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Idioms: Piece of Cake or Hard Nut to Crack?

by Linda Correli

A language is a living substance, which evolves under the influence of different factors. Being very flexible English language constantly enriches its vocabulary with the words invented by the language speakers, making it more colorful with new idiomatic expressions, and at times refills its stocks with the borrowings and neologisms. English just amazes by its extraordinary linguistic diversity.

It is a language rich in exceptions and spelling traps, where almost every rule is valid 90% of the time. English is a language with a vast idiomatic basis, which makes its learning very exciting and intriguing. There are about 4,000 idioms used in the American English. Wikipedia suggests that "to even explain what they mean needs about 2000 words of the vocabulary".

Idioms derived from the culture of the nation and from day-to-day life. In real context idioms explain themselves: 9 times out of 10 times, idioms carry their own explanation. The main function of idioms is to paraphrase what is going on, and what is being said.

Idiomatic expressions pervade English with a peculiar flavor and give it astounding variety, bright character and color. They help language learners understand English culture, penetrate into customs and lifestyle of English people, and make a deeper insight into English history.

Idiom is defined as an expression that does not mean what it literally says. Hence, its meaning is often quite different from the word-for-word translation.

The meaning idioms convey is non-compositional. It implies that you cannot understand the meaning of the whole phrase putting the meanings of each word together. If you look at the individual words, it may not even make sense grammatically. Idiom has the meaning only as a unit.

Professor Koonin defined idiom "as a stable combination of words with a fully or partially figurative meaning." This definition emphasizes two inherent and very important features of the idiomatic expressions.

Idioms have lexical and grammatical stability. It implies that they are fixed in their form, hence any substitutions and rearranging in their structure can lead to complete loss of their primary meaning.

Idiomatic expressions are integral units. It literally means that idioms possess indivisible completeness, so all the components are bound within one idiom.

Idioms are used in both spoken and written English, and often appear in newspaper articles. They are frequently utilized by native speakers, who feel the language at inborn genetic level.

One of the approaches to defining this linguistic phenomena stresses that an idiom is a manner of speaking that is natural to native speakers of the language. It proves that only people who are very good at speaking English can adequately and to the point use idiomatic expressions in their speech.

Though, learning idioms present a host of difficulties to English learners, primarily because they don’t know the culture and history behind English idioms. That’s why they often use idioms incongruous with the situation. Indeed, English learners utilize idiomatic expressions very carefully, being afraid of using them incorrectly and being misunderstood. They find idioms very problematic to both understand and memorize.

Whilst, the majority of native language speakers can not always know the origin of idioms they use, though as long as they utilize them in every day communication, they know its meaning and feel where it is appropriate to use this or that idiom.

Undoubtedly, the correct usage of English idioms is finesse, which makes the language of the speaker more vivid and exciting.

About the author:

Linda Correli is a staff writer of www.CustomResearchPapers.us and an author of the popular online tutorial for students "What Teachers Want: Master the Art of Essay Writing in 10 Days", available at www.Go2Essay.com

A selection of idioms in various languages

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