Idioms are a weird thing in any language. They make total sense to native speakers, but are nonsense to language learners. For example, telling someone “I’m all ears!” means you’re listening intently, not that you’re made entirely of ears. Or the phrase “let the cat out of the bag” has absolutely nothing to do with felines or purses, but is all about telling secrets.

I love English idioms, but ones from other languages are a total mystery to me. In fact, I didn’t even realize that there were idomatic expressions in many other languages.

Yesterday I was teaching Science class and we were talking about the digestive system. It’s fifth grade, so this can easily devolve into a discussion about poop, which while interesting, can cause fits of giggles. Not what you want when you’re trying to teach about cells, tissues, organs, etc. So I was delicately leading the conversation away from the final product of digestion. We were discussing the process of absorbing nutrients into the bloodstream through villi in the small intestine when one of my students raised her hand with a question.

“Miss, why do people say when they’ve eaten too fast that the food has gone to their back?”

“What?” I asked, blinking confusedly.

“Yeah!” several other students chimed in looking at me intently, waiting for my answer to this burning question.

“I’m sorry, I have no idea what you’re talking about!” I replied, trying to get the conversation back to villi and the blood stream. No such luck. Now all of my students were chattering about how everyone says this and they don’t understand what it means.

My best guess is that this is some Arabic idiom that doesn’t translate into English. I’ve certainly never heard of any phrase or wives’ tale that says if you eat too fast the food goes to your back. I had to carefully point out (using diagrams from the textbook for help) that the digestive system is a one-way process that goes from mouth to esophagus to stomach to small intestine to large intestine to… you get the idea. Your back is not involved in the digestive process in any way.

Do any of you have any ideas what this means or where it came from?

If you do, please leave me a note in the comments.

3 thoughts on “Idioms

  1. No ideas here, sorry!
    The Russians have an expression – if you slept well, you slept on your back legs 🙂 That made me laugh when students said it to me! Direct translations just do not work most of the time!

  2. Lol, I asked my husband, Mohamed, and he never heard of this either! He’s a retired middle school principal, and worked his way up through the egyptian dept of education to get there, even teaching on govt loan in sudan. So I’d say he should know about this idiom, if anybody should! But, nope… never heard of that one – he says it’s probably a family reference that got around in those children’s neighborhood. Like my kids quoting from whinney the pooh cartoons… who knows where they pick that stuff up, lol! ♥♥♥;^)

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