I work on the third floor of my library. We’ve got all of the non-fiction as classified by the Dewey Decimal System, from the number zero all the way through 699. We also have the foreign language collection. This usually means that we have a greater proportion of library patrons whose first language is not English.
One of the most frequent categories of questions I get is people asking for the clarification of idioms that they don’t understand.
It’s easy to forget how confusing certain phrases can be when we don’t look at how poorly certain things translate. For instance, the other day a gentleman informed me that he was from Vietnam. He had a piece of paper that said “Death before dishonor. Meaning.” The gap between our understandings was vast.
Death before dishonor is a phrase whose meaning I take to be obvious, unlike some idioms like “walking the straight and narrow.” It means that the person saying it would rather die than suffer any insult to his or her honor. A prisoner threatened with their death unless they betrayed their country would be choosing death before dishonor if they refused to become a traitor.
I’m grateful for my job. It doesn’t let me get too comfortable with my assumptions, because there are always going to be people asking questions that help me see things from someone else’s point of view.