There must be something in the weather, or maybe I am just noticing it more. But just this week, it seems like everyone agreed to sprinkle their language with a heavy dose of wordplay, old sayings, and things that although I understand them are quite hard to figure out how to say on the spot in the target language at the rate of 200 words per minute. Just a few examples:
A lawyer asks for release from jail at a defendant’s second hearing. The judge tells him, “This is not “Second Bite at Bail” court!” Second bite means a second chance. Bail is usually set at the first hearing, when the charges are formally read to the defendant.
“They kicked him loose.” I suspect the new lawyer was combining letting someone loose and kicking someone to the curb into a single strange saying.
“Splitting hairs” means arguing about something that is too specific or petty to worry about. But it is hard to suddenly come upon this and other idioms or saying in another language on the spot. Do we get rid of hair altogether and say quibble, or cavil? If we do, does anyone but a lover of literature even know what those words mean in English, let alone in the target language?
“That was a loaded question” gives the idea that the question may explode on you like a gun. It is defined as a question containing a controversial or unjustified assumption. Again, not all target languages will necessarily have a one-word fix for this rather complex concept.
“Cross the line”. It means to go too far, but when we hear it, we have to think about whether there is a way to say it with line, or whether to just say you overstepped, or talk about boundaries, or being inappropriate, and after all that runs through our heads, we are behind the speaker by a few sentences again. Argh.
“You may have an axe to grind” means you may have a hidden desire to get back at someone, like you are sharpening your axe for battle. It can just mean you have a strong opinion about something. A judge told the jury during selection that they may have an axe to grind, and I took it to mean they may be impartial. For example, if someone you know want hit by a drunk driver, you may want to punish this drunk driver by convicting them on slim evidence.
To top the cake, one of the judges told the audience that “we do our darnedest.” For God’s sake, and I mean that literally. Let’s take the swearword “damn”. This means we are asking God to condemn someone to hell. Reduce it to darn, which actually means to mend something, like a sock. Damn and darn are like shit and shoot – the latter words are a little softer than the real swearwords. Now take darn and make it past tense, so we have darned. I darned my socks. Then try to change it to an adverb by having it describe how you do something, even though you are not saying what you are doing. Then to add to the confusion, add a superlative suffix (the -est ending). Are you still with me? I am doing my darnedest here! By the way, that means I am doing my best. Dammit.