I'm trying to place a short story told from the viewpoint of a person who understands common idioms literally. For example, if someone asks him to “lend a hand”, he would understand that the hand needs to be detached from his body. I think a lot of the idioms were related to body parts. The story was carefully ambiguous as to whether he was disconnected from reality or the universe was an sf-nal one where the idioms came true. The character was aware of the strangeness.

I read the story a few years ago in a collection or anthology, and I have no reason to believe it was new then. For some reason I think it may be by Sturgeon, but I can't find it my Sturgeon collection, so that's probably a false impression.

  • Cool question, What does "sf-nal" mean? – Mark Rogers Jan 23 '11 at 18:32
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    Makes SF an adjective. Not a fan, but that's the grumpy old guy in me muttering. ;) jeffmountjoy.blogspot.com/2007/02/sfnal.html – Saiboogu Jan 23 '11 at 18:38
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    Not SF, but Amelia Bedelia comes to mind. – Goodbye Stack Exchange Jan 23 '11 at 19:31
  • Not SF either, but it made me think of that (Tom and Jerry? maybe?) cartoon where the story of this cat is told entirely in idioms. "I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth", "It was rainin cats and dogs!" – morganpdx Jan 24 '11 at 18:44
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    @morganpdx: TeX Avery, MGM, standalone, technically SF: Symphony in Slang – user56 Jan 24 '11 at 19:33

It's a Philip K. Dick short story called The Eyes Have It.

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I know they have to be careful with idiom at first in Stranger in a Strange Land. Jubal comments on having to remember not to use phrases like "Get lost" around Mike.

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  • Okay, I'll bite. Why was this voted down? – Elizabeth Schechter Jan 26 '11 at 0:44
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    I'm not the downvoter, so I can only guess, but it could be because that's not a very good match for the question, or because your answer is technically useless since CodeByMoonlight provided the correct answer. I've asked what people think of downvoting in this case on Meta. – user56 Jan 27 '11 at 21:23
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    I downvoted it because the question has a clear answer, which has already been given, and this "answer" adds nothing to answering the question. Do you think that what you posted here is in fact the answer to the question? If you don't, then you should hardly be surprised if it gets downvoted. – Mike Scott Jan 27 '11 at 21:31
  • I was asking because I wanted to know what I'd done wrong. This is the first time I've had an answer downvoted. – Elizabeth Schechter Jan 28 '11 at 2:41

Even if the sentence To Serve the Man is not an idiom, Damon Knight's short story is indeed about different literal meaning of the sentence.

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From a fun book series, XANTH by Piers Anthony, everything is a pun. :) I wish he had a guide at the end to explain all of them, since I hope I get them all, but I am sure I do not!

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    There's a Visual Guide to Xanth available that has all of the creatures and major characters up through the first trilogy of trilogies. – OghmaOsiris Jun 10 '11 at 21:29

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