12 September 2009

What is this, Horseville? Because I'm surrounded by naysayers.

A few weeks ago I got an e-mail from author Jag Bhalla asking if I wanted to check out his book I'M NOT HANGING NOODLES ON YOUR EARS, about idioms from around the world. I love wordplay as much as Tracy Jordan, if not more, so I took him up on it and he sent me a copy.

Bhalla collected thousands of idioms from different languages and grouped them into categories such as expressions of time (in Chilean Spanish, to say something happened a long time ago you would say "when snakes wore vests") or of love (a womanizer in French is "a lover of a goat whose hair is combed"). To read these lists is to experience over and over again the delight I took in Anna Quindlen's sharing a British expression from the 1930s for not getting worked up over something, as one character admonished another not to "make a cake out of yourself."

Interspersed with these lists are short chapters on language acquisition and philosophical inquiries into what our idioms say about us. In the chapter on food-related expressions, for example, Bhalla ranges over the popularity of curry in his native Britain, the origins of sushi and the role of satiety in hunter-gatherer cultures. They're not exhaustive, but they're entertaining. What's also really fun about the book are the illustrations by Julia Suits, who is a New Yorker cartoonist. (Here's a great book-related New Yorker one from her.) This wasn't my favorite idiom of the book, but with Bhalla and Suits' permission I am able to post my favorite cartoon:
I had never heard this idiom before, but I can't look at the juxtaposition of the primly seated woman and the rock with the tie on it without cracking up. (Apparently it's menswear week around here.)

If you're a word nerd like, me, you should check this book out. For more on it, visit HangingNoodles.com or check out an interview with Mr. Bhalla at Wormbook-approved literary news outlet, Bookslut.com. "Hanging noodles on your ears," by the way, is the Russian equivalent of an American English speaker saying he's "pulling your leg," while suggesting in Russian this is much more of a feat.

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