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
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
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
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
and an author of the popular online tutorial for students "What Teachers
Want: Master the Art of Essay Writing in 10 Days", available at
A selection of idioms in various languages