There exist numerous important aspects of learning a foreign language: speaking, listening/comprehension, reading and writing. Every language has certain phrases or groups of words which, if taken literally, would be meaningless. These phrases are called idioms. They are peculiar to the language and present no difficulty in understanding for natives.
English idioms can be short or long, have a regular or incorrect structure. Idiom should be learnt as a whole, one can’t change any part of it. The meaning of some idioms is difficult to guess because they have no association with the original meaning of the individual words. Thus translating idioms, a translator should rely on good knowledge of the idioms of the two languages and a taste to find a proper equivalent.
Idioms can be classified into:
- informal (e.g. alive and kicking, for my money, like a shot, etc.);
- formal (e.g. as regards, in the first instance, turn up trumps, etc.);
- verbal (e.g. burn the midnight oil, catch sight of, make fun of, etc.) [1, 2].
For better understanding and learning, idioms can be grouped in a variety of ways. For example,
- by meaning;
- by verb or another key word.
Here there are some English idioms containing the word “book”:
1) bookworm (it means “a person who adores reading books”).
e.g. Emma is a complete bookworm. She spends all her free time reading books.
2) hit the books (it means “to study”).
e.g. I should hit the books tonight.
3) by the book (it means “to conform to the rules, not to swindle”).
e.g. Police officers should do things by the book.
4) black book (it means “a list of persons or things out of favor”).
e.g. Gregory is in my black book these days.
5) not judge a book by its cover (it means “do not judge people only by their appearances”).
e.g. Jack may seem shy and clumsy, but don’t judge a book by its cover. He is one of the brightest students at the course.
6) open book / closed book (the first expression means “something obvious”, the second on the contrary, “something unclear, difficult to guess”).
e.g. Your thoughts are an open book for me.
I’m afraid higher mathematics will always be a closed book to me.
7) in my book (it means “in my opinion, to my mind”).
e.g. Elizabeth is so kind in my book.
8) take a leaf out of someone’s book (it means “to behave or to do something in a way that someone else would”).
e.g. When you don’t study hard, you are taking a leaf out of my book.
9) make book on something (it means “to make or accept bets on something”).
e.g. She will definitely win in the dance contest. I will make book on it.
10) every trick in the book (it means “every clever or dishonest way that you know to achieve something that you want”).
e.g. She used every trick in the book to get his agreement to sign the document.
11) one for the (record) books (it means “a record-breaking or very remarkable act”).
e.g. What a movie! That’s one for the record books. I’ve never watched such a remarkable picture.
12) wrote the book on something (it means “to be very authoritative about something; to know enough about something to write the definitive book on it”).
e.g. He wrote the book on thermal testing. He’s been working in this field for over 40 years.
13) coffee-table book (it means “a book that is more suitable for display than for reading, typically, an oversize, illustrated book left on the coffee table for visitors to examine”).
e.g. It is the most popular coffee-table book among our clients.
Thus, translation of idioms is arguably one of the most difficult problems and largely depends on the context. The use of idioms makes speech emotionally colored, impressive and emphatic.
1. Leah C. Idioms — grammaticality and figurativeness. http://www.theroundtable.ro/Current/Language/Claudia_Leah_Idioms_Grammaticality_and_Figurativeness.pdf (accessed May 10, 2015).
2. Seidl J., McMordie W. English idiom. OUP Oxford; 5th edition, 1988. 272 p.