What is an Idiom?

Idioms fascinate me.

They certainly can add some interesting colour to speech and writing. As a teacher of 7 and 8 year olds I liked to have a series of lessons on identifying, understanding and using idioms. The students were usually fascinated by them and enjoyed the lessons.

So- just what is an idiom?

I guess you are waiting with bated breath for me to bite the bullet, stick my neck out and give you my definition. In doing so I might just bite off more than I can chew and have my readers haul me over the coals.


I will chicken out and quote Wikipedia:

An idiom is an expression (i.e. term or phrase) whose meaning cannot be deduced from the literal definitions and the arrangement of its parts, but refers instead to a figurative meaning that is known only through conventional use. In linguistics, idioms are figures of speech that contradict the principle of compositionality.

In the English expression to kick the bucket, a listener knowing only the meaning of kick and bucket would be unable to deduce the expression’s actual meaning, which is to die. Although kick the bucket can refer literally to the act of striking a bucket with a foot, native speakers rarely use it that way.

So there you have it.

Clear as mud (oops – now I’m into similes).

Over the coming weeks I plan to highlight an idiom every Monday. I also plan to post several stories I have written containing an unbelievable number of idioms. One has actually been published in a print magazine too.

To read more about idioms click here.


10 Responses to “What is an Idiom?”

  1. […] As I wrote last week I am fascinated by idioms. I’m not sure about other English speaking countries, but here in Australia the idiom is ‘alive and kicking.’ I guess that you are waiting with bated breath for me to spill the beans. The truth is, I am one who can boast that I’ve actually had a story bristling with idioms published in a magazine; naturally I was on cloud nine when that happened. […]

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  10. […] looking at it the idiom “barking up the wrong tree” came to mind. (For a definition of an idiom click here.) […]