I am trying to improve my vocabulary translating lyrics of songs I like. Today is "Slow Show" by The National. Everything is pretty clear, but for one line:

My leg is sparkles, my leg is pins

My understanding is that his (the singer's, speaking in first person) leg feels "pins and needles", numb. But I am not sure this is the case. For example, I didn't understand why "sparkles" and "pins" are plural while the subject is singular.

In case you need context, you can find the lyrics here.

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    My leg is all sparkles/pins - makes sense. Not idiomatic but understandable. My face is glitters – mplungjan May 16 '14 at 14:16
  • @mplungjan I can probably understand "pins", as pins relate to the touch. But what about "sparkles"? Aren't sparkles a visual effect? – Edgar Derby May 16 '14 at 14:17
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    You'll find that words in song lyrics are chosen for artistic effect, frequently breaking various conventions of language and usage and employing metaphors like this one which are not idiomatic in conversational English. I don't want to discourage you though; I think it no bad thing were people to speak more poetically. – choster May 16 '14 at 14:28
  • @choster I agree. :) Also, it is not the complete understanding of what the author of the lyrics meant the goal of my exercise: in the process of trying to understand, in fact, I learn new words and new idioms (like "pins and needles"). One may say, it is not the destination that matters, but the journey. – Edgar Derby May 16 '14 at 15:24

You are correct that the idiom being referenced is pins and needles.

I would guess that sparkles here refers not to the kind of sparkles that sparks cause, small glimpses of light, but the sense the OED has as sense 6c in the article for sparkle:

The appearance characteristic of certain wines, due to the presence of carbonic-acid gas.

Or rather, the sense used in the more common term sparkling (drinks), i.e., carbonated, fizzy drinks. If such drinks are sparkling, the bubbles that make them sparkling are ostensibly sparkles, and the feeling of being on pins and needles is pseudo-synaesthetically akin to having fizzy bubbles going through your legs.

This usage is not idiomatic, but rather evocative and inventive; I would not use an expression like “my leg is pins/sparkles” in conversation, but these are song lyrics, not conversation.

  • The analogy with "sparkling drink" was enlightening, very clear indeed. :) – Edgar Derby May 16 '14 at 15:21
  • Now when my leg goes numb, I will think of fizzy drinks... – Chris Cirefice May 16 '14 at 16:27

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