Random anime picture, to demonstrate that this will end up being an anime post
A few years ago, when I already knew enough english to start participating in real discussions with native speakers, I started to notice an interesting quirk of the language: people using the phrase “literally” in front of figures of speech. After double-checking my dictionary to make sure that it really means what I think it means, I concluded that it must be a really difficult word to remember, and smugly congratulated to myself for noticing it even in spite of that, and for having a better grasp of english vocabulary than many native speakers.
Except that soon after that, I started to notice that people around me, myself included, are kind of doing the same in my own native Hungarian, with our own figures of speech. For example, I say “[the words literally froze into me]” when I am so shocked that I couldn’t say anything, or “[these pigeons are literally getting more eyeless from day to day]”, where “eyeless” is an idiom for “bold”, “brash”, or “cheeky”.
It looks like people aren’t really having a problem with remembering what “literally” means. When someone says that their large-scale movie is “literally a blockbuster”, they truly mean to say that it’s not just an exaggerated praise for a medium scale movie, but it’s a real large scale movie. They just fail to remember that “blockbuster” is supposed to be more than a synonym of that, it’s also a figure of speech comparing movies to bombs. To me, it is easier, because I learned to meaning of “block” and “buster” long before first hearing “blockbuster” being used about movies. On the other hand, saying that bold pigeons are “[eyeless]”, is the most normal thing to me, it’s the primary usage of the phrase in Hungarian, and I have to think hard to even remember that it originally had something to do with actual eyes. And it’s the other way around with you. You might find “blockbuster” to be a word that means “big movie” by default, and it’s old meaning is only an obscure etymological trivia, while calling something [eyeless] would instantly give you a very grotesque mental image.
Strangely, it looks like someone who only heard a word a few times, for example a foreigner, can be more reflective about finding idiom’s original building blocks, than an experienced speaker who instantly jumps to thinking about the intended message of the phrase, and doesn’t need to stop thinking about the smaller elements.
So, you ask why am I talking about Hungarian idioms, and about linguistic theories, on an anime blog?