5 sept. 2011


The textbook I ordered for my class in idioms and proverbs is rather a mishmash. It has items like "dedo del pie" (toe) as an idiom. That is simply a catachresis*, in my book, like "las patas de la mesa" (the legs of the table.) In Spanish there is no (single) word for toe, rather you say the "finger of the foot."

The book seems to define an idiom as "how you say something in Spanish." So anything over a word in length is an idiom, like "a la izquierda" (on the left). At first I was angry with myself for getting this poor textbook, but don't the students also need to know how to say "toe"? Don't they need to know that you say "las patas de la mesa" and not '"las piernas de la mesa"? Shouldn't I introduce the concept of catachresis? La cara de la moneda...


*The metaphor for which there is no more literal word in common use. "Tropo que consiste en dar a una palabra sentido traslaticio para designar algo que carece de nombre especial; p. ej., la hoja de la espada; una hoja de papel." We say the "legs of a table" with the implied metaphor from biology, but there is no other, more literal word for this. The face and hands of a clock, the eye of a storm or of a needle, the foot of a mountain, the mouth of a river, the head of a company, the teeth of gears. Most of the examples I can think of use body parts, or the body itself (a body of water). A "root" in the mathematical sense of a "square root" is a catachresis. That's biological but not related to the human body. A sheet of paper is "hoja de papel" or "leaf of paper."

Catachresis also means a mixed or absurd metaphor, but that meaning does not concern me here.

6 comentarios:

Spanish prof dijo...

What book did you choose?

Jonathan dijo...

It is called "Guide to Spanish Idioms" by Raymond H. Pierson.

Spanish prof dijo...


S.J. Pearce dijo...

My guess (of course without knowing the book at all) would be that they're trying to show that preposition usage is very idiomatic and that students need to just memorize that it's a la izquierda and not encima de la izquierda or something else that they might get by translating literally. (Incidentally, I'm a fellow Hispanist, de-lurking after a few months of reading here and elsewhere, and deciding to start a blogging project of my own.)

Jonathan dijo...

That's undoubtedly the motivation. A guide to idiomatic usage in general would have entries like this one does, like "bomba atómica," or examples of idiomatic use of prepositions.

John dijo...

Prepositions are idiomatic in English too. The regional difference between "in line" and "on line."

Anybody know the derivation of the phrases, "going to," "have to," and "used to"? Mystifying if read literally rather than in their combination-word meanings.

I'm going to get a drink.
(I am going in order to get a drink.)

I have to get a drink.
(I am in possession of, uh, to get a drink.)

I used to get a drink now and then. ("Now and then" another funny idiom.)
("To get a drink" is an action that I made use of. Now and then.)