When Dialog Fails

I just accepted this job working as an editor for a foreign company and because of the language barrier, I am not sure if I will be paid in dollars or in doll ears.  These two guys, Bill and Ted were best friends through grade school and Bill asked Ted if he was planning to go to the last school dance.  Ted said that he was not going because he would just feel stupid, as everybody would be dancing and no girl would want to dance with a guy that only had one eye.  Ted had just lost his eye in a skateboard accident and he was self conscious about this.  Bill said, “You are my best friend and I really want you to be there, so we should construct an eye for you to use.”  They made the eye out of wood and they sanded it smooth and colored it and then put a protective coating on it.  It turned out great, but Ted still felt that no decent looking girl would want to dance with him.

Bill said that he thought that this girl named Sally would probably dance with him if he asked her.  Ted said, “Oh yea what is wrong with her?”  Bill said, “There is nothing wrong with her, except she does have fat legs.”  They went to the dance and Ted asked Sally if she would like to dance with him and Sally enthusiastically said, “Would I, would I?”  Ted responded by saying, “Fat legs, fat legs.”

I think that a lot of dialog fails when people start using idioms or idiomatic expressions which are not understood by everyone, because an idiom’s figurative meaning is different from the literal meaning.  Figurative language is an umbrella term for words and phrases that are used with another meaning than their literal one, in order to create different effects, like adding color or amplifying certain portions of our writing.  Idioms can be thought of as having two prime characteristics, where the meanings of the individual words in the expression cannot be used to understand the meaning of the expression altogether, and the expression is also fixed both in terms of its grammar and its lexicality.  For example, when you use the expression ‘raining cats and dogs’, these words cannot be placed in another order, or be changed to synonyms, without losing the idiomaticity in the process.

People who recognize idioms are able to discern the difference between the literal meaning of the phrase and the possible implied meaning behind this expression.  Idioms are used in a wide range of situations and they play an important role in communication.  Idioms may be viewed as peculiar expressions that defy the rules of logic, as their overall meaning is often not immediately obvious from the meaning of their constituent elements.  People tend to use idioms all the time in normal conversation and it is up to the listener to decipher what has been said, if they did not get the meaning behind the words.  Saying things like, “As right as rain”, or “Bark up the wrong tree”, or “Being in deep water”, or “Beating about the bush”, or “Breaking the ice”, or “Being a chip off the old block”, or “Drowning your sorrows”, or “Fly off the handle”, or “Getting a kick out of something”, all have their own unique meanings and the list goes on and on.

Consider horses, people sometimes say that a man does not have good horse sense, but at first glance, you would not think that horses would be used as a measuring gage for mental capacity.  Horses are very sensitive to their surroundings and they are aware of danger, as they are able to sense a storm coming, way before it arrives and they are also able to sense a predator long before a human would be able to see or hear it.  Horses can be trained to do many tasks, but if they sense danger, like a fire, or that they have been led too close to the edge of a cliff, they will go against their training and try to kick their owner off of their back.  Horses are also able to sense the emotional state of humans.  They will know when you are happy or sad or frightened and because they become our partners, they become uniquely aware of everything that they sense from the person that they are with.  People with horse sense are smart and practical and they will make good decisions. Horse sense is something that is gained by experience and not anything that can be learned in school.

There is another phrase that says, “You shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”  Since the age of the horse can often be determined by the length of their teeth, if you did look into the mouth of a gift horse, this would rude, because it would be seen as though you were questioning the value of the gift.  Staying with the horse’s mouth, there is another saying, “I got it straight from the horse’s mouth.”  We all know that a horse is not able to speak, but in the sport of horse racing, this means that certain information came from a trusted authority that is in close contact with the horse.  This could be the rider, the horse trainer, or a stable boy that is around the horse every day.  This information that is said to come ‘from the horse’s mouth’ would be more trusted than even that inner circle of people would know, because this is coming from the horse itself.  It would come directly from the source, being firsthand information and thus it is considered to be very dependable.  As it is personal knowledge coming from the most authoritative source, this information is always considered to be credible, trustworthy and reliable.  This information will need to be considered as being true, because it was obtained first hand, directly from the source, originating in the horse’s mouth.

Another phrase says, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”  Since all horses like drinking water and the average horse consumes between one to two buckets of fresh water every day, it is important that horses drink.  If a horse is deprived of its food, but it is still supplied with drinking water, it will be able to survive for about 20 to 25 days.  All horses that do any kind of work will require good clean water and if a horse refuses to drink this is a serious problem, so you should always make sure that your horse is drinking, because this is absolutely imperative to their health.  When a healthy horse gets thirsty, they will consume a large amount of water, because they have a place to store water and this keeps them happy.  If the horse runs out of its water reserve, then it will most likely become sick and when a horse feels sick, it won’t want to drink anything.”

Not being able to make the horse drink relates to people thinking that horses are stubborn, and if a horse refuses to obey a command and this saying has more to do with people than it does with horses, because it relates to the character flaw or personality defect known as stubbornness which is inherent in people.  Most people will only do what they want to do.  You can show them how to do a certain thing, but you can’t force them to actually do it.  A person could be presented with a wonderful opportunity, but you cannot force that person to take advantage of it.  You can show people the way to find something or how to do something, but you cannot force them to act on anything.  This saying means that you can give someone all the opportunities that they need to learn or do something, but this will be futile if that person doesn’t want to take advantage of a potential break that you give them.

Another horse idiom that deals with futility is, “Beating a dead horse.”  This particular situation is one where you would be wasting your time since the outcome has already been determined.  If you want to go out for a ride and your horse is dead, then you will not get very far, even if you try to beat the horse into submission.  When you have reached the bitter end, or when you are at the end of the rope, or when you have reached the end of the line, or when you have finally hit bottom, or when you think that there is nothing left, or when you have gone past the point of no return, then you are beating a dead horse, because you have already reached your demise, having arrived at the culmination of a difficult or unpleasant event.  This is where you must give up and surrender, because you have met the limit of your efforts to fight and the struggle must end.

There are many other horse idioms like, “Strong as a horse”, “Work like a horse”, “Eat like a horse”, “I am so hungry I could eat a horse”, “You are making a horse’s ass out of yourself”, “You are acting like a horse’s ass”, “You look like a horse’s ass”, “You put the cart before the horse”, “You locked the barn door after the horse was gone”, “You bet on or are backing the wrong horse”, “Getting back up on the horse”, “Get off your high horse”, “Get back on the horse”, “Back the horse up”, “Hold your horses”, “Like an unleashed horse”, “Wild horses couldn’t drag me away”, “Don’t change horses in midstream”, Don’t spare the horses, “I feel like I’ve been kicked by a horse”, “Quit the horse play or stop horsing around”, “He was put out to pasture”, “He is chomping at the bit”, “He is hung like a stallion”, “Horse feathers” and my all time favorite, “Screw you and the horse that you rode in on.”

Written for Ray NotBradbury Cool Writing Prompt – When Dialog Fails.

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