Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Over-used Genealogy Idioms

John D. Reid at the Anglo-Celtic Connections blog has a post today about "Overused Idioms in Genealogy." He mentioned three -

* Brickwall

* Putting flesh on the bones

* Digging up your roots

I can think of several others --

* Search back in time

* Discover your family history

* Find your elusive ancestor

* Broaden your search

* Shirt-tail relative

I think these qualify as idioms. An idiom is (from Wikipedia) "a term or phrase whose meaning cannot be deduced from the literal definitions and the arrangement of its parts, but refers instead to a figurative meaning that is known only through common use."

Do you have other examples? If so, please comment on John's blog and help him out.

1 comment:

Drew Smith said...

Randy, as I'm something of a language nut, I was interested in the list you mentioned of genealogical idioms. I think the best example on your own list is "shirttail relative", as the most ordinary definitions don't give you the meaning of the phrase. (Webster's 3rd does give one meaning of the adjective "shirttail" as "distantly and indefinitely related", but it's not a commonly used meaning except in conjunction with "relative".)

I don't think I would agree with your other choices. The meaning of "broaden a search" seems to fit pretty well within the most common definitions of the constituent words (to broaden something is to extend it past its existing limits).

"Elusive" is a borderline case, but "elusive" does have the definition of "difficult to isolate or identify".

I think "discover your family history" is pretty clear from its constituent words.

To identify something as an idiom, I think you have to say that you could not use the more common definitions of the constituent words and use them to create the meaning of the phrase.