From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
An idiom is an expression (i.e., term or phrase) whose meaning cannot be deduced from the literal definitions and the arrangement of its parts, but refers instead to a figurative meaning that is known only through common use. In linguistics, idioms are widely assumed to be figures of speech that contradict the principle of compositionality; however, some debate has recently arisen on this subject.
The following sentences contain idioms. The fixed words constituting the idiom in each case are bolded:
- a. She is pulling my leg. - to pull someone's leg means to trick them by telling them something untrue.
- b. When will you drop them a line? - to drop someone a line means to send a note to someone.
- c. You should keep an eye out for that. - to keep an eye out for something means to maintain awareness of it.
- d. I can't keep my head above water. - to keep one's head above water means to manage a situation.
- e. It's raining cats and dogs. - to rain cats and dogs means to rain very heavily (a downpour).
- f. Oh no! You spilled the beans! - to spill the beans means to let out a secret.
- g. Why are you feeling blue? - to feel blue means to feel sad.
- h. That jacket costs an arm and a leg. – an arm and a leg means something is very expensive.
Each of the word combinations in bold has at least two meanings: a literal meaning and a figurative meaning. Such expressions that are typical for a language can appear as words, combinations of words, phrases, entire clauses, and entire sentences. Idiomatic expressions in the form of entire sentences are called proverbs if they refer to a universal truth.
- h. The devil is in the details.
- i. The early bird catches the worm.
- j. Break a leg.
- k. Waste not, want not.
Proverbs such as these have figurative meaning. When one says "The devil is in the details", one is not expressing a belief in demons, but rather one means that things may look good on the surface, but upon scrutiny, problems are revealed.
- Principle of compositionality
- Dependency grammar
- Double negative
- Figure of speech
- List of idioms in the English language
- Idiom in English language
- Comprehension of Idioms