Origins Of English Figurative Idioms English Language Essay

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1st Jan 1970 English Language Reference this


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Idiom is the combination of lexical items and has its own meaning which is different from the particular individual lexical items and this figurative expression is usually understood by the native speakers because figurative idiom expression is likely to be named as the conventional scene in the their mind that serves in the speech community. Similarity, idioms are consisted as a special set of lexical items due not only to their structure elements, but also they specify a unique set of behavior when used in very language discourse.

Fernando argues that the concreted phrases and the arrangement pairs in idiomatic are recognized by the usage and with its stabilized structure and limited variation. To expand the explanation, idioms can be formed a word such as “nevertheless”, a phrase such as “in favor of”, and also a sentence such as “the coast is clear”.

According to Boers’ definition of figurative idiom, whose meaning is barely inferred by its literal meaning of its constituent elements. Therefore, from the semantic point of view, the expression of a figurative idiom cannot be understood from its individual parts. Structurally an idioms usually includes a series of words, any parts of its meanings cannot be replaced.

Figurative idioms, it is a matter of extraordinary rather than ordinary languages. Base on Lakoff and Johnson explanation, idioms are also known as the metaphor that serves as a device of poetic imagination and the rhetorical flourish dedicates for most languages. Moreover, figurative expressions are not merely bundles of word combination; however it is a phrase that ordinarily invented to one situation that inferred to another, making an implicit comparison.

Another scholar Tang explains figurative idioms unsurprisingly have been coined with the name of its meaning. Ultimately, the figurative interpretation of every idiom evokes the metaphorical expressions. As the manifestation of conceptual metaphor was introduced, Z. Kovecses conceptualizes metaphors are realized in other than linguistic ways. For example, literary works are constructed in their fully in term of conceptual metaphors such as Chaucer’s The Cantebury tales, Buyam’s The Pilgrim Progress or Frost’s poem The Road not Taken are associated around the LIFE IS A JOURNEY metaphor.

As result, although there is always a difference in every definition of figurative idiom, yet they all have the similar description to explain idioms have the obvious characteristics of semantic incorporated and structural stability.

2.1) Culture context

Language structure is the most typical feature of cultural aspects that such relationship particularly found in the lexicon. As Wierzbicka lists out the best evidence for reality of cultures can associate the meanings of words that eventually provides ways of living, speaking, thinking, and feeling which are broadly shared in every particular society. In addition, “the Polish anthropologist Malinnowsky is the first founder of the context theory thinks that discourse and context are mutually hanging closely together, the language environment is essential to understand language.”(…)

Meanwhile, Boers and Stengers declare the significant of cultural figurative expression has been emphasized much recent research. Gibbs’ study claims that idioms are established in all languages and several types of idioms are cultural elements.

Wierzbicka states that most of figurative idioms are cultural artifacts, reflecting the aspects the creation of figurative idioms which are formed by cultural elements. Thus, Inchaurralde mentions particular lexical units are linked with cultural lexical scripts, which are associated to a certain cultural background.

Furthermore, Lennon points out language and culture are important to idioms because it could reflect the transformation in conceptualization of the universe and the relationship between the universe and the mankind.

The Chinese Linguist Hu Zhunaglin has divided the cultural context into three types: linguistics context, situational context, and cultural context. Most importantly, the cultural context refers the involvement of social, economic, cultural, political background, and religions contexts occur in communities that would value the standard of a certain language.

Dobrovol’skij and Piirainen comes out with an idea to describe the different types of cultural phenomena are interrelated with conventional figurative units. This means that culturally marked lexis has focused on cross-cultural similarity and the variation across in the conceptualization of emotions.

Another issue that Lakoff and Johnson discuss about whether all cultures have the same conceptual of the world. Base on Issac simplification, every figurative expression has a certain class of metaphors seems to be universal. However some cultural specifications also occur in conceptual metaphor, in other word, different culture have a different set of value systems that might result in different interaction to certain expression from others cultures. For example, in Shakespeare’s period, the food “egg” is to characterize people behavior or attitude, for instance, “She is a good egg” means that she is a nice person. In Chinese, there is record in the literature work “egg” transcript to mandarin “Dan” also symbolizes to a person behavior and attitude. The Mandarin word “huai dan” signifies as bad person. These two different cultural context has shared the same particular meaning of the phrase is directed and extended to describe people who seen to be decent person.

Although English and Chinese utilize the food egg to imply the same target expression, on the other hand, the English expression “good egg” is to indicate a nice person, however the Chinese expression to indicate a nice person no longer utilizes egg to imply the meaning rather than change the whole word into “hao ren” instead of “hao dan”.

2.2) Idiom and culture

Language has been always the carrier of culture and most important idioms that almost invariably to have their roots in a particular language. Another researcher Ronald Langacker argues that language is instrument and module of culture, speakers take part in a discourse situation, their cultural aspects are related to their acts of behavior and conversation.

Moreover, Paul Friedrich calls the connection between language and culture as “linguaculture”. The conceptual of “linguaculture” is described as “a domain of experience that fuses and intermingles the vocabulary, many semantic aspects of grammar, and the verbal aspects of culture; both grammar and culture have underlying structure while they are constantly being used and constructed by actual people on the ground.” (…) As an important part of language and culture, “particular source domain of metaphorical expression may not be equally salient across cultures.” (…)

Meanwhile, few researches have been introduced on the cultural features in the present study that lead Boers and Stengers to investigate on the composition of idiom and culture. They explore weather domain that track most in English figurative idioms. The weather domain is commonly associated to English figurative idioms because talking about the weather is a very basic and frequently topic in Britain because it is notoriously variable and unpredictable. However, the weather lexical units can be implemented through meaning extension to other domains such as economy and feeling, for example, when a financial storm struck down Wall Street, traders sought shelter in the dollar and Alex feels the chill of economic downturn. As result, the sentence illustrates the weather domain to a situation and feeling to indicate the seriousness on how Englishmen see weather as well as the economic phenomena.

Boers, Demecheleer, and Eyckmans suggest that there are two complementary methods to estimate the two linguistic communities differ with respect to relate salience of a source domain.

One method is to investigate the comparison of both languages such as English and Dutch idioms, that English idioms has much broader selection of expressions converted from card games and gambling such as “to over play one’s hand, to play with stacked deck, the chips are down…” Another much more straight forward example is the domain of sports, popularity of certain sports may coin widely across cultural aspects. Baseball for instance, is much more popular in the United States than in European, for sure it is evidently that American produces more baseball figurative expression such as I had a date with Alice yesterday night, unfortunately I can’t even get to first base with her; Three strike and you’re out. Similarity, British English hold a source domain in cricket such as Bat on a sticky wicket, Hit someone for six. Besides, Englishmen also like to have horse racing eventually contributes to figurative expressions as well such as A dark horse, Hear it from the horse mouth.

The another method is to detect cross-cultural variation done by researcher Alice Deignan results that the source domain of sailing is reflected more often in English than in French discourse. For examples, running tight ship, talking the wind out of someone’s sails, when you ship comes in, clear the decks, and many more. Boers and Demecheleer suggests that French figurative discourse is more likely flavoured by the source domain of food and cooking. Alice Deignan concludes that the cultural aspects and figurative idioms are considered indirect ones in the sense that cultures of the past and present reflect most of idioms and Boers sums up that even native speakers lack of awareness towards the origin of the idiom they use.

2.3) Origins of English Figurative Idioms

According to Smith (1971), generally universal origins of idioms can be divided into six main cultural aspects.

2.3.1) From daily life

Smith suggests that most idioms develop from daily life are linked with particular occupations such as many phrases that related to navy have been invented by the sailors as well as the athletes use phrases related to sports. Most of the idioms were invented and they are concise, oral dialect and vivid, and are closely associated to our life. Soon enough those idioms were used by the people in the daily life to indicate certain expressions. Such figurative expressions are useful and eventually it has been evolved from common dialogue to conventional language which those idioms are commonly use such as “to share and woe, strike the iron whole it is hot, a pot of money, to take the bread out of someone’s mouth and many more.

2.3.2) From ancient myths, legends and fables

Some English figurative idioms were influenced by the Ancient Greek and Roman civilization. From example, idioms such as Midas touch, the apple of discord, sour grape, pandora’s box, trojon horse, etc are derived from Greek myths and legends which are widely used in writing.

2.3.3) From religion

Religion stands an important role in contributing the source of idioms. In early western countries, traditionally, Christianity has always been the main religion, many sources of idioms are regularly used in verbal dialogue are mainly came from the bible such as judas’s kiss, olive branch, much cry and little wool, turn the other cheek, cast peals before swine, and writing on the wall.

2.3.4) From classical literature

Apart from the religion contributes most of the source of idioms, classical literature is indentified as a main source of idioms. During Renaissance period, Shakespeare’s master pieces have been on e of the most important source of idioms in English language. For examples, pound of life, give the devil his due all come from Shakespeare’s plays. Besides, the famous Greek epic poem the Iliad also gives numerous contributions to the English idioms such as screw up one’s courage, Achilles’ heel. In addition, one of the most famous English idioms the ugly duckling is from the Anderson’s fairy tales.

2.3.5) Form occupation

Nevertheless, idioms are not only formed by social daily interaction, religions, historical background, and literature works, but also certain idioms are associated by the occupation as well. The United Kingdom is a country with high capability in sailing around the world, therefore, they are many idioms that related to navy such as ships in the night, to rock the boat, plain sailing and carry too much guns. Thus contrary, China is a large nation with agricultural aspects of production and process which have become the centralization of forming idioms that related to agricultural elements and those idioms have been passing on by farmers from generation to generation.

2.3.6) From Sports

Sports domain also demonstrates the important source of idioms. Liu discusses that most of the English figurative idioms in American are derived from sports, business, and driving. However, the Chinese idioms are more likely from eating, family, and Chinese opera ultimately play and important roles in Chinese society that have pluralized many figurative idioms. United States has shown there are more baseball- based figurative idioms such as first base, three strike and you’re out, while cricket is more popular in United Kingdom that formed their English figurative idioms such as bat on a sticky wicket, hit someone for six, etc.

As result, these six types of domains can trace the origin of idioms which have a very specific cultural context.

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