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Idioms are not your friends

Us­ing id­ioms is a dou­ble-edged sword. One side lets you cut to the point. You say a phrase, and it's so load­ed of mean­ing, it's a short­cut to what you mean. One side can cut you, if you just use it and you use it wrong.

Let's con­sid­er Beat­riz Sar­lo, a re­spect­ed ar­gen­tine in­t­elec­tu­al. She writes op-ed col­umns in a news­pa­per. She wrote one to­day. It end­s:

To­tal, Boudou, sin bromi­ta al­gu­na, debe ade­cuarse a lo que le to­que, obe­de­cien­do el viejo re­frán de que a un ca­bal­lo re­gal­a­do no hay que ex­am­i­narlo para ver si viene com­ple­to.

Which I trans­late as:

In any case, Boudou, jokes aside, has to ac­cept what he get­s, fol­low­ingth­at old ad­vice about not ex­am­in­ing gift hors­es to see if they are whole.

One pe­cu­liar thing here is that we have al­most the ex­act same say­ing in span­ish and eng­lish. In eng­lish you don't look gift hors­es in the mouth. In span­ish you don't check the teeth of gift hors­es. The prob­lem here (if I may be so pedan­tic (yes you may (thanks oth­er me! (my plea­sure)))) is that Ms. Sar­lo has no freak­ing clue of what that mean­s.

Sup­pose you are buy­ing a horse. You would check the mouth be­cause you want to see if the horse is young or old (c­i­ta­tion need­ed? Here is google's first re­sult). That's im­por­tant when you buy a horse. It's, on the oth­er hand, re­al­ly use­less and rude when you are get­ting a horse as a gift:

Nice guy: Hey, here's a horse!

Rude mo­ron: (looks in the mouth) No thanks!

That's why you don look gift hors­es in the mouth. And that's al­so why you don't check ama­zon to see how much the book you got cost­s.

On the ther hand, if you were a Tamar­i­an, you could look at the horse's mouth and say "Tem­ba, at rest".

Ale Sarco / 2012-01-15 12:25:

Bueno, me parece que no hay que tomarlo tan literal. Lo que el dicho dice es que si te regalan algo, no le empieces a buscar defectos, que el dicho provenga de que antiguamente se le miraban los dientes al caballo para saber su edad, no quita que se pueda usar solo para esa situación. Después de todo es un dicho nada más, a Boudou ciertamente no le regalaron un caballo, y lo que Beatriz Sarlo quizo expresar, en mi opinión, se entiende perfectamente. 

Roberto Alsina / 2012-01-15 13:00:

Obviamente que no se usa de forma literal, porque no estamos hablando de caballos. Se usa de forma figurativa. Pero si no sabés que quiere decir, es simplemente como usar una palabra que no sabés qué significa.

Ponele que yo te dijera: "Para hacer esta tortilla, ponga dos huevos, así mata dos pájaros de un tiro" eso es usarlo mal a proposito para hacer un chiste. Eso es distinto.


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