• Joshua Dopkowski

How To Speak American

Updated: Aug 5, 2019

How living in France has helped me question our bad language habits, bizarre idioms and incoherent phrases

Perhaps the best way to learn something is to explain it all the time. Working in an English program at a French business school, I’ve had the pleasure of communicating primarily in English with people who are not native English speakers. This has helped me examine the nuanced meanings of words, phrases and common sayings that we frequently use, but never think about.


You see, non-native English speakers tend to take things literally. When you do this, however, you realize just how ridiculous so much of what we say actually is. Here are some examples of when we take these phrases literally:


Let it Ride — Think about this. Let it ride what? Where is it going? Who’s driving? And how long will it take? What if there’s an accident, does whatever we’re talking about have insurance? Does it need a ticket to a ride, and if so, is that ticket refundable?


Dodged a bullet — I’m happy to hear that, but maybe you should think about moving to a different neighborhood.


I’m going to hit the books — Why don’t you try reading them first? You might actually like them. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Unless of course they’re dusty, then hitting them might be a good idea, but maybe try blowing on them first.


Hit the roof — Well I need to see this. I can barely touch the ceiling, let alone hit the roof. But how will that make things better? Won’t that just damage the roof?


Got the best of us — “Boy they really got the best of us on that one.” Which one? And what did they do with the best of us once they got it? How’d they get it? Did they tear it off? Carefully remove it? Where’d they go with it, and are they keeping it safe? Most importantly, how do we get it back?


Out of the loop — You know, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a loop before. This sounds like a good thing though, especially if the loop is a noose.


Do you have a light? — No, but I have fire. Do you need fire, or do you need light? Next time someone carrying an unlit cigarette comes up to you and says this, pull out your cell phone and turn it to flashlight mode.


You hit it on the nose — Was it self-defense? If not, you should probably seek legal counsel. Hitting it on the nose is usually a felony, unless you’re a Republican political candidate from Montana.


Under the weather — Well yeah, if you were over the weather it would be a bit difficult to breathe. Not a lot of oxygen up there. The only time I’m ever over the weather is when I’m flying on an airplane, and I’m always looking forward to when we get back under the weather, so that I can take a shit without slamming my knees into a flimsy door.


One woman man — You know when you think about it, the origins of gender fluidity can be traced back to this very statement. I’m a one woman man. Very progressive of you to place woman before man also. I personally am a one man woman, but some days I like to be a one woman one man.


I don’t buy it — Well then, I guess you can’t take it with you.


Plenty of fish in the sea — Yeah no shit… it’s the sea, that’s where fish live. But how does that help me get laid?


I ran into something — Are you okay? You really should be more careful, if you keep running into things your insurance premiums are going to hit the roof.


Run with it — How? I have a hard enough time running without it, now you want me to run with it? How far? And how fast do I need to run? Are you going to be running with me? When do I stop running, and what do I do if I run into something while running with it?


Divorce myself from the situation — Is it that serious? Won’t that be expensive? What did the situation do? Did it fuck the mailman and forge your signature to withdraw your money to pay for its meth addition? Well chin up, I’m sure you’ll meet a new situation in no time, there’s plenty of fish in the sea.


Beat around the bush — This one is just bizarre. What’s around the bush that needs to be beaten? If the bush is the problem here, why not just beat the bush? But what did the bush ever do to you? Is that what you ran into earlier?


We’re better than that — Are we? Then why does “that” have so much power? Who made “that” so important that we have to be better than it? Was “that” elected? Did someone vote for “that?” If so, who, and are we better than them, or are they better than us? Seems like maybe they got the best of us in this situation.


I’m good or You’re good — No you’re not. You’re not good, and you’re not bad, you’re somewhere in between. And if you’re telling me I’m good, how do you really know? Maybe you’re wrong, or maybe you hit it on the nose.


Writing on the wall — Who wrote it? And why did they use the wall? What if I didn’t see the wall, does that mean I’m out of the loop?


English is confusing, but for those of us who grew up knowing it, count your blessings, because for much of the world, counting blessings means to count how many times you sneezed.


Until next time. Good luck.


Joshua Dopkowski is a writer, which is why he writes. To read more of what Joshua writes, follow him here, join his e-mail list, visit his blog, or all three. Thank you for reading.