Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What are Idioms and where did come from


What are idioms?

Idioms are groups of words with special, specific meanings. They are often confusing because the meaning of the whole group of words that form an idiom has little, often nothing, to do with the meanings of the words taken one by one.

Idioms appear in every language, and English has thousands of them.

In order to understand a language, you must know what the idioms in that language mean. If you try to figure out the meaning of an idiom literally, word by word, you will get befuddled. You have to know its “hidden” meaning.

For instance, to “let the cat out of the bag” means to reveal a secret. Today the phrase has nothing to do with a cat or a bag, but hundreds of years ago, it actually did.

We use idioms:
• to be different
• to play with words
• to be amusing or witty
• to put other people at ease, even in the most formal situations
• to communicate more clearly and more visually
• to express something which other words do not quite express

Where did all these idioms come from?

Idioms come from all different sources, from the Bible to horse racing, from ancient fables to modern slang. Sometimes famous authors and storytellers such as Homer, Aesop, Geoffrey Chaucer, or William Shakespeare made them up to add spark to their writings.
The authors were popular, so the expressions they created became popular. Often, however, we don’t know the name of the first author or speaker who used a particular expression.

Some idioms come from Native-American customs (“bury the hatchet”) and others from African-American speech (“chill out”).

Some became popular because they rhyme (“snug as a bug in a rug”) or have alliteration (“spic and span”). Some idioms originated as colloquialisms (informal speech) or slang (casual, playful, non-standard language). Some were well-known proverbs and adages (short sayings that express practical, basic truths). Some popular idioms began as folksy sayings used in particular regions of the country and spoken in local dialects. Many came from other
countries, although most of the idioms in this book are Americanisms. Some idioms go back in time to the ancient Greeks and Romans, thousands of years ago. Others are more recent.

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