So I take a couple friends to lunch today—Chinese buffet ftw, btw—and one of my friends and I get into yet another
argument discussion ARGUMENT
about language, notably idiomatic language.
I say something like, "Idiomatic language doesn't need to be logical. Take 'raining cats and dogs' for instance."
He says, "Well, that saying has a history and is so colorful, it's meaning cannot be misconstrued any other way. No one would ever think it's literally raining cats and dogs—even foreigners!"
Which is a valid point. Then he demands—okay, demands
is a strong word—that I come up with another example to prove my assertion.
I couldn't. At least not right on the spot.
See, I feel that arguments and discussions should be met with an clean slate. Examples should pop up, organic to the discussion. I don't have a list of examples stored in my brain to which I can call upon and wield like weapons when the situation permits—I haven't the memory for that! And maybe my poor memory has shaped how I discuss and argue with people. In fact, I'm sure it is.
So after sitting across from my friend and his smug expression for the next 20 minutes, unable even to enjoy my crag rangoon!!!, I gave up. I didn't give in, mind; he knows that I'll think about it for days on end, until an example pops in my head. He stands to take a call from his cell [he is, at least, polite] and excuses himself. I say, "You know we're gonna talk about you behind your back, right?"
Then walks off.
And it hits me.
THAT is a completely illogical statement. And I mean the exact—technical—opposite of what I said.
In literature, when someone walks away, and the other person is saying something after them, it usually reads something like:
Rob stood up and stalked off.
"Yeah, walk away like a coward, you coward!" I yelled to his back.
Logically—and technically—speaking, if I'm saying something behind your back, then I'm saying something to your face. I mean, if your back is to me, then I'm looking at the front of your actual back. If I'm behind your back, then I'm back to facing you. Strictly speaking. The phrase behind your back is logically inconsistent with the idea of fronts and backs, and would be more consistently represented with talking at your back
, or even talking behind you
, but not behind your back
My friend came back to the table, smug look now vanished. I didn't say a word. I think I had made my point.Addendum: Yes, I know I'm being completely nit-picky about backs and fronts and fronts of backs, but that was my initial point. Idiomatic language need not be logical or literal or even grammatical. We say things all the time that we accept at face value without thinking about what the literal meaning is. No one would ever think that "behind your back" would mean "to your face", but literally, that's what it means. I think. Idiomatically, of course, it means something totally different. Which is the point of idiomatic language. And thank gawd for it!