Are these idioms / expressions informal or formal please?
Thread poster: tweetyching
May 5, 2012

Hi everyone,

Can you tell me whether the following idioms/expression is informal or formal? Or whether they will be used in dialogues? Thank you!

1. crop up
2. keep anything under my hat
3. slow off the mark
4. Take advantage in numbers
5. a bundle of nerves
6. safety in numbers
7. fall between two stools
8. go back on my words

Besides, will you use "black-clad" as a noun?

It seems that I've asked too much:p Thank you for your help!


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Russell Jones  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:40
Italian to English
Initial response May 5, 2012

Firstly, they are all used in dialogue, but note that No. 8 should be "go back on my word", singular, meaning "promise".

In my view, there is no black and white distinction between formal and informal in English; there is a graduated scale between formality and informality. None of these expressions would be found in official correspondence but they could all be used in journalism. Nos. 2 and 5 are the most informal, while all the others might be found in reports or even academic texts, for example.

Black-clad means nothing to me, except as an adjective.


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 13:40
Chinese to English
4 is wrong May 5, 2012

It should be: seek/there is safety in numbers

None of these are formal in register.


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Russell Jones  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:40
Italian to English
Safety in numbers May 5, 2012

Phil Hand wrote:

It should be: seek / there is .. safety in numbers


Quite right. On second thoughts I'm not sure about "Take advantage in numbers" either; there are only 3 internet hits, but perhaps it's US English.


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Tina Vonhof  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 23:40
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Cannot say May 5, 2012

Often you cannot say whether a word or expression is formal or informal without considering the context. The same expression may be ok in one context but not in another.

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LEXpert  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:40
Member (2008)
Croatian to English
+ ...
"Take advantage in numbers" May 6, 2012

Russell Jones wrote:

Phil Hand wrote:

It should be: seek / there is .. safety in numbers


Quite right. On second thoughts I'm not sure about "Take advantage in numbers" either; there are only 3 internet hits, but perhaps it's US English.



"Safety in numbers" (no. 6) is fine. "Take advantage in numbers" (no. 4) is definitely not US English, just wrong. "Safety in numbers" would be indeed be a logical interpretation/correction for no. 4, but, in that case, why have "Safety in numbers" as no. 6 as well? Perhaps "take advantage in numbers" is a corruption of "utilize economies of scale".


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:40
Spanish to English
+ ...
Context rules OK May 6, 2012

Tina Vonhof wrote:

Often you cannot say whether a word or expression is formal or informal without considering the context. The same expression may be ok in one context but not in another.


Yes. I'd strongly advise any non-native speaker to refrain from trying to use or actively learn these kind of expressions out of context, as I think they are best acquired through hands-on experience.
For example, I use "crop up" in formal texts as an alternative to "arise" with an added hint of happenstance. As with several phrasal verb-type expressions, it comes across as less formal, so you have to "dose" its/their use judiciously.

And as colleagues - black-clad or otherwise garbed - already point out - some of the phrase are not quite "right" anyway.

If in doubt, leave it out.

PS: A friend of mine at school used to always say "keep it under your hat" when sharing a secret and it still reminds me of him nowadays...

[Edited at 2012-05-06 08:08 GMT]

[Edited at 2012-05-06 08:09 GMT]


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 13:40
Chinese to English
Absolutely May 6, 2012

neilmac wrote:

I'd strongly advise any non-native speaker to refrain from trying to use or actively learn these kind of expressions out of context, as I think they are best acquired through hands-on experience.


Yes. Part of interpreter training (for those who interpret A-B) is to pick up new phrases and learn 3-4 sentences with those phrases in context. Learned free-standing they are useless.

Plus, in the great nation of China, they are often made up. When I was assisting in a community college 10 years ago, I looked at the English textbook they were using, and it had a chapter on phrases incorporating parts of the body. There were some correct phrases:
give someone the cold shoulder

Some where you could see how the original phrase had been twisted:
go on hotfoot (glossed as "to run quickly")

And some that were just made up out of the author's twisted psyche:
To have bright ears (I can remember a real example, but this is the type of thing)

Fully one third of the list, to be learned by English undergrads, fell into the third category. Not English, not like English, not developed from English. Just rubbish.


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