English is a Strange Language

Photo by Ken Treloar on Unsplash

As a native speaker, I can tell you that English is a strange language. Don’t believe me? What if I were to ask you to give me a hand because I have goosebumps and you can handle the situation since, now and then, you put someone in their place by reading between the lines? Would you know what I mean? Some of those idioms are common. Others, not so much. Let’s break it down.

Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

Giving someone a hand is about helping another person. Think of it as using your hands to help them with an activity. It could be washing their car, teaming up on a project at work, giving a shoulder rub to a teacher who has been sitting at the computer too long. That last one is always good.

Goosebumps are bumps on skin that appear when someone is cold, nervous or scared. Some of you may call it chicken skin or bird skin. Think about any movie based on a Stephen King novel and the monsters that jump at the screen. Scary, right? Those little spots on your arms are goosebumps.

Now and then is a tricky idiom for most of my students. When I think about it, I agree. What does that mean? It’s strange. The simplest meaning is “sometimes”. If you were to ask me if I play golf, I’d say: “now and then”. The people I play golf with would tell you that I don’t really play golf. I search for little white balls that always get lost in places that are not really part of the golf course. I would argue that the balls that land on the windshields of passing cars are still playable.

When it comes to putting someone in their place, we can continue the golf analogy. When someone thinks they are better at an activity than they really are – like playing golf, for example – another person needs to explain they are not good at it. It is usually a matter of arrogance. That being said, I still think it was rude when my golf buddies took me to play mini-golf instead of real golf. Somehow, I still managed to hit a ball under a large truck on the road 100 meters away.

Reading between the lines is understanding the hidden meaning behind what is written or said. It is common in high-powered business meetings when the CEO says one thing but wants everyone to understand what he implies or doesn’t really say. It can also be used when your friends hide all your golf clubs except for your putter because they don’t want you to play golf anymore. Strangely, I can hit a drive farther with my putter than my driver.

So, if you to give me a hand because I have goosebumps and you can handle the situation since, now and then, you put someone in their place by reading between the lines, I am asking you to help me because I am nervous and sometimes you deal with arrogant people by understanding the hidden meaning. Simple, right? I know, it’s not.

English is a strange language.

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