My apologies to William Shakespeare.
I stole a quote from his famous play Hamlet and tweaked it in my headline.
Would someone unfamiliar with his play understand the quote?
Would people unfamiliar with the colloquialisms of each other’s culture understand their blog posts?
Should you use idioms because as a strong writer you should have a “voice,” or should you veer away from them out of fear your readers won’t understand the expressions native to your country?
I have read these phrases since I started blogging:
Great job! Can you hear my hollers!
More grease to you.
six degrees of separation
dodgy internet airwaves
across the pond
Your clanger post
Is this the start of the blog rot?
Ta Helen (used when saying goodbye)
You all know how much I witter on
…blogroll sounds a bit like bog roll. Is that only funny if you’re British?
Hey Janice, I’ve been flat out (seemingly used as a synonym for busy)
And am guessing by her title ‘Dowager Marchioness’ she was not short of a bob (money) or two. (If the writer had not explained what a “bob” was I would not have known.)
I assure to never cony-catch
Whether it’s- gold, silver or tatters (Poem excerpt)
The heart of the blighter
wants the woman to cling. (Poem excerpt)
These expressions are not common to me where I am from in the United States. The question begs should these writers have anticipated their readers’ misunderstandings due to geographical differences and avoided using those expressions?
A cultural idiom is a set of words and/or phrases which a given cultural group uses, and which people outside the group may not entirely understand.
Should we as writers avoid using idioms out of concern they will confuse our readers?
This post will take a pro/con approach, and then end by taking and supporting a position.
Yes, We Should Avoid Using Idioms
1. According to one blogger,
Being sensitive to your audience’s needs is you seeing their pain points and wants through their eyes. Find the challenges you can solve for your audience… Then you’ll also be getting to the bottom of a possible challenge of your own.
We can make our writing understandable for our readers. We do have it in our power to consciously choose not to use cultural idioms.
2. Teachers are told not to use cultural idioms, so their English Language Learners understand their instruction. Why should our readers be treated differently?
3. According to TEDBlog, there are certain idioms that can not be translated literally. “A piece of cake” is an example. If you were explaining something to a reader using the idiom “it’s a piece of cake,” they would have no way of knowing the idiom means “it’s easy”.
Update November 2020:
Lately, I’ve been researching the topic of incremental plagiarism. This question is as follows: When you use idioms, should you state the source of the idiom?
The answer: Yes, if you know the source of what could be an obscure idiom.
No, We Should Keep Using Idioms
1. According to blogger Kevin Duncan,
Finding your voice as a blogger is important because the alternative is depriving the world of something special, precious, and unique…
2. According to blogger Jeff Goins, There is no rationale for people to not hear your voice except that you won’t use it. Maybe you’re scared or still don’t believe that you have something to say, so let me encourage you with a simple thought: Tell your story. Only you can do that in your own way.
Both of these mean use the cultural idioms you are accustomed to using. It is the only way your voice, your unique personality, will come through when you write.
The importance of writers bringing their voice to the table has several purposes.
1. It sets you out from the crowd of writers in the blogosphere. You should sound unique.
2. One of the two purposes of blogs is to entertain. The writer breaks the monotony of the words by bringing personality, by bringing voice.
3. Writers should experience joy when blogging or writing. Their fun will be diminished if they have to correct themselves each time they use an idiom of their culture.
4. I understand blogging isn’t all about the writer, it’s about the reader too. Readers can use context clues to figure out the meaning of the idioms of foreign cultures when they read. In response to TedBlog, I understand certain idioms like “piece of cake” can’t be translated literally, but the context in which the idiom was made should clue the reader into the meaning.
5. Sites exist that will enable bloggers to look up the meaning of the idioms if the context clues don’t suffice.
In conclusion, we can only do our best given the knowledge we have.
Jargon changes with profession. If we as bloggers make a conscious choice not to use idioms for fear people in geographic locations won’t understand them, are we to worry about people in different professions not understanding either? Where will we draw the line?
Blogging is fun, so… have fun. Feel the joy and let your personality shine, even if that means using idioms.
Readers, if you feel others would be interested in this topic, please share.
Do you feel that we should use idioms when we write, or do you believe we should avoid them in our blogs? What are your experiences with cultural idioms? Do you run across them when you read? I look forward to your views.
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