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know your idioms! or, idiomatic for the people.

13 August 2009

hey, if it’s the hardest lesson for english language learners (i.e. those for whom english is a second, third, fourth language) to learn, it is understandable how many people get them confused, particularly now that we write much more on a daily basis for a wider audience, ala internet machine.

it happens to be both a curiosity of mine to know the background of idioms; it also happens to be a more-than-mild-grammar-snob annoyance when i see them repetitiously butchered in print.  what can i say, i’m an editor/teacher/nitpicky high-horser who likes language (like, LIKE-likes.  you know what i mean).  but if you were never taught, how do you even know it’s wrong?  you don’t.   knowing is half the battle, like g.i. joe says, but in this case, the other half is editing your words before you click ‘publish’ versus, say, red and blue lasers.

i’m certainly not going to nit-pick everything, because SERIOUSLY PEOPLE – i’m not that girl.  i don’t even capitalize “correctly”; obviously, i don’t get all that grumpy.

but, i notice.


lesson for today:

if something catches your eye, you want to say that it

piques your interest.

not PEEK.

not PEAK.


the word pique comes from the french language (as does a large, and i mean LARGE amount of our english vocabulary). the french word is piquer, which literally means ‘to prick’.

many idioms can be arrived at (or checked) by just looking at it with some common sense, but certainly not all.  something peeking your interest makes no sense.  you could reasonably sort out “peaking your interest”, as it connotes a rise in interest.  however, you would say that you peak someones interest, rather than peak-ing, which isn’t really a word.

so there you are, your idiom for the weak.

see what i did there? 😉  if i were an 80’s band, i’d be grammarama, for sure.

post script:

since we’re on this pique/peek/peak business, when you say you want to look at something, you use “peek”.  how to remember that?  peak = mountain.  if you aren’t talking about something big, or mountain-like, best bet is you need “peek”.  homonyms will get you every time.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Courtney D. permalink
    14 August 2009 8:54 am

    This is one of the many reasons I like you. I, on the other hand, LOATH language, editing, writing, etc so your type peak (?), no peek, ummm… pique my interest. What to write/edit some papers for me?

  2. Julie permalink
    14 August 2009 11:22 am

    I didnt know that the way you said ‘piqued my interest” that way! I learn SO much from you! Thanks! 🙂

  3. Leslie Gordon permalink
    17 August 2009 8:27 pm

    Oh my goodness! It’s so funny you wrote this about the word “pique”. I was sitting in a seminar just the other day when I found that in the middle of a powerpoint presentation, the presenter had actually written how it was important to “peak students’ interest in new and unfamiliar books”. I couldn’t believe it! It drove me so crazy, but I just sat there biting my tongue. It took all I had within me to keep from saying anything because I don’t want to come off as one of THOSE kinds of English teachers who end up correcting people on their usage. Am I a geek, or what? It sounds like I am in good company. 😉

  4. Sarah permalink
    20 August 2009 10:02 pm

    I’m glad you understand THIS part of me. Because, you know, not everyone does 🙂

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