One aspect of any language that is a testimony of its cultural infrastructure is idiomatic expressions. Idioms (as they are also known) are phrases whose meaning cannot be taken literally, they must be considered as a whole. That means that if you translate these phrases word for word, they will make no sense. Instead, they are always used as a cluster to convey one single particular meaning (Do you remember that such phrases were discussed in the last entry? What was their name? Think… think. That’s right, they are collocations).
Idioms serve a double purpose: on the one hand, they give language learning a dimension beyond the academic by assigning to popular parlance great validity as an indispensable tool to instill emotion in the message conveyed. On the other hand, and exactly because of the previous reason, idiomatic expressions help the language learner to export the contents of a mother tongue into a second one by sharing a common human experience. What does all this mumbo-jumbo mean? Take this example: you are crossing the street as a pedestrian, the traffic light goes green and a reckless driver lunges on without even honking the horn. You see the approaching vehicle at the last second and manage to run and avoid being hit by the car. It was a close call and once on the other side you say “Boy! I got away by the skin of my teeth!” In Spanish (especially in Colombia) you might have said “Pardiez! ¡Me salvé por un pelo de rana calva!” (“I got away by the hair of a bald frog”. –And you really wouldn’t say “Pardiez” as it is an archaism not unlike the English “’Zwounds!”). Now, neither the enamel on your teeth could be considered proper skin nor do frogs, which are hairless to begin with, have hair. But the message of both expressions is clear and definitely identical in meaning: there was a dangerous situation from which a close escape was managed.
That being explained, let us move on to see some idioms using the preposition “through”.
The joy of using the preposition “through”
Ah, through. “Through” is a preposition of direction. As you may remember from the prior post, prepositions of direction indicate movement, be it physical or metaphorical. That means that the group of words surrounding it has an idea of motion, going from one place to another.
Its pronunciation follows the rule of the phonetics symbol /q/ (tongue between your front teeth, no vibration of vocal chords). Also, the letters “gh” at the end of that word have a funny characteristic any time they are found at the end of a word: they either sounds like the letter “f” à /f/ or they don’t sound at all. In the word “through” they don’t make any sound.
The movement “through” indicates is that of something going from one place to another by moving forward surmounting an obstacle using its hollow center (like a pipe or a tunnel). For instance, if you forget the keys to your house, you can try to get in through the window. The frame of the window covers all the sides of it and you use the hollow center of that frame to go from the outside to the inside.
Ok, let’s get to those idioms.
- Lie through your teeth
As the word “through” shows a movement that is swift, almost serpentine, to lie through your teeth is to tell lies in a shameless manner, without hesitation, confidently. Imagine two ladies talking and one is telling the tale of how she averted the advances of a suitor that she didn’t fancy.
“When I said I was in a relationship, I was lying through my teeth; I just didn’t want him to ask me out again”.
2. Pay through your nose
Imagine somebody pulling money out of your nose. Uncomfortable, isn’t it? Well, that’s what this expression means: when you pay through your nose, something costs you a lot. And this doesn’t mean necessarily any financial burden; it is more of a price to pay in terms of consequences, sacrifices or a having a bad time. Actually, when something costs you a lot of money, the expression to be used is “It cost an arm and a leg” (Spanish speakers from Colombia would use the equivalent “Costar un ojo de la cara” –“to cost an eye from the face”).
“The one time I cheated on my third wife, I paid through my nose for it and I learned my lesson”.
The man in the example sentence means that having been unfaithful to his third spouse was an experience that had such dire repercussions that it is unlikely he will ever do it again.
3. See through you
I know what you are thinking: “Hold on a minute. This guy said that ‘through’ is a preposition of direction so it should be accompanied by a dynamic verb, and “see” is not very dynamic!” You are very clever and I can’t fool you. It is true, “see” is not the most dynamic of verbs (in fact, “see” is a permanent state, we can see as long as our eyes are open and our sight is not impaired. This verb usually refers to the sense of sight, whereas “watch” is used in cases when we are paying attention to something –like “watch TV”.), but your look goes everywhere and that’s what moves.
When someone can see through you, it means that they know you so well or they can read your intentions so accurately, that it’s as if you were transparent and people could literally see through you, and as a consequence you cannot conceal your thoughts, feelings and machinations.
- How are you?
- Just “fine”? Come on, I can see right through you, something’s wrong.Ttell me what’s bothering you, George.
-Well, I’m pregnant.
The word “right” is put in the middle of the expression to emphasize its meaning, so George has no other option but to reveal his strange predicament to a concerned friend.
4. Get this through your head
This expression is normally used as an imperative (that is a command or an order) to let someone know that you’d like them to understand something promptly and perfectly. Remember that “through” talks about a fluent movement; in this expression that means that you hope there are no obstacles in the understanding of what you are going to say, you really don’t want any misinterpretation to occur.
“Get this through your head, Lex: I’ll never let you get your hands on these power crystals from planet Krypton! NEVER!”
Well, let’s hope that you go through these expressions with a fine-tooth comb (which means to check them thoroughly) and start using them in your day-to-day bilingual routine. Remember there is one very simple rule when it comes to language learning: USE IT OR LOSE IT!
So , use it! Have fun.