Let's Speak English
- Page 17 -
FOURTH TALK - IDIOM
Good evening: and, if you're a member of the Brighter English League, a very good evening.
Last week we had a terrible fight with the irregular verbs. Tonight I'm going to give you something much easier - a short talk on English idiom.
Now it's very important to use English idiom correctly. The slightest error may change the whole meanmg of a sentence.
Before the War there was a general hospital near Florence in Italy. The hospital was run by a religious brotherhood, the Fratelli della Misericordia, and was open to member of all communities. A very charitable enterprise, no doubt, but the English notice over the gate said : "The miserable brothers harbour every kind of disease and have no regard for religion."
But if the incorrect use of English idiom is bad, over-correct idiom is worse. I get so tired of the candidates for employment who copy their letters straight out of Pitman's manual. "I can assure you, Sir, that if I am so fortunate as to receive a favourable reply to my application, I shall do everything in my power to merit your approbation." So if you're going to write idiomatic English, at least be original.
This evening I propose to explain the meaning of a few idiomatic phrases. As there are so many different shades of opinion in Palestine, I shall start with the idiomatic use of different colours. So you can choose whichever phrase matches your own opinions.
My great grandmother was a communist, so we'll start with RED. This gives us RED TAPE, a RED RAG TO A BULL, TO SEE RED and a RED HERRING.
The idiom most frequently met with in Palestine is RED TAPE. Now the tape used to tie up bundles of papers in different Government offices in England is usually red. Government departments are often very slow in giving a decision, so the phrase 'RED TAPE' is used for unnecessary formality and delay. When you're asked to fill up fifteen different forms in Palestine in order to get some license or other, and you have to waste three separate mornmgs in a draughty corridor waiting in a queue, you rightly exclaim "What an awful lot of RED TAPE".
There are far too many papers in any case in the various Government offices in Palestine. I've made a calculation that if all the things. that've been written on this country were put side by side across the Mediterranean - they'd sink to the bottom - and a good thing too.
There's one way, of course, to avoid. RED TAPE in a Government office - and that's to use white tape ......
Personally I loathe RED TAPE and whenever I find it it makes me wild. In fact for me it's as bad as a RED RAG TO A BULL.