6

I am working as a translator and in one of my projects, which was about strategic management , I came across this sentence:

" In scenarios that come straight from Kafka, the simplest problems take months, even years to address."

Could someone please tell me what this sentence means or at least simplify it? Is the phrase "in scenarios that come straight from Kafka" an idiom??

  • 3
    I think this is General Reference. Although not many dictionaries will have an entry for Kafka, they should all have Kafkaesque - used to describe a situation that is confusing and frightening, especially one involving complicated official rules and systems that do not seem to make any sense (that definition's from the Oxford Learner's Dictionary). And if I google define kafka, four of the first five results point me to definitions for that derived adjectival form. – FumbleFingers Dec 24 '14 at 13:48
  • 3
    It's not an idiom. It's a cultural reference. The reader is supposed to know about Kafka's writing (oversimplified, about regular people having to dealing with absurd circumstances, especially government bureaucracy). – Mitch Dec 24 '14 at 13:51
  • 2
    @FumbleFingers: It's a stretch to ask someone to go from "straight from Kafka" to Kafkaesque automatically. You're asking someone who may not know that unusual word to automatically think of it. Easy to do once you know the answer; not so much if you don't. – Robusto Dec 24 '14 at 13:54
  • 1
    @Robusto: I understand what you mean, but the fact that the vast majority of Google results for define kafka actually have Kafkaesque as the first word in the "snippet view" is enough for me to say I think that's not a significant stretch in context. And if you consulted a paper dictionary, you'd obviously find it by going to the right place in the alphabetic sequence. – FumbleFingers Dec 24 '14 at 13:58
  • 3
    Everyone seems focused on Kafka and "Kafkaesque," but I wonder if the question isn't inspired by the use of "come straight from" + a person's name (standing in - in this particular case - for the realms depicted in his novels). Scenarios don't typically "come" from places (they don't move or travel at all). And "come straight from" is, in fact, a fairly strong collocation when used figuratively to mean "be reminiscent of." – Rusty Tuba Dec 24 '14 at 14:24
13

"in scenarios that come straight from Kafka" is not an idiom, and I will leave the matter of Kafka and cultural reference to others, but I think your question is a reasonable one and I'd like to point out that the phrase in question actually contains something that can be used idiomatically, in a sense, and that is the following phrasal template:

"come straight from"

as in "X comes straight from Y."

The meaning can either be literal (indicating actual "coming") or figurative (in which case the meaning is like "be reminiscent of" or "seem to be derived from"). Let's start with some literal examples:

This letter came straight from the President.

The box came straight from the warehouse.

I came straight from work to see you today.

Then there are some examples that highlight the seeming to come from somewhere:

This pizza is so good it could have come straight from Italy.

Your car looks like it came straight from the factory.

And then here are some figurative examples:

Don't take that course; the professor comes straight from hell.

The scenarios come straight from Kafka.

Life's sweetest gifts come straight from the heart.

I hope that this has addresses the root of your question.

I recommend the following fascinating reading around the entire issue of phrases and idioms:

Difference between phrase and idiom

What exactly is an idiom? (with a fascinating post by @pavja2)

Also, for good reading on the pervasiveness of figurative or metaphorical language in everyday speech and writing, check out Metaphors We Live By, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson

  • An excellent (actual) answer :) – Fattie Dec 25 '14 at 14:40
11

It's not an idiom, it's a literary reference. Saying something comes "straight from Kafka" implies it is dark and disturbing to the point of being surreal.

Franz Kafka was a Bohemian (Czech) writer who wrote strange stories of the grotesque and terrifying. In his most famous, Metamorphosis, the protagonist is inexplicably transformed into a gigantic bug overnight, and has to deal with the fallout from that.

We even have an adjective to describe this sort of thing: Kafkaesque. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about that:

Kafka's writing has inspired the term "Kafkaesque", used to describe concepts and situations reminiscent of his work, particularly Der Process and "Die Verwandlung". Examples include instances in which bureaucracies overpower people, often in a surreal, nightmarish milieu which evokes feelings of senselessness, disorientation, and helplessness. Characters in a Kafkaesque setting often lack a clear course of action to escape a labyrinthine situation. Kafkaesque elements often appear in existential works, but the term has transcended the literary realm to apply to real-life occurrences and situations that are incomprehensibly complex, bizarre, or illogical.

I suppose if we have an adjective, that would imply some kind of idiomatic usage. It's a fine point. But since people who don't have enough literary background aren't likely to understand "Kafkaesque" except dimly, I don't think it would have enough currency to be a readily understood idiom for all readers.

  • 1
    For those who do not speak German, by Der Process and "Die Verwandlung", Wikipedia means The Trial and "Metamorphosis". – Peter Shor Dec 24 '14 at 14:26
  • The Wikipedia entry misspells the German word for 'trial'. It is Prozess (previously Prozeß, before the orthographic reform of 1996). – Erik Kowal Dec 24 '14 at 19:58
  • Hi Robusto. Could you actually address the question? ie, yes or no, is it a common phrase in English. there are two things you should do, (a) answer the question (ie, yes or no, is it a common phrase in English and (b), as a useful side issue, it's likely the OP does not know what "idiom" means so you should explain to the OP "idiom means a common phrase, you may be misunderstanding this". The rest of your answer is a general essay on issues which involve the word "Kafka". – Fattie Dec 25 '14 at 14:39
  • @JoeBlow: How kind of you to favor me with the One True Interpretation of what the question is looking for. And how thoughtful of you to further instruct me on how to answer a question. I hope there is no charge for your services. – Robusto Dec 25 '14 at 18:29
  • No charge. (There's no convenient payment mechanism anyway.) – Fattie Dec 27 '14 at 8:56
2

The phrase straight from Kafka may not be an established idiom per se, but in an X straight from Y could be considered idiomatic. The phrase essentially means reminiscent of or according to the school of.

Check out this excerpt from a ballet review:

The Age of Anxiety is based upon the 1946 poem by W H Auden, depicting the lives of four New Yorkers who struggle to root themselves in a changing world. Scarlett places his dancers in a set straight from Edward Hopper, creates characters reminiscent of Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, and gives a nod to Gene Kelly that makes dazzling use of the virtuoso Steven McRae.

Or, in a piece documenting the work of NASA's space shuttle fleet:

In 1998, Endeavour carried the first US module to the International Space Station (ISS). In a venture straight from science fiction, this was the first of dozens of flights to add components to the eventually vast complex.

Here, the writer isn't saying that the flight was fictional, but that it seemed so advanced at the time, that it almost resembled science fiction.

Or, in this political piece:

In a call straight from the John Kerry political leadership playbook, Shannon was for Common Core before he was against it.

the writer is trying to point out that Shannon's "flip-flopping" is very similar to how John Kerry once famously justified his evolving opinion.

And from this India news article:

In a scene straight from Bollywood flick, stockily built killer entered the hospital in doctor's apron and a surgical mask, climbed stairs, and headed straight for bed number 17 on the third floor of 50-year-old hospital. Once there, the killer, whose identity is still not known, whipped out a pistol from apron and pulled the trigger.

Here, the reporter is saying that the event was so surreal it seems more fitting as the plot of an action movie than a real from an actual event.

  • 1
    Nice examples @J.R. – Rusty Tuba Dec 24 '14 at 15:22
1

Here's a sentence from Wikipedia describing Kafka's novels:

Dark and at times surreal, the novel is focused on alienation, bureaucracy, the seemingly endless frustrations of man's attempts to stand against the system, and the futile and hopeless pursuit of an unobtainable goal.

Also Kafkaesque has become an adjective

Kafka's writing has inspired the term "Kafkaesque", used to describe concepts and situations reminiscent of his work, particularly Der Process and "Die Verwandlung". Examples include instances in which bureaucracies overpower people, often in a surreal, nightmarish milieu which evokes feelings of senselessness, disorientation, and helplessness. Characters in a Kafkaesque setting often lack a clear course of action to escape a labyrinthine situation. Kafkaesque elements often appear in existential works, but the term has transcended the literary realm to apply to real-life occurrences and situations that are incomprehensibly complex, bizarre, or illogical.

You could rewrite the phrase as:

  • in a scenario which seems like it could have appeared in one of Kafka's novels
  • a scenario which reminds us of Kafka's novels
  • a scenario which could have inspired one of Kafka's novels
0

"Straight from Kafka" is a metaphor.

metaphor - "a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in drowning in money)" Merriam-Webster

Edit - No, "straight from Kafka" isn't an idiom. It's a figure of speech meaning that a certain scenario looks like situations found in that writer's works.

0

An idiom is nothing more than a very common phrase or speech pattern.

The phrase you mention is not an idiom.

Merry xmas!

  • Do you mean like "Merry Christmas?" That's a very common phrase, but it is certainly not an idiom. The definition begs greater precision. – Rusty Tuba Dec 24 '14 at 17:27
  • 2
    This is not a very useful answer without anything to back it up. If I were to post the answer "The phrase you mention is an idiom", how would anybody distinguish which of us was right? – Chris Hayes Dec 24 '14 at 18:15
  • Actually Chris, this is the one and only answer here, of any value. The rest just waffle on about, literally, totally unmentioned and unrelated issues (such as "Kafkaesque"). By all means, if someone was to either edit my answer to add references, or, just repeat my answer (ie, the only correct one - the only one that actually addresses the question) with more references that would also be great. Note too that ESL questions like this (it's asking: "is this a common phrase in English") are all-but impossible to "find references for". (How could you possibly, ever, find research and ... – Fattie Dec 25 '14 at 14:35
  • ... references investigating the issue "is { that phrase } a common phrase in English?!" It just doesn't make sense. the best you can possibly do is have a few native speakers state whether or not it is common. This is a well known issue on this site. (Of course, the best solution is to have the question eliminated since it's useless and off-topic, but that's a bit harsh on Xmas! :) ) – Fattie Dec 25 '14 at 14:36

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.