Imagine this scenario: You are approaching a town in Iowa, tucked away in a steep river valley, while driving an 18-wheel rig (semi-truck, lorry- LKW (German). You are about to go down hill on a narrow road, and you need to slow down. In order to do that, you have to jake the truck, like in the video below:
To jake the truck means what?
a. To shift the truck down to lower gear (5th gear)
b. To shift the truck up to a higher gear (2nd or 3rd gear)
c. To shift the truck up to a higher gear and activate the braking system
d. To put the truck in neutral and idle the engine
It’s weird to use names to express situations in English, as we have the name Jake in there. Yet idioms in the sense of names serve as a better alternative to trying and describing situations in detail, especially when you are directing a person to do something (in linguistics terms, we would use the word imperative in this case). While German instructions tend to be detailed, long and sometimes complicated (if you don’t know the gists and shortcuts to the languages), but using idiomatic names in English is even more confusing because the notion of using a person’s name is considered insulting. Furthermore, one has to explain the origin of the idiomatic name used in the context to better understand its usage. It is safe to say especially in this case, one has to learn the idiomatic names by heart, just the way you learn (and conjugate) words in Latin.
And lastly, some expressions do not exist in mainstream English but do on a very local level, and these are in connections with certain local events that was caused by that particular person. There is one story in reference to this final argument that I will explain at the end of this exercise. 😉
Keeping this in mind, here are some exercises to get you acquainted with the idioms in connection with names. 🙂
A. Look at the following videos and determine which idiomatic name is best used.
- (Esp. at Minute 2:30)
The SImpson family is………
a. Trying to be rich as Croesus b. Keeping up with the Joneses c. Boasting like Bobby d. Cherishing like Sherry
My name is mud in this case is………
a. Dirty Harry b. A fool c. An unintelligent figure d. both b & c e. Bernd the Toast
To slip a Mickey means:
a. To put a drug into someone’s drink b. To deceive someone c. To trick someone d. To gossip about someone
To need one’s John Hancock means your (……) is needed
a. Signature b. Penmanship c. Handwriting d. Story
Great Scott is an expression used to describe……
a. Surprise b. Shock c. Amazement d. Excitement e. All are applicable
B. Identify the name and find out what the expression means.
- You can’t buy just any Smartphone. This one has to be the real McCoy.
- Since its founding in 2010, the company has been going Jesse, having earned millions of dollars.
- Jasmine is an elite class basketball player. Trading a couple of our great players for her was the Jack of all trades!
- You can count on Chuck to do the job. He’s always a Johnny on the spot!
- Working the cornfields takes the patience of Job in order to get a great harvest.
- Sometimes our president is Jack the lad. He has what he wants, no matter how!
- The public raised Cain when the politician made the announcement about the project to replace a bridge.
- The woman dialed for the police after a peeping Tom watched her get dressed.
- If there are no questions, we’ll cut to the Chase and talk about the progress of our project.
- I hate it when I have smart Alecs in my class, who claim they have the brightest bulb in the box!
C. Determine whether the following are true or false
- To Steve it means to do it perfectly and with power.
- For the love of Pete was named after one of Christ’s disciples and means happiness.
- Walter Mitty is a person who daydreams about success.
- To beat around the Bush means to get to the point, like Bush Jr.
- A nervous Nellie is one who is irritated or annoyed.
- To be happy as Larry means to be very happy over something you did successfully.
- Silly Sally and Good Time Sally are the same idiomatic expressions.
- If a person is the Benjamin of the family, then he is the oldest.
- To pull a Louie is to mess up on a date by not getting the girl’s telephone number.
- Even Stevens are things between people that are equal.
- A doubting Thomas is one who thinks the action will fail.
- We use John and Jane Does as names for unidentified people
- To dick around is the same as to Mickey Mouse around, when it comes to tampering with things.
- A person with a mixed, extreme personality is known as a Bonnie and Clyde
- To be petered out means to be tired.
After being petered out by all the idiomatic names, you should have an idea of how these work in the English language. You can find more by clicking here . 🙂
To close this section, I would like to refer back to the previous arguments about the difficulty in understanding the idiomatic names in English, and with that, my third argument on local idioms that have a local meaning. Americans have been well-known to create idioms and other expressions because of their affiliation with certain events, stories and names of people. Some stick and move to mainstream, others either remain local, disappear after a certain time or even both.
Mine fortunately belonged to the idiomatic name that disappeared after a few years. In high school I was a discus thrower, and our discus throwing facility was right next to the bleechers that lined up along the football field on the left-hand side. As I was a left-handed thrower, guess where my throws always went……. 😉
No wooden disc survived being “Jasonized!”
For those who read this and attended my high school, it will bring back some memories. For those who read it for the first time, your first question is probably going to be along the lines of this: “Why have the throwing area next to a football field?”
My response: Ask the coach. I’m more than 20 years away from home to answer that one. 😉
Jake the truck: c.
b. 2. d. 3. a. 4. a. 5. e.
Real McCoy- The real, genuine thing
Going Jesse- becoming a success
Jack of all trades- The best of both worlds; best deal for both
Johnny on the spot- always reliable and willing to do it.
Patience of Job- A lot of patience; nerves of steel
Jack the lad- a brash, cocky person
Raise Cain- Cause a commotion; pandemonium; hot debate
Peeping Tom- a stalker who watches women
Cut to the Chase- Get to the point. Chase is a male name.
Smart Alec- a person who claims to know everything but doesn’t in reality
t 2. f. 3. t. 4. f. 5. f. 6. t. 7. f. 8. f. 9. t. 10. t. 11. t. 12. t. 13. t. 14. f. 15. t.