Teaching Materials for Waltur Buys A Pig in a Poke

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Much of the humor in the Waltur stories rests on the difference between an idiom’s literal meaning and its actual meaning — Waltur usually interprets the words literally, while Matilda usually understands the meaning of the idiom. Whenever he hears a new turn of phrase, Waltur’s first impulse is to ask, “Why not?” In discovering “why not,” he comes to understand the age-old wisdom of the idiom.

Idioms are word usages that cannot be understood literally — they have meaning to the native speakers of a language because the native speakers learn what the words or phrases actually mean. For example, the sentence “Jason eats like a horse” does not mean that Jason stands in a stall and munches on hay, which is what, taken literally, the words convey. Instead, “eats like a horse” is an idiom that means “eats a large amount of food.”

A living language is constantly changing: some word uses are dying out, some are being born every day. This constant change has been a characteristic of language since its beginnings: there are people in every generation who love playful language. Many of these playful uses of language have hung around for hundreds of years as idioms. Most of the longer idioms are proverbs embodying not only colorful use of language, but wisdom as well. The idioms in Waltur Buys a Pig in a Poke are proverb-based idioms.

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