Reading Time: 4 minutes
I’m fond of wordplay and linguistics. I remember reading some of Richard Lederer‘s books while I was in high school, and I love a good turn of phrase. I particularly love learning about origins of words and phrases, so I find books like Don’t Be a Damp Squid (reviewed by Jenny Williams) appealing. From the National Geographic Society comes another fascinating language book, I’m Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears and Other Intriguing Idioms From Around the World by Jag Bhalla. Featuring cartoons by New Yorker cartoonist Julia Suits, the book contains over a thousand idioms and proverbs from around the world, grouped into categories like love and romance, animals, numbers, time, and body parts.
Bhalla confesses in the introduction that, although he loves language, he’s monolingual and has always been envious “or, as they say in Hindi, ‘had a snake writhing in [his] intestines'” of people who are multilingual. For him, exploring the idioms from various cultures is the next best thing, so he put together this impressive collection. Each section has some introductory text from Bhalla about the subject at hand, combined with various bits of trivia about linguistics and language development, neurology and psychology, and other topics that he finds fascinating. After that, it’s a list of idioms and their meanings, and Suits’ hilarious literal interpretations of some of the more colorful phrases.
Hanging Noodles is a fun book, but I do have a few complaints about it. For one, it’s mostly a book of lists, without origin stories or further explanations of the idioms. Bhalla explains that it’s pretty difficult to pin down the origins of many idioms (and certainly it would have been a nearly impossible feat for such a large collection) but as any geek could tell you, origin stories are key. Also, there are many instances where an idiom is defined with another idiom—on the cover, for instance, “a fly on the nose” is Italian for “a chip on the shoulder.” While this is great for readers who are already familiar with all the idioms, I think a non-idiomatic definition would make the most sense. Finally, I did come across some repeats. Again, because of the size of the collection I can see how that could occur, but I even found one idiom listed twice in the same subsection, which you’d think would be more easily avoided.
Also, all the idioms are presented only in their English translations, not their original languages. It would have made the book much longer, of course, and I wouldn’t have been able to read many of the languages, but I think it would have been fun to at least have some idea of the original wordings rather than just a translation. As Bhalla puts it, though:
This book isn’t intended to be a language reference. I’m assuming it’s unlikely that many readers will go to places where the Russian words for “I’m not hanging noodles on your ears” would be useful. If you find yourself needing such words, I’m afraid you will need a more educationally oriented book.
Despite my gripes, though, Hanging Noodles has been a pleasure to thumb through, and it’s the type of book which is perfectly suited for that. You don’t have to read the text at the beginning of the chapters if you don’t want to, and you can skip around in the book as much as you like. You’re guaranteed to find something that will, as the Japanese say, “distort your stomach skin” (make you laugh). It might be fun to start using these with your kids, too. Instead of saying that they’re making you angry, explain that they’re “leaving you the way God painted the parakeet.” Or if you want them to study hard, you can suggest that they “dig in their elbows.”
You can visit the book’s website for more information and to read a free sample. I’m Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears retails for $12.95. For more books from National Geographic, visit their books website.
Wired: A wide variety of idioms from around the world and cartoons by Julia Suits will delight any language lover.
Tired: Readers hoping to learn more about the idioms may be disappointed by the mostly list-style format.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of the book for review.