phrases whose literal meaning...

Mark A Mandel mam at THEWORLD.COM
Mon Nov 4 00:12:15 UTC 2002

On Sun, 3 Nov 2002, James A. Landau wrote:

#My daughter needs to know the term to be applied to phrases whose literal
#meaning is one thing but which are universally interpreted as something else.
# Her examples are "How do you do?" which literally asks "How are you?" but is
#used merely as "Hello"; and one from Hebrew, "mazel tov" which literally
#means "good luck" but is universally used as "congratulations".

Actually each of these is one remove further from literality. "How do
you do?", taken literally, is the same construction as "How do you sew?"
or "How do you S?", and is almost ungrammatical, since "do" as main verb
with no explicit object is almost obsolete. It's a frozen form,
supplanted in current syntax by "How are you doing?" And "mazel tov" is
literally 'a good star', which by an astrological metaphor means 'good

-- Mark A. Mandel

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