There are a plethora of words in everyday vernacular that are used without knowledge of history. Essentially, etymology, which derives from Greek meaning “true word” is never learned nor realized because idiomatic expressions make their mark throughout a long duration of time. Everyday we say things like “cutting through the red tape,” “mind your pints and quarts” without knowing that the history of the words are so rich and timeless.According to Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary Eleventh Edition, the expression “red tape” is associated to a series of processes that require a lot of work just to reach a certain point. This is used to express filling out of paper work or busy work-requiring very technical procedures. Furthermore, the etymology is somewhat reflective of the definition today in that it refers when the English would wrap their legal documents with red tape. Although people today may not literally use red tape to bind documents or busy work, the essence and significance of the action remains throughout linguistic development.
Some idiomatic expressions have obvious translations, and the etymology is not as obscure. For instance the idiomatic expression “always a bridesmaid never a bride” is not necessarily restricted to the setting of a wedding. It refers to the idea that a person is so close to reaching or fulfilling his or her ambition, but never actually completing it according to Usinenglish.com. This idiom, however, may indicate something about our culture: that we place considerable significance on following through.
It is critical to note that idiomatic expressions are not chosen by one person, and suddenly, a trend begins. Idiomatic expressions are manifestations of how people treat and change language. In fact, people use several idiomatic expressions each day and are not even aware of it. For instance, “brand new” wields a history as well. It is not reflective of the workmanship or creator, but actually refers to the kind of metal or material used by the smith, indicating its “brand” because it came out from the fire.
“In a nutshell,” is anotherterm, that although has no literal meaning today, derives from the fact that some documents were attempted to be copied, like passages from the Bible, and then be transported in a nutshell according to “Expressions and sayings” users.tinyonline.co.uk/gswithenbank/sayindex.htm. Today, we use it to indicate the brevity or whole idea of something in minimal words as possible.
It is also crucial to note that language constantly changes because we as people change often.
Ultimately, there are thousands of idiomatic expressions with interesting backgrounds that go unnoticed. But, by trying to learn them, a person is on the right track.
Nicole Fortuna is a second-year student majoring in Literature with a minor in Linguistics. She can be reached at NF626790@wcupa.edu.