English is like a great joke. It works so much better if you don’t have to explain it.
As I was leaving the office this week I said to our Chinese assistant (who was on her way to a teaching gig), “Knock Em’ Dead.” Her eyes grew a bit and she gave her trademark, “Whaaat?” (she says that at least hourly working in an office with us). The explanation began.
Me: Yeah, knock em’ dead. It means, “do a good job”
Me: You know “to knock?” It means “to hit.” punching myself in the hand. And em’, that’s short for them.
Her: unconvincingly, “mmmm ok.”
Me: And “dead”, like “to die” or “to kill”. So . . . it’s kind of like saying . . . “hit them until they die”
Her: blank stare
Me: But it really means “do a good job.” realizing as the words left my mouth that I had never once considered the violent nature of our affirming words. So knock em’ dead and while you’re at it . . . break a leg.