An idiom is a special kind of phrase. It is a group of words which have a different meaning when used together from the one it would have if the meaning of each word were taken individually. If you do not know that the words have a special meaning together, you may well misinterpret what someone is saying, or be puzzled by why they are saying something that is untrue or irrelevant.
Idiomatic expressions or idioms are, in a very broad sense, metaphorical, rather than literal. They are also in a way that makes them different from literal expressions. Because they are metaphorical, one cannot usually discover their meanings by looking up the individual words in an ordinary dictionary. Because they are more or less invariable, both in wording and in certain grammatical ways, they cannot be changed or varied in the way literal expressions are normally varied, either in speech or writing. Idioms tend to have other characteristics in common, although these do not apply generally to every case. Most, but not all, of these expressions are phrases of two or more words. Moreover, these expressions belong to informal spoken English rather than to formal written English.
As the metaphorical meanings are quite different from the literal meanings of the words in phrases, one cannot often substitute words that are close in meaning in the phrases. Moreover, some grammatical operations, like the formation of the passive, are impossible too. One cannot make other changes without losing the idiomatic meaning.
Almost all idiomatic phrases permit the usual grammatical operations, which literal phrases permit.
In other words, idiomacity (i.e., the quality of being idiomatic) is a matter of degree or scale. Thus, some of the phrases may be used in a literal context or they may be used idiomatically. Other phrases have no literal meaning at all and may be used as idioms. Some idioms are fixed. Still other idioms allow a limited number of variants:
E.g. ‘up to one’s ears / eyes / neck / eyeballs’ (= wholly concerned with something) [p. 44, 11], [68, 11]
‘in someone’s bad books’ or (= in disfavour with someone), which has one variant expressing the opposite meaning: ‘in someone’s good books’ [p. 129, 11]
However, other idioms are very open and allow a large number of certain types of words (e.g. nouns) to be used in certain positions.
Moreover, some cases, it is fairly easy to see how the idiomatic meaning relates to the literal meaning: for example, ‘to be in a black mood’ (i.e. a bad mood, temper), (11), and the image in the metaphor supports this meaning. In other cases, the literal meanings may make no sense at all. For example, ‘Move heaven and earth’ (11) literally describes an action, which is physically impossible. In a few further cases, the metaphors in the idioms are peculiar, and their true origins are unknown, so it is very difficult to see how or why the idioms have come to have their current meanings.
Idioms have important pragmatic functions in language. As they have fairly general meanings, they are less often used merely to convey factual information but rather to convey the attitude. They typically convey factual information and in addition they convey the attitude. Whatsoever, habitually convey evaluations: they are used as ways of expressing approval and admiration, disapproval and criticism.
In fact, people often use idioms in order to create a sense of ‘camaraderie’ with the people they are speaking to or writing for: idioms make language seem more lively and interesting, more friendly and more informal. Because of this, idioms are generally considered informal and labelled as ‘informal’ and ‘colloquial’ in general dictionaries of English. In fact, idioms are often used in context, which are formal. As a general rule, learners should be careful in using idioms in formal contexts and in formal writing.
The idioms, represented in this work form part of a ‘common care’, that means that they are understood and commonly used not only in Britain, but also in other parts English-speaking world. It is difficult to explain their origin and during many years they, of course, have changed in the headphrase. The headphrase is a full idiomatic expression.
After all, the problem of understanding the idioms is very important to the learner and the main purpose of this work is to help them to do it. First of all, attention is drawn to the meanings of idioms, comparing literally examples with the dictionary or other source examples. Moreover, the contexts the idioms appear in are suggested for analysis of the style, grammar and substitution (where possible) in the headphrase.
Furthermore, in some places the origins of some idioms are given. In order not to get confused, the idioms are divided into two main groups:
1. Idioms describing negative feelings and mood:
2. Idioms describing positive feelings and mood:
Besides, the contexts in which the idioms are frequently met are included for more profound comprehension of the lexical and functional meanings.
2. PROCEDURE OF PROCESSING DATA
Idioms, represented in the work are collected from 7 books, the newspaper ‘The Sunday Times’ and the dictionary of idioms. Idioms are dealt with the following way:
1. The analysis procedure of an idiom is given in capital
2. Abbreviated grammatical structure in brackets. The meaning of abbreviations are as follows:
(V + Comp) verb + complement
(V + O) verb + direct object
(V + O + Comp) verb + direct object + complement
(V + IO + O) verb + indirect object + direct object
(V + O + A) verb + direct object + adjunct
Possessive clause pattern:
(NP) noun phrase
(Adj. P) adjectival phrase
(Prep. P) prepositional phrase
(Adv. P) adverbial phrase
(N + N) noun + noun pattern
(Adj. + Adj.) adjective + adjective pattern
3. Style of an idiom:
4. Definition of an idiom.
5. Possible substitutions in the headphrase:
In fact, some English idioms are entirely fixed while others allow the speaker a measure of choice. Here the errors can easily be made, and guidance is essential. 4 types of variations can be distinguished:
1) Obligatory vs. optional choice.
On the whole, in some idioms, one of a number of alternative words or phrases must be used to give a complete and acceptable expression.
E.g. CAN (NOT) / COULD (NOT) / (NOT TO) BE ABLE TO CALL ONE’S SOUL ONE’S OWN.
The point is, that here one of the modal verbs CAN, COULD, or BE ABLE TO must be used for the idiom to make sense. In other cases, alternatives need not to be taken up.
E.g. (SHED / WEEP) CROCODILE TEARS.
To sum up, this idiom is acceptable no matter whether a verb is chosen or not.
2) Limited vs. open choice.
In certain idioms, only a very few words can be substituted for a noun, verb, adjective, etc. which appears in the headphrase:
E.g. DAMN etc. IT (ALL)
We can replace the verb DAMN by two other verbs: DASH and HANG. Still some idioms allow a great many appropriate words or phrases for substitution:
E.g. (AS) HAPPY etc. AS THE DAY IS LONG.
We can replace the adjective by many others. Instead of HAPPY, we can use CHEERFUL, CONTENTED, MERRY or we can use the verbs: BE, SEEM, STAY. So, here there are many possible replacements for HAPPY.
3) Lexical vs. grammatical choice.
Choice of both the above types can be between lexical words – nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs – or grammatical words – articles, pronouns, modal verbs.
E.g. MUCH / LITTLE AS / THOUGH ONE DOES STH.
In fact, lexical choice must be made from the determiners MUCH, LITTLE AS, THOUGH, while the grammatical choice can be made between pronouns: THEMSELVES, YOURSELF, MYSELF…:
E.g. LET (ONESELF) GO.
4) Choice of words vs. choice of inflections.
All the above categories show alternation of words, which is also characteristic of idioms. However, they can also at times display restrictions in the choice of the grammatical endings (inflections) which indicates differences of tense in verbs, number in nouns, etc.
E.g. SING A DIFFERENT SONG / TUNE.
In this idiom we can change the singular form SONG / TUNE into the plural SONGS, TUNES.
E.g. HAVE (ONE’S) FUN.
The rule is that here the word FUN cannot take the endings – s. It goes without saying that grammatical rules cannot be violated.
However, according to the idiom itself, certain indications of the substitution in the headphrases are given in this work.
5) The source in brackets indicates where certain things are taken from. Besides, the explanation of the context is given.
6) Dictionary definition, supplementary contexts and their analysis.
7) Comparison of the contexts.
3. IDIOMS DESCRIBING FEELINGS AND MOOD
3.1. GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS
It was not yet mentioned that idioms can have one meaning in English culture and another in the learner’s own culture or language. For this reason, they can be misunderstood by the learner, especially to one, who is at the initial stage of English study. Consider the idiom:
‘HANG ONE’S HEAD’
This idiom is often followed by ‘in shame’ or ‘in guilt’ and in such cases the meaning is clear: the action of hanging (i.e. lowering) one’s head is associated with shame or guilt. The phrase, however, is often used alone, without a stated reference to shame or guilt, as in the sentence:
E.g. She hung her head whenever anyone mentioned the broken clock.
One must learn that this action is a sign of shame or guilt.
Another example is:
‘THROW UP ONE’S HANDS / ARMS’.
Consider the sentence:
E.g. I threw up my hands when I heard how much money he earned.
It would be quite wrong to think that this sentence means either ‘I was glad to hear that he earned a lot of money’ or ‘I was glad to hear that he earned only a little money.’
The action in this idiom is not a sign of gladness but of annoyance, impatience, etc. In this and other idioms the action referred to may never really happen.
E.g. ‘I WASH MY HANDS OF IT’.
Here the speaker does not necessarily perform this action.
E.g. He nearly fell off his chair when they told him the news.
It’s just a metaphorical way of saying ‘he was very surprised’. It is quite likely that he did not even move in his chair and it is possible that he was not sitting in a chair at all. In these idioms the meaning is often specific to English – speaking countries. For example, in English ‘STICK ONE’S CHIN OUT’ means to show opposition to something. The same action in other countries may be a sign of agreement, a way of saying ‘no’ etc. Therefore, it’s important to be careful not to translate the idioms word for word.
3.2. IDIOMS DESCRIBING
NEGATIVE FEELINGS AND MOOD
Idioms, which are dealt with here, mostly describe such negative feelings as annoyance, nervousness, irritation and anger. The order of dealing with them is given in Procedure of processing data and according to that structure the idioms are described. Besides, literature sources are given in brackets.
‘LIKE A CAT ON HOT BRICKS’ (Prep P) informal.
Definition: restless(ly); nervous(ly); unable to sit /lie still, settle one’s attention [p. 217, 11]
V: be; fidget, bob up and down [p. 217, 11]
E.g. ‘Martha was looking at her watch all the time like a cat on hot bricks. She couldn’t sit the concert out.’ [p. 42, 1]
In this situation, Martha wished the concert to end as soon as possible. She couldn’t sit still as she was looking at her watch over and over again. That means, that she was nervous and couldn’t set her attention.
E.g. ‘I don’t know when he’ll get the results of his exam, but he’ll be like a cat on hot bricks until he does’ [p. 217, 11]
Here, the idiom is used for the same purpose as in previous example. The student won’t be able to calm down, because he wants to know the results of the exam as soon as possible and that makes him nervous.
‘A BAG / BANDLE OF NERVES’ (NP) informal
Definition: overwrought, nervous, easily frightened, etc. (often temporarily because of some pressure, threat etc.) [p. 219, 11]
V: be, become; reduce sb to [219, 11]
E.g. ‘She had become a bundle of nerves, starting at the slightest sound.’ [p. 56, 1]
The idiom ‘bundle of nerves’ is used in a situation: there was a break – in that woman’s house and ever since she became very frightened, nervous if she heard the slightest sound in the house. The synonym of the idiom ‘A BAG OF NERVES’ which means exactly the same is found in the dictionary:
E.g. ‘She’s not fit to be a mother; She’ll reduce that child to a bag of nerves with all the scoldings and slapping he gets.’ [p. 219, 11]
According to the context, the idiom means that a child can become very frightened, nervous as he is afraid of his mother.
That means that both ‘A BAG OF NERVES’ and ‘A BUNDLE OF NERVES’ are used to describe the same feelings.
‘A DAMN AND BLAST (sb/sth)
Definition: it can be used to curse sb/sth violently, or, esp. if the speaker often uses strong language with unnecessary or inappropriate freedom, merely to comment adversely on a situation or occurrence that annoys or inconveniences him. [p. 353, 11]