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No doubt about it, puns and idioms can present some of the more challenging (and sometimes awkward) interpreting opportunities.  Why?  Because they will make no sense if directly translated into a second (target) language.  Or, worse, they will "make sense" but not at all in the way intended when they were uttered in the original (source) language.

Because puns and idioms are woven into a source (original) language and culture, their meaning and usefulness typically starts and ends among people who share the same language and cultural background.

Many native users of English know what a grandmother means when she tells her grandchild to "go sell your papers" (go tell someone else, who will presumably care more than I do; you're bothering me right now), or what an older sister means when she tells a younger brother to "take a hike" (go away; you're bothering me right now).

On the other hand, what are the literal meanings of go sell your papers and take a hike?  Suppose the grandchild has no papers to go and sell?  Suppose the younger brother has no hiking shoes or other adequate rigging?  Imagine their confusion that a loved one would command them to perform such an unexpected activity and for no apparent reason.  

While it may at first seem funny that anyone would take such remarks literally, that's exactly what happens when non-native users are confronted by what they at best perceive as silly or meaningless utterances and at worst perceive as rude, crude, insulting, or otherwise inappropriate behavior.

With the dangers of such misunderstandings in mind, it is clear just how important is the work of the interpreter practitioner, who literally holds in his or her own hands the responsibility of conveying intended meaning.

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LINGUISTIC CREATIVITY

Wordplay (pun) is a rhetorical device that often relies on:

  1. the different meanings of a multi-meaning word;

  2. the literal and non-literal meaning of an idiom; or

  3. on bringing two words that sound alike (homonyms) together in the same sentence to produce a witticism.  

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CULTURAL IDENTITY

Puns are intimately bound up with the culture of a language, reflecting particular values, tastes, and lifestyles: Good reasons for using puns in advertising, to attract a reader's attention and maintain his or her interest.  

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Teacher's Workbook: ASL Idioms, Volume 1

Idioms & Phrases in ASL
TEACHER'S WORKBOOK
Check it out.


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MULTI-WORD UNIT

An idiom is a multi-word unit whose meaning cannot be generally inferred from the meaning of the individual words.  

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SEMANTIC VARIETY

Idioms vary from being semantically (meaningfully):

  1. opaque (completely unclear) such as to break the ice meaning to say or do something to make people feel relaxed and comfortable; to

  2. semi-opaque (clear in some aspect) such as to pass the buck meaning to pass the responsibility; to

  3. relatively transparent (rather obvious) such as to see the light meaning to understand.

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DOUBLE-WHAMMY

Idioms that are difficult to recognize are those that have both a literal and idiomatic meaning, such as:

  1. to go out with someone;

  2. to take someone for a ride;

  3. to put one's feet up;

  4. to pull someone's leg;

  5. to have cold feet; or 

  6. to put something on ice.

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EXAMPLES

Let's take a look at some simple and quite common American English idioms, what they mean, and how a practitioner might render their meaning in sign language.  But, before we do that, we need to say a little something about situation and setting:

SITUATION; SETTING

The examples shown in the table that follows are most appropriate for general and casual adult conversation.  Interpreters must always consider situation and setting before rendering an interpretation, and make decisions accordingly.  Practitioners in, for example, an educational or other technical setting, may find that the exact and literal English idiom or pun, as well as its interpreted meaning, are appropriately conveyed.

In the table that follows are some common American English idioms, meanings, and possible ASL renderings.  Readers are reminded to bear in mind that, just as there are several ways to convey an idea or message in English, there may be more than one way to interpret into ASL an English idiom.

TerpTopics does not claim to have the market cornered when it comes to the best or the smartest or any of those other superlatives; rather, we humbly offer examples in the hope that they may support novice signers or interpreter students in developing a sense, or deeper understanding, of the topic. 

VISITOR FEEDBACK

Certainly, reasonable and experienced signers and interpreters may feel that a better rendering might have been chosen.  TerpTopics welcomes and incorporates thoughtful feedback from visitors.  Please feel free to contact us.

Idiomatic
Expression
Meaning Possible ASL Rendering(s)
keep it up continue CONTINUE
stir up initiate CAUSE; MAKE
stick up armed robbery GUN STEAL
it's up to you you decide THINK-SELF
put down insult INSULT; LOOK-DOWN-UPON
put down deposit INVEST
go up to approach APPROACH; MEET
go over look at LOOK-OVER; READ-OVER
go in for have interest in; agree INTEREST HAVE; EAGER; AGREE
come to regain consciousness AWAKEN
put up with tolerate PATIENCE
put on an act pretend ACT; PRETEND; TRICK; FAKE; LIE
throw up vomit VOMIT
used to previously PAST; PRIOR
used to accustomed to HABIT TO; ACCEPT
tear down take apart; deconstruct DESTROY; COLLAPSE
tear up beat up; spank HIT; ABUSE
turn down decline; deny opportunity THUMB-DOWN; REFUSE
get to arrive ARRIVE
get to permitted ALLOW
getaway escape; vacation ESCAPE; VACATION
get over recover from SICK FINISH; HEALTHY BECOME
get better improve IMPROVE
get rid of free one's self of REMOVE; EXCUSE; DELETE; TOSS-OUT

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This page was edited: 09/15/2009
This page has been visited Hit Counter times since: September 2009.
TerpTopics is a trademark and service mark of TerpTopics, LLC. © 2008; 2009. All rights reserved.

TerpTopics™ is an independent entity; as such does not claim or attempt to claim, represent, or imply by any means whatsoever that it is associated with any other entity that may or may not offer services, goods, or information of interest to interpreter, Deaf, or student communities.  The opinions expressed here those of TerpTopics unless otherwise stated.  Please keep in mind that, while every effort is made to present correct, appropriate, and reasonable information that is based on our experience, anecdotal experiences of others, or developed during the general course of study and professional development, we do not represent TerpTopics as having cornered the market on wisdom (heck, no!) or experience; one reason why links to several other good and reliable resources are made available throughout this site, and we hope that earnest seekers of knowledge will take advantage of them.

 

 

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