Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Four kinds of safe spaces and a question about idiom

At Steven Brust’s Fourth Street Fantasy Remarks Generate Heat | File 770, Lydy Nickerson claimed,
I would like to point out that “safe space” is neither a literal nor a metaphorical phrase. It is a term of art, coming out of various complex discussions about how to deal with racism, sexism, and kierarchy.
World Weary added,
i’m surprised to find a writer unfamiliar with the concept of idiom, a term which describes a word or words with a specific but non-literal and non-metaphorical meaning. The bane of translaters everywhere.
This is a slightly revised version of my reply,
World Weary, the reason idiom is difficult to translate is because idioms can be literal, but they’re more commonly metaphorical. When they’re literal, they assume knowledge that outsiders don’t have. And that’s true when they’re metaphorical. Can you offer an example of an idiom that is neither metaphorical or literal?

To take this back to the topic:

A safe space can be a literal space that is safe from physical danger because danger cannot enter, like a fortress or an isolated chamber such as the safe room that rich people build in their homes.

A safe space can be one of at least three kinds of spaces where the safety is metaphorical, based on the consent of the people who meet there:

A space that is free from physical danger by agreement, like sacred grounds or a place where a flag of truce is flying.

A space where no ideas are taboo.

A space where certain ideas are taboo.
Thinking more about the possibility that an idiom could be literal but obscure, I went looking and couldn't find any examples, but I found a good definition of idiom at English Idioms | Lists of Idioms with Definitions and Examples:
An idiom (also called idiomatic expression) is an expression, word, or phrase that has a figurative meaning conventionally understood by native speakers. This meaning is different from the literal meaning of the idiom's individual elements. In other words, idioms don't mean exactly what the words say. They have, however, hidden meaning.
So, can anyone offer an example of an idiom that is neither literal or metaphorical?