I is for Importar un Rábano

Costarican idioms (loosely interpreted)

radishOr, le importa un rábano. Literally this means “it has the importance, or worth, of a radish.” I have also heard no importarle un pito. For a translation of that just think of Rhett Butler’s comments to Scarlett O’Hara when she begged him to come back.

I am pretty fond of the radish because it is fresh, has crunch. Pito isn’t bad either. Pito translates as cigarette, a jot, boo, whistle, or hiss.

I enjoy collecting foreign idioms because they are perfect, as well as fresh, metaphors for my writing. When that cliché rears its ugly head (hear that?), or my critique group points one out, sometimes searching for a new way to express that thought can be difficult. They are clichés because they adhere in our brains like glue, a kind of mental fly paper that the writing hand sticks to when feeling lazy or uninventive.

An idiom from a foreign language can add just the right tone and a new twist. My work in progress is about living in this country, so using metaphors that come from here seems logical and I think adds flavor of the pieces I write.

Other ways to work on the issue:

  •  Use all your senses to describe a scene or a person
  • Keep a journal of experiences—many of these posts are coming from my journals, by the way.
  • Read, read, read.  Some of my favorite writers have wonderful new and imaginative metaphors. TC Boyle and Neal Stephenson are masters of the art.
  • Exercises to flex the brain.
  • Write a new metaphor every day for a year. You will get better at it.

So, how clichéd is your writing, and how do you find new ways to express those flabby old radishes that crop up from time to time in our work?


  6 comments for “I is for Importar un Rábano

  1. 10/04/2012 at 5:20 pm

    Cliches do have their uses, though. If I’m struggling to capture the essence of a scene, I’ll stick to cliches to get my thoughts done and then worry about them during the rewrite.

    • 11/04/2012 at 1:53 am

      I agree, Cindy. They are a great way to get the thought down t revise later. Happy writing.

  2. 10/04/2012 at 2:55 pm

    I think that cliche inevitably winds its way into some part of my writing. I’m going to say that 20% is probably cliche. I can live with 20%. I’m not out to win a Nobel Prize or anything.

    • 11/04/2012 at 1:52 am

      Oooh, Michael, my critique group is death on *all* clichés.I’m not going to win the Nobel Prize either, but I know see them when I write them. If there is a good reason for one, well so be it. If it’s just lazy writing I have to look for something special that does not sound forced. Happy writing.

  3. 10/04/2012 at 9:58 am

    The only thing missing is the flick of the wrist most Latin women use when delivering this line. I look forward to seeing it in Julius.

  4. 10/04/2012 at 7:04 am

    Me importa un pito … That takes me back with conversations with my mother. Thanks for the reminder and I will use it in Julius when Alvah and Corinne are discussing whatever they typically discuss.

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