The use of common names in idiomatic expressions (43390)

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the use of common names in idiomatic expressions

Course Paper

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1. What is an idiom?

1.1 The meaning of idioms

1.2 The structure of idioms

1.3 The categories of idioms

2. Common names

2.1 Characteristic of Proper nouns

2.2 Place names

2.3 Personal names

3. Practical Chapter. The use of proper names in idioms

3.1 The methodology of the research

3.2 Idioms with personal names

3.3 Idioms with place names

4. Groups of personal names

4.1 Idioms with place names




The theme of the paper is “The use of common names in idiomatic expressions”.

The subject of the present paper is based on the collecting common names from idiomatic expressions. The term “common names” refers to proper names. Proper names are names of persons, places or certain special things. In the English language proper names are typically capitalized nouns. They have a number of certain features as well – they are not used in the plural and are not preceded by adjectives, articles, numerals, demonstratives, or other modifiers. There are some kinds of proper nouns:

  • Place names.

  • Personal names.

  • Diacritics.

The aim of the work is to analyze the common names of English idioms, their types, features and structure. This paper will show the origins of the proper nouns used in idiomatic expressions.

The following objectives of the research have been set:

  1. To provide theoretical evidence and discuss on idiomatic English.

  2. To study English idiomatic dictionaries.

  3. To compare, analyze and classify idioms with personal and place names.

Research methods:

  1. Descriptive-theoretical literary analysis provided a possibility to review numerous issues concerning features of proper nouns.

  2. Contrastive linguistic analysis is also used in the work with the aim determining the frequency or intensity of common names usage in relation with idiomatic expressions.

Relevance of the work:

As noted by an increasing number of idiomatic scholars, it is clearly problematic to assume that idioms form a homogeneous class of linguistic items. Careful attention must be paid to the many syntactic, lexical, semantic and pragmatic differences that exist among words and phrases that are generally judged as idiomatic. The investigation of a wide range of idioms clearly demonstrates that many idioms are analyzable and have figurative meanings that are at least partly motivated. Many idioms have individual components that independently contribute to what these phrases figuratively mean as wholes.

The views and approaches such scholars as A. Makkai, M. Everaert, R. Moreno helped to analyze idiomatic English topic in more detailed way.

The structure of the work:

The paper consists of introduction, three chapters, conclusions, references and practical patterns.

A survey of theoretical issues necessary for the analysis is presented below.

1. What is an Idiom?

The ultimate roof of the term idiom is the Greek lexeme idioms, meaning “own, private, peculiar” (J. Strassel: 1982:13).

In different dictionaries there could be found quite a lot different explaining what an idiom is. There are some of the definitions:

  1. An idiom is an expression whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its constituent elements or from the general grammatical rules of a language and that is not a constituent of a larger expression of like characteristics (Random House Dictionary: 2009.

  2. Idiom – an expression with a meaning that cannot be guessed from the meanings of the individual words. (English Dictionary for Speaker of Lithuanian, 2000).

  3. An idiom typical of the natural way in which someone speaks or writes when they are using their own language. (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English: 2003).

  4. Idiom – a group of words that has a special meaning that is different from the ordinary meaning of each separate word. (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English: 2003).

  5. Idiom – a form of expression, grammatical construction, phrase, etc., peculiar to a person or language; a phrase which is understood by speakers of a particular language despite its meaning’s not being predictable from that of the separate words. (Oxford Talking Dictionary).

  6. An idiom is a phrase where the words together have a meaning that is different from the dictionary definitions of the individual words, which can make idioms hard for ESL students and learners to understand (Dictionary of English idioms and idiomatic expressions:

According to Ifill T. (2002:78) idioms are as “those that speaker cannot work out simply by knowing the grammar and the vocabulary of a language”. According to J. Saeed (2003:60) idioms are “words collocated together happen to become fossilized, becoming fixed over time”. This is the reason why idioms are set out as non-compositional.

Idioms are used in a wide variety of contexts and situations. They are often used in spoken language, in situations that range from friendly conversations to business meetings. Idioms are used in written English as well, especially in journalism where writers frequently use them to bring their stories to life.

Knowing the meaning of idioms let understand the smallest refinements of the language. However, it is quite difficult to understand the exact meaning of the idiom of the foreign language because it is related with some kind of problems that are named in the further chapter.

1.1 The meaning of idioms

An idiom is a sequence of words which has a different meaning as a group from the meaning it would have if you understood each word separately. Idioms add color to the language, helping us to emphasize meaning and to make our observations, judgments and explanations lively and interesting. They are also very useful tools for communicating a great deal of meaning in just a few words.

Knowing whether an expression receives a literal meaning or an idiomatic meaning is important for natural language processing applications that require some sort of semantic interpretation.

Idioms are pervasive in all styles of language use. The problem they present to the theoretical and computational linguist is not the fact that their meaning cannot be worked out by the usual mechanisms, for if it were not for other factors this could be overcome by treating them as ‘big’ lexical items to be looked up in a list in a fairly straightforward way.

Idiom is defined as expression that does not mean what it literally said. You cannot understand the meaning of whole idiom putting the meanings of each word from which consists idiom together. Put as simply as possible, an idiom is a fixed expression whose meaning cannot be taken as a combination of the meanings of its component parts. Thus, the common phrase kick the bucket has nothing to do with either kicking or buckets, but means simply, “to die.” Idiom has the meaning only as a unit and has lexical and grammatical stability as well. If you look at the individual words, it may not even make sense grammatically. According to M. Everaert (1995), an idiom is an institutionalized expression which overall meaning does not correspond to the combined meanings of its component parts. Many idioms are intuitively nontransparent: their meaning is hard to guess without a special context or previous exposure. In spite of that, very few idioms are fixed in forms. These features we will discussed in our following chapter.

1.2 The structure of Idioms

As it was said in our previous chapter, idioms are not mixed in form. One part of the phrase can be let out, for example, somebody has been around the block (a few minutes) can be said without the words a few times, although the meaning remains the same. This technique is also used for idioms which have become clichйs and are therefore often shortened, such as you can lead a horse to water (but you can’t make him drink). Some idioms can have any word inserted, depending on what the speaker is describing. For example, in the idiom the ____ of somebody’s dreams the underline space indicates that the range of nouns, adjectives, etc which could be inserted is unlimited.

In addition to that, the main idiom can have several less popular versions. For example, sell like hot cakes (go like hot cakes). It shows that idioms are not frozen units. In internal structure of idioms there also could be found some changes. Let us begin with the most minimal way in which an idiom can be altered from its base form: morphology:


a. I will take them to task for their indolence.

b. I am taking them to task for their indolence.

c. I took them to task for their indolence.

d. I have taken them to task for their indolence.


a. George and Simon have their ups and downs.

b. George and Simon are having their ups and downs.

c. George and Simon had their ups and downs.

In these example sets, we will analyze the idioms take NP to task and have one’s ups and downs to be the listed forms of the idioms in (1) and (2). These examples clearly show that the verb tense can be changed in the internal structure of the idiom. We can make a conclusion that those idioms which were classified as “completely frozen” exhibit this kind of behavior (trip the light fantastic vs. tripping the light fantastic vs. tripped the light fantastic) (M. Everaert: 1995:45).

It has been widely noted that the individual words in an idiom cannot be replaced by synonyms and still retain the idiomatic reading of the phrase. This is what qualifies them as fixed forms. In most non-idiomatic discourse, a speaker can use synonymy to create a new sentence with the same semantic meaning. That means that changing a word from the idiom with its synonym we will not get the synonymic idiom. In spite of that, idioms can be synonymous among themselves. For example:

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