Books are made of printed words. Printed words arranged in a specific order make stories. Stories can be dull or they can be engaging. If you enjoy books and stories, it’s likely that you enjoy good wordplay. Good writing is more than just coherent arrangments of words–it’s stringing picturesque phrases and evocative expressions into prose that leaps from the page and into the reader’s imagination. This week in LitChat we’re all about wordplay.
Joining us as guest host on Friday is Jag Bhalla, author of I’m Not Hanging Noodles On Your Ears and Other Intriguing Idioms from Around the World (National Geographic Books). Hanging Noodles is a creative compendium of idioms from cultures all over the globe. Bhalla opens each section with research notes and personal remarks, then lists examples of idioms and the language from which they’re drawn. As idioms go, much of their cleverness is lost in the transliteration from the original language into English, but they still manage to be chuckle-worthy variations on a theme.
In Moscow, “I’m not hanging noodles on your ears” is common parlance, but unless you’re Russian your reaction is probably, “Say what?” The same idea in English is equally odd: “I’m not pulling your leg.” Both mean: Believe me.
As Bhalla demonstrates, these amusing, often hilarious phrases provide a unique perspective on how different cultures perceive and describe the world. Organized by theme—food, love, romance, and many more—they embody cultural traditions and attitudes, capture linguistic nuance, and shed fascinating light on “the whole ball of wax.” For example, when English-speakers are hard at work, we’re “nose to the grindstone,” but industrious Chinese toil “with liver and brains spilled on the ground” and busy Indians have “no time to die.”
Bhalla is an amateur idiomologist, amateur triviologist, amateur natural scientist, amateur entrepreneur, and amateur film producer. He calls himself an amateur author, but one who publishes a book through National Geographic Books can hardly be called an amateur. Witty and refreshing, with charming illustrations by New Yorker cartoonist Julia Suits, I’m not hanging noodles on your ears when I say this is a must-read for any lover of language.
Follow Bhalla on Twitter at @hangingnoodles.