Idiomatic expressions are tricky. Not familiar with that term? An idiomatic expression is a phrase that means something other than the literal meaning of the words. For example, when we call someone a bookworm, we aren’t calling them a book devouring bug. We are saying that this person loves to read. In Spanish, the phrase is rata de biblioteca – library rat.
Why does that matter? Because it is item #1 on the list of “slang troubles.”
You Can’t Assume
You can’t assume that an English idiomatic expression can be translated word-for-word into Spanish or Portuguese, Malay or Farsi. You actually need to find the parallel term if there is one. Not every expression has a corresponding expression in another language. You have to make sure you get it right and that’s a problem because . . .
The Devil Is in the Details
I’ve been reading contest entries lately as well as stories published online. When you use slang or another idiomatic expression, make sure you get it right because it is going to stick out like a sore tongue when you get it wrong. Do you see what I did there? If you don’t read very much, you may mishear a common phrase. When you write it down, your slip is going to show. And last but not least . . .
A Little Goes a Long Way
A daddy-o here and there in dialogue makes your character sound jazz-appropriate. But if he uses this word in every other sentence, it is going to sound like either the character or you the author is trying too hard. This was something that K.M. Weiland mentioned in her post on slang in dialogue. One of the worst cases of this I’ve ever seen was a New York author writing a story set in the American South. The character’s sounded like characachers.
When using slang, idioms and period expressions, remember that a little bit goes a long way.