A good mastery of idioms becomes a significant symbol of a person’s command of the language, especially to those who learn English as a second language. For translators, it might be the question of full understanding, mastery and finding proper equivalents.
As we know, idioms as a special form of language carried a large amount of cultural information, such as religion, history, geography, custom, psychology, thought pattern and so on. They are the heritage of history and the product of cultural evolvement. As they came from society, culture and history, they included in everything and related to our society’s life and played an important role in culture.
Simply put, everything existed or events happened under the sky might be the origin of idioms. This is the case both for Chinese and English but the expressing ways are different. Even for American residents, it is impossible to master all the domestic idioms, except Dr. Sheldon Cooper, the physicist in The Big Bang Theory claimed knowing everything happened and exists in the universe.
For us “common people”, it is necessary to learn the English idioms starting with getting familiar with their origins. Here I will list some idioms and axioms currently used in America with their origins and meanings as well as the possible Chinese equivalents.
1. Bleed like a stuck pig means to bleed heavily. The throat of a pig set for slaughter is cut or opened with a sharp knife. As the cut servers the jugular vein, the pig bleeds quickly. In Chinese, the equivalent may be “血流如注”.
2. Blowing smoke means to boast without back it up, talking about the action without carry it out. Some people say that the idiom comes from military field. As the forces would put some smoke bomb to obscure enemies’ view and cover their real action. A person who is “blowing smoke” is tricking you and attempting to cover it up. For example, do you really want to reach the deal or are you just blowing smoke? We may match with the Chinese saying “放烟雾弹”.
3. Bouching up means messing up or making a shamble. There is a story behind this idiom. Thomas Bouch designed a bridge that was built at Tay estuary at Dundee in Scotland, which is supposed to be the greatest structure in Victorian England. About two meters long, the bridge consists of 85 spans and was then the longest one in the world in 1879. However, nineteen months later, some spans collapsed in a stormy night, up to 75 lives lost. That is the worst building accident in the history of England. There are no fixed equivalent for this phrase, a possible and plain one might be “搞砸”.
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4. A burnt child dreads the fire means that one will not repeat a painful lesson again. In Chinese, we have “一朝被蛇咬, 十年怕井绳” or “吃一堑, 长一智”, similar to “a scalded dog fears cold water” in French, and “a man who has received a beating with a firebrand runs away at the sight of a firefly” in Singhalese, and “a dog which has been beaten with a stick fears its own shadow” in Italian.
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