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Understanding idomatic expressions/figures of speech

Discussion in 'General Autism Discussion' started by IContainMultitudes, Aug 5, 2011.

  1. IContainMultitudes

    IContainMultitudes Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

    In general, how well do you do understanding non-literal idiomatic expressions and figures of speech? I generally do ok with that, but every once in a while, I hear or read one that's a little unfamiliar that takes me a second or two to process, and sometimes, when people are talking to me, I get kind of an odd feeling that, while I understand what they're saying, my brain is having to put a little bit of extra effort into "translating" it. Just a minute ago, I saw a link to a story on Twitter entitled "Bruce Lee memorabilia to go under the hammer," and a picture jumped into my head of someone taking a hammer and smashing the Bruce Lee memorabilia with it. It took me a couple of seconds to process that a little and realize that that probably meant that the memorabilia was being auctioned off.

    Every once in a while, someone uses an idiomatic expression or figure of speech that throws me off a little bit, which might occasionally make me appear a little "slow," but it's not real often that I just have to ask someone straight up "What does that mean?" I can vaguely remember at least one or two times when I was younger when someone used a figure of speech like "tickled pink" that I took literally or misunderstood, but I don't do that very often now.
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2011
  2. Occasional_Demon

    Occasional_Demon Well-Known Member

    I think I generally fare okay with idiomatic speech, in that I have memorised what most of them actually mean, so when people use them on me, then I understand.

    However, in my mind, I still do get pretty literal interpretations in my mind. Like if someone was saying that they were feeling "blue", my first thought is to see them literally turning blue, which of course isn't what they mean :p Or, "a rolling stone gathers no moss" - in my mind, I see a great rock rolling down a hill, when that's not the actual meaning of the phrase.
  3. Geordie

    Geordie Geordie

    From a simulated discussion with an autistic individual:

    I am so literal - that I fail to use idioms, and I don't use them.

    I won't catch it if they say 'for whom the bell tolls'... It shows the interconnectedness of humanity, when there was funeral bells.

    I also won't catch it, why I like green so much and I can't wear green caps? In Singapore and the Sinosphere countries, green hat means a cockoid, philanderer, whatever! That came from an old Chinese custom, but I feel that this stopped me from wearing a real Oakland Athletics hat, so I can't really go support the team in their green hat... That's just me.

    I really don't know what to do with understanding idioms?
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2011
  4. epath13

    epath13 the Fool.The Magician.The... V.I.P Member

    I'm pretty much like that too. When I was a kid I was fascinated by idioms, I was curious whoever came up with some of them because at some point despite of what they mean they had to have a literal background. But I'm just thinking wouldn't anyone have to remember meaning of most of them in order to use them. It's hard to believe that any person who's not on the spectrum could guess what certain idiom means if he/she 's never heard it before. I've actually haven heard the moss expression before (i mean i might have but I don't remember) so I asked my NT husband if he knows what it means, I tried to explain it myself saying, like"duh, of course it doesn't gather no moss because it rolls and because of the environment it is in" :D so it has to mean something like "duh!" :D the actual meaning makes no sense to me though :D
  5. Ylva

    Ylva Well-Known Member

    If I am with an extraordinarily understanding person, I will simply ask for clarifications when they use idioms I don't understand. I have gotten lost in English idiom dictionaries before, but I always get disappointed that the "true" meanings are so boring compared to the literal ones.

    Like "tempest in a teacup". Imagine how I felt when I learned that it just means big arguments over a disproportionately small issue.
  6. Aalo

    Aalo Hypostasis

    This is tricky. Most of the time I can't react on anything if not given specific question, but sometimes I'm well capable getting some delicate metaphor or hint of thought that's not entirely told. It might pretty much be about the context. I got my first realizations about my AS when feeling totally lost while asked simple things, but there just was some small parameter not given that my brain couldn't process on without.

    As I, too, am really literal, I have big problems when people say "everything affects everything else". No it doesn't, you punk. Some things might affect some, but all, never. False. Basic physics, anyone? How dare people be so reckless on what they say. And so alike I dislike most of other idiomatics too. Some like "piece of cake" are easy to understand, yet so pointless and dull. There still might be some that I frequently use, both in English and my native language. Thou, in Finnish I defy some language rules and make my own versions of phrases as I feel being so good using it, and I have enormous vocabulary and understanding in some areas of etymology. English is a mere tool of communicating for me and I hardly have that big of an interested in lures of it.
  7. _Josh_

    _Josh_ Active Member

    I remember constantly asking questions about everything when I was a child. Constantly asking what things mean, what new words and phrases I hear mean. I think I've learned what the most common idioms and figures of speech mean, but still hear a few that I don't get. I simply ask what they mean. I'm not self conscious about it at all, and every one I know knows I am a very literal person. I still have an urge to point out that such and such phrase doesn't make any sense and why, or informing of where the term originates from if I know, it just leads to amusement or eyes rolling. Either way is fine with me.
  8. parentinghealthybabies

    parentinghealthybabies Member


    yes, the odd situation that you've described can happen randomly to anyone regardless of autism or neurotypical. I think, this has more to do with language skill rather than brain processing. Sometimes, we might not understand age old idioms with comparisons prevalent during that time or even when an idiom from another language is translated into English, we might not understand it right away. And also, there are people who think quite literally. So, my opinion is that thinking or processing has nothing to do with understanding complex idioms.

    Think of something like this. Today, computers are so powerful that scientists say they might realize Artificial Intelligence by the end of this decade or in the next decade and they have been saying this for the past 20 years or so. Even today, though computers are smart, without programming they are just blank machines worth nothing. Yet, when properly programmed they help us realize most things.
  9. Cuppa' Tea

    Cuppa' Tea Active Member

    I read a lot and ask my dad when I run into an idiom I don't understand. So I know what most mean, I think. But I'm so literal, I don't use them. It's just not worth the hassle. But I like knowing what they mean when I come across one.
  10. Jacki Cucinotta

    Jacki Cucinotta Well-Known Member

    Usually I do pretty well with idioms and expression - I usually analyze the context in which the word is said to understand them, even if I never heard them before. When I was young, however, I took EVERYTHING literally - I thought that "It's raining cats and dogs" completely meant what it said lol!!!!!
  11. Lector Tiberius

    Lector Tiberius Active Member

    I tend to do okay with idioms. What is really a struggle for me is: abstract/ non -verbal communication. I generally haven't a clue what's really going on in social settings where there are alot of different coversations going on. I have this really bad habbit of nodding in agreement / saying "okay" when someone is conversing with me , as if I'm keeping up with the conversation fully. It could not be further from the truth actually.
  12. jonathan

    jonathan Well-Known Member

    I'm a lot less literal than I used to be years back. An expression like "raining cats and dogs" would have likely thrown me in a loop, before having realized that it's an alternate way of mentioning heavy pouring rain. Even for some people I know, it's hard to wrap one's head around all figurative language - speaking for myself, memory does help on that end but I do have to remind myself to examine the context in which it's being used before "jumping the gun" (or doing without thinking, for those of us who are more literal minded :))
  13. Leej07

    Leej07 Active Member

    Im generally good about understanding idioms, my main issue is I sometimes spend a lot of time just trying to figure where on earth a particular idiom came from. (Like tickled pink...what on earth does being tickled have to do with the color pink, and who came up with it?)
  14. Jacki Cucinotta

    Jacki Cucinotta Well-Known Member

    I don't know if I'm right (I could be quite wrong), but I kinda think it could have to do with the pinkish tinge that can flush a person's face when he or she hears something funny. That's just a guess though - be aware of that ;)
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