Stories to Explain Sayings, or The Etymology of Idioms

A few months ago I had a short session with a man from Eastern Europe that specifically wanted to work on learning English idioms. Then, around six weeks ago, a member of my Toastmasters club brought up the subject of explaining the etymology of idioms for short impromptu speeches. I often reference The Fox and the Grapes from Aesop. It seems like idioms might be an interesting subject for short little stories replicating the style of Aesop.


What is an idiom? An idiom is an expression where you cannot discern the meaning of the saying by knowing the meaning of the individual words. If you took it literally you may be confused, or do something very odd.

A site with a great list of idioms is http://writingexplained.org/idiom-dictionary

All of the idioms must have some story to go with them already. Turning a blind eye has a cool origin. A Royal Navy commander in the British forces was given an order to retreat by the Admiral through a flag signal. The commander, Horatio Nelson, held the telescope up to his blind eye, which had been injured earlier in his career, and said he didn't see the signal. He continued to attack, won the battle, and replaced that Admiral afterwards. Now, turning a blind eye means to ignore something.

Imagine the origin stories that you could make up to explain "it's raining cats and dogs." You could go a fantasy route, a dark realistic route, a funny route, an ancient history route. There are so many options.

I'm working on coming up with one of my own: don't bite yourself in the head. Lol, or something like that. There was a snapping turtle born with two heads. The animal was on display for years. It grew fairly large. Then, one day, the two heads got into a fight. The fight ended when one head bit off the other head. This, of course, led to it bleeding to death itself. It seems to me that that could make a good little story, with a good saying and a good moral; much like Aesop himself. I've never tried to write something like that, but let's try a one paragraph version.

Once upon a time, when there was still magic in the world, a snapping turtle was born with two heads. The parents named one head Le and the other head Arn. Le and Arn were not only brothers, but the best of friends. They did everything together. When they were children they played together and got into trouble together, they went to school together and dated together, and later they got jobs together. Le began to feel a little trapped at his job. He just did the same thing everyday, nothing new, nothing exciting. One day he mentioned to Arn that they should quite and get a different job, but Arn had other ideas. He was comfortable where they were at and didn't want to make a change. Le and Arn began to fight. They yelled and screamed, it was the worst fight they'd ever had. Arn told Le that he was not leaving and hit him with his head. Le was so angry, so frustrated, the entire world had turned against him. Before he realized what he was doing he had used his mighty jaws to bite Arn's head clean off. Le looked in horror at the blood spilling upon the ground and realized he had done something horribly wrong, but it was too late. Le was not complete without Arn, and soon there was not enough blood left for him to remain alive. It is important to LeArn, don't bite off your own head.

Well, that went a little differently than I thought it was going to, longer and a little darker than I intended. I kept it without dialogue to shorten it, but it would probably be better with a little dialogue to make it more immediate. I changed the saying a little bit, but I like it. I thought Le and Arn was a nice touch, I almost used Cain and Able, but they are already taken. I am going to call this "Le and Arn: The Two Headed Snapping Turtle" by Jeffrey Alexander Martin.

Something like this could be done with a lot of different events, and retroactively applied to a lot of idioms that already exist.

You are welcome to explore stories and writing with me at JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

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