A conversation among colleagues at lunch:
Dave, are you coming with us to the new gallery after work today?
Oh no! I forgot about that, Abby. I’ll have to take a rain check.
Could we go next week instead?
Well, today’s the opening, so Tom and I will go anyway. But we’ll tell you if it’s worth it!
In this context, to take a rain check means so much as „etwas auf ein andermal verschieben“, it’s just a much more idiomatic way of explaining it than the German equivalent!
This is a rain check:
It used to be sold to spectators at a baseball game when rain or other bad weather stopped play completely, and allowed them to return on another night and watch another game. You might be surprised that the whole game was stopped because of a little rain, because soccer players and other athletes play in some pretty extreme weather.
However, in baseball, the condition of the sandy diamond is very important for play. If it becomes too wet, players running could slip and injure themselves. Therefore, the risk of stopped play becomes very high when the weather is bad. Rain checks became popular in the beginning of the 20th century, mostly because they prevented stadium operators from losing income generated by ticket and food or drink sales during extended periods of bad weather.
Nowadays, we use the phrase to take a rain check to postpone any plans that we’ve made but can’t attend.
Also, don’t be surprised if you see more posts about idioms that have their roots in baseball over the next several weeks. April is the traditional beginning of the baseball season and the sport has given speakers of American English many idioms that are often used in a business setting.
Today’s idiom is best used when gossipping (plaudern) with colleagues, as in:
„Did you hear about the Creative Director? He came into the office late today, smelling of alcohol. About three hours later, his secretary went into his office and and caught him red-handed (kalt erwischt) taking a nap! He had been sleeping the whole morning!“
This idiom has its roots in Scotland from the 1400s and most likely refers to killers, either murderers or poachers (Wilderer) who were found with the blood of their victims on their hands. Today, the idiom has become far less gruesome and we use it to mean being caught in the act of doing something wrong, even if it’s something „harmless“ like sneaking the last piece of chocolate that your wife wanted to eat…
We’re standing in a German discount supermarket on the 31st of December. The store is full; the people have that special panicked look on their faces that you only see before a public holiday. Young men and boys are gathered under a large sign advertising fireworks and filling their bags to the brim with consumer explosives. The fireworks are selling like hotcakes (wie warme Semmel gehen). The metal bin underneath the fireworks sign is soon empty.
This idiom has its roots in American English (AE) from the second half of the 19th century, when it was more commonplace to buy bake goods from a church bake sale than today. A hotcake is an older AE term for a pancake, and who doesn’t love a good stack of pancakes, especially when they are hot? The idiom also makes it clear that the seller doesn’t have to do much of anything to get rid of the goods once they are on sale- everyone wants to buy hotcakes while they are still hot.
Also- for those of you who have only ever eaten the flat, European-style pancakes- here’s an easy recipe I like to use for fluffy, American-style „hotcakes.“ I substitute the baking powder for baking soda (Natron) in equal amounts. It would be perfect for one of those post- Christmas mornings when your whole family is at home for breakfast and very hungry. Enjoy, and happy holidays!
Almost every week, you’ve been accustomed to seeing the Lingua Franca blog take a closer look at one specific idiom- what its history is and what (roughly) its German counterpart could be. Now, you’re up to bat! Take the OxfordWords quiz on American English idioms and let us know in the comments if you were surprised by the meanings (or curious of the use) of these ten interesting idioms…
My company is trying hard to save money. In one attempt to cut costs, we outsourced our IT department to an overseas service provider. But we have had to spend so much time explaining every little detail and dealing with language problems. In the end, it costs us as much as we saved by moving the IT staff off our payroll. It’s swings and roundabouts (gehupft wie gesprungen), really.
This common British idiom comes from the longer phrase: „What you lose on the swings you gain on the roundabouts“ and is based on a poem by Irish writer Patrick Reginald Chalmers. It conjures the image of two fairground rides – the roundabout (similar to a carousel) and the swing. Both move without any actual change in location, they return to where they started. This image now stands for losses balanced by gains.
Many of you may have heard the story that in the late 1700s German almost became the official language of the USA, missing out by only a single vote. Well I’m afraid it’s not really true. But, like many such myths, there is a grain of truth around which this story grew. Find out more below:
English (and German, for that matter) is under attack! Or so we are told constantly. The threat comes from text messages / the internet / young people / political correctness / foreigners / Americans …!
But this is nothing new. People have always feared that their language was on the brink of collapse. Past „threats“ have even included the printing press and Shakespeare.
After our post on German superstitions it’s time to have a look at some typical British cultural beliefs. Click on the link to the article below. When you have read it, you will no longer be surprised to see an Englishman panicking when he sees a single magpie (Elster), and starts wildly looking for more magpies, before giving up and reciting a poem while saluting the single bird.
UK superstitions | Education UK (Global)
Superstitions vary from culture to culture, with one group’s beliefs often seeming very strange to those not familiar with it. The article below presents some of the most common German superstitions from an outsiders‘ perspective. Have you experienced any strange superstitions from other cultures? Tell us in the comments below!
German has Sie and du, French has vous and tu, Spanish has usted and tú, and modern English has… you.
But this was not always the case. In the 15th century, you was used in a similar way to the German Sie. The equivalent of the German du was the English thou (and thee for dir), words that will be familiar to anyone who has read Shakespeare in the original English. So to say English has no Sie form is not totally correct – more historically accurate would be to say English has only a Sie form. See more below: