How To Speak American

How living in France has helped me question our bad language habits, bizarre idioms, and incoherent phrases

Joshua Edward
4 min readMar 1, 2019


Photo by Manan Chhabra

Perhaps the best way to learn something is to explain it all the time. Working in an English program at a French business school, I’ve had the pleasure of communicating primarily in English with people who are not native English speakers. This has helped me examine the nuanced meanings of words, phrases and common sayings that we frequently use, but never think about.

You see, non-native English speakers tend to take things literally. When you do this, however, you realize just how ridiculous so much of what we say actually is. Here are some examples of when we take these phrases literally:

  • Let it Ride — Think about this. Let it ride what? Where is it going? Who’s driving? And how long will it take? What if there’s an accident, does whatever we’re talking about have insurance? Does it need a ticket to a ride, and if so, is that ticket refundable?
  • Dodged a bullet — I’m happy to hear that, but maybe you should think about moving to a different neighborhood.
  • I’m going to hit the books — Why don’t you try reading them first? You might actually like them. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Unless of course they’re dusty, then hitting them might be a good idea, but maybe try blowing on them first.
  • Hit the roof — Well I need to see this. I can barely touch the ceiling, let alone hit the roof. But how will that make things better? Won’t that just damage the roof?
  • Got the best of us — “Boy they really got the best of us on that one.” Which one? And what did they do with the best of us once they got it? How’d they get it? Did they tear it off? Carefully remove it? Where’d they go with it, and are they keeping it safe? Most importantly, how do we get it back?
  • Out of the loop — You know, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a loop before. This sounds like a good thing though, especially if the loop is a noose.
  • Do you have a light? — No, but I have fire. Do you need fire, or do you need light? Next time someone carrying an unlit cigarette comes up to you and says this, pull out your cell phone and turn it to flashlight mode.



Joshua Edward