My favorite memory of Star Trek may well be the “Darmok” episode featuring Captain Picard of the starship Enterprise trying to communicate with an alien called Dathon who talked only in metaphors or similes or sayings of one sort or another.

I can’t even remember the details — just that Jean-Luc had to decipher verbal images that made no literal sense, and eventually did so, thus forging contact with a hitherto unintelligible entity.

In doing so, the good captain illustrated one of the delights of language. A native speaker can talk in riddles that make perfect sense to a native listener and, at the same time, might leave many a new student of the language mystified and perplexed.

For a native speaker though, it may not even matter that a saying or a word has been botched. We know what is meant, whether it’s a malapropism or a misquotation. In fact, such mistakes make our exchanges that much more colorful — especially the vocal kind.

One example that deserves a place in linguistic history emanates from an Arizona judge who, embroiled in career setbacks some years ago, announced to the media that he had a bitter pill to carry. Of course, his plight was generally understood — just as surely as it would have been had he complained of a heavy load to swallow.

Just to show that such pronouncements are not confined to the more rough and ready Western  states, I was recently in conversation with a lady in Boston, Massachusetts, who — sympathizing with an exasperating medical situation — agreed that there were too many cooks in the pot.

There certainly are times when placing a few cooks in a simmering cauldron might be a very appealing idea. A few celebrity chefs spring to mind.

But of course there was no need to dwell on this interpretation of her chosen image. We both knew exactly what she meant, and revision was not required. As she might have said, we had found ourselves between a rock and the deep blue sea. A hard place to be, as only the devil knows.

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