Hasta la vista” and “a big enchilada” 中的 enchilada 来自西班牙语,the whole kit and caboodle 中的 caboodle 来自荷兰语。
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