A. Idioms and meaning
Idioms are expressions which have a meaning that is not obvious from the individual words. You will come across a great many idioms when you listen to and read English, therefore it is important to assimilate aspects regarding this topic. Many may object by stating that learning idioms could be a waste of time as it is a slippery ground (there is always the risk of using the idioms in an inaccurate or unsuitable way), but idioms are so widespread that it is nearly a must to learn them. ‘Idiom’ means ‘one of a kind’ and indicates that a phrase is being used with a special meaning that can be very different to the literal meaning. Idioms are an issue for English language learners because learning the meaning of idioms could be quite an arduous process, they are often ungrammatical, and most of the times listeners don’t get the gist of an idiom if it used in a joke or a pun, therefore they are put in a hot seat.
E.g. ‘When Sarah said that she won’t invite Jane’s boyfriend to her birthday party, Jane went ballistic.’ (That is, she hit the roof like a rocket starting on its journey.)
B. Why are idioms used?
Idioms are used a lot. Sometimes an idiom is used as a short way of expressing a more complicated idea. For example if you call something a parson’s egg this is a quick way of saying that there are good parts and bad parts to something, but overall it is not satisfactory. They also help making the language more colourful. These idioms come from jargon – many idioms come from old activities, for example soldiers have given us overshoot for ‘to go past the target’ and a ‘last ditch effort’ for a final try before giving up. Sportsmen have given many idioms, such as being on a sticky wicket from cricket, which means being in a difficult situation. Also, because the British used to be a nation of sailors, there are many idioms related to this area whereas many other idioms are more logical. Some idioms last for generations, but others come in and out of fashion in a year or less.
C. Should you use idioms?
As you have probably noticed already, using idioms could be very tricky and the safest way is to use an idiom only if you are sure of its meaning as some of them could cause offence without meaning to. For example, light touch (praising a person’s ability to run things without interfering) and light-fingered (calling someone a thief).
D. Types of idioms
|verb + object/ complement (and/ or adverbial)||kill two birds with one stone||produce two useful results by just doing one action|
|prepositional phrase||in the blink of an eye||in an extremely short time|
|compound||a bone of contention||something which people argue and disagree over|
|simile (as + adjective + as/ like + noun)||as dry as a bone||very dry indeed|
|binomial (word + and + word)||rough and ready||crude and lacking sophistication|
|trinomial (word + word + and + word)||cool, calm and collected||relaxed, in control, not nervous|
|whole clause or sentence||to cut a long story short||to tell the main points, but not all the fine details|
E. Idioms describing HEALTH
Mark has been feeling under the weather