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Re-evaluation of Idioms

Peculiar use of set expressions can also be named stylistic phraseology or phraseological stylistics, as it studies phraseological units in their no ordinary application in a text (the term phraseology was suggested by Soviet scholars, after a Swiss linguist Chales Bally who introduced the term “phraseologie” in the meaning of «a branch of Stylistics dealing with coherent word-combinations). In Western linguistic schools the corresponding term idiomacity is used instead.

All kinds of set phrases (phraseological units) generally possess the property of expressiveness. The field of phraseology or idiomacity in any language is so varied and fascinating that one could spend an entire lifetime analyzing it and looking at it from various viewpoints. In linguistics, phraseology describes the context in which a word is used. This often includes typical usages/sequences, such as idioms, phrasal verbs, and multi-word units.

Phraseological unit or idiom is a ready-made combination of words reproduced in speech as a unity. The constant characteristic features are:

Linguistic stability

Semantic unity

Intact syntactical structure

In other words, phraseological unit is a fixed word-combination in which the meaning if the whole doesn’t depend on the meaning of its components.

1) The cliché. A cliché is a phrase, expression, or idea that has been overused to the point of losing its intended force or novelty, especially when at some time it was considered distinctively forceful or novel. It is generally used in a negative context and expressed by idioms.

"Cliché" applies also to almost any situation, subject, characterization, figure of speech, or object — in short, any sign — that has become overly familiar or commonplace. Because the novelty or frequency of an expression's use varies across different times and places, whether or not it is a cliché depends largely on who uses it, the context in which it is used, and who is making the judgment.

E.g. times are changing, as easy as a piece of cake, as wet as blood, as clear as day. You can find plenty of them on www.clichésite.com.

The examples above also represent a special kind of simile - equatives (comparative structures of an equal degree of the quality involved).

The meaning of a particular cliché may shift over time, often leading to confusion or misuse.

Proverbs and sayings.

A proverb (from the Latin proverbium) is a simple and concrete saying popularly known and repeated, which expresses a truth based on common sense or the practical experience of mankind. They are often metaphorical. A proverb that describes a basic rule of conduct may also be known as a maxim. If a proverb is distinguished by particularly good style, it may be known as an aphorism.

Proverbs are often borrowed from different languages and cultures, and sometimes come down to the present through more than one language. Both the Bible and medieval Latin have played a considerable role in distributing proverbs across Western Europe and even further.

The study of proverbs is called paremiology (from Greek paremia = proverb) and can be dated back as far as Aristotle. Paremiography, on the other hand, is the collection of proverbs. Currently, the foremost proverb scholar in the United States is Wolfgang Mieder, who defines the term proverb as follows:

"A proverb is a short, generally known sentence of the folk which contains wisdom, truth, morals, and traditional views in a metaphorical, fixed and memorizable form and which is handed down from generation to generation.” (Mieder 1985:119)

Typical stylistic features of proverbs (as Shirley Arora points out in The Perception of Proverbiality (1984)) are:

alliteration (Forgive and forget)

parallelism (Nothing ventured, nothing gained)

rhyme (When the cat is away, the mice will play)

ellipsis (Once bitten, twice shy)

Internal features that can be found quite frequently include:

hyperbole (All is fair in love and war)

paradox (The longest way around is the shortest way home)

personification (Hunger is the best cook)

To make the respective statement more general most proverbs are based on a metaphor. Further typical features of the proverb are its shortness (average: seven words), and the fact that its author is generally unknown (otherwise it would be a quotation).

A saying/a trite saying/expression is something that is said, notable in one respect or another.

E.g. willy-nilly, thumbs up/thumbs down, ugly duckling. More of them on www.users.tinyonline.co.uk.

3) An epigram is a short poem with a clever twist at the end or a concise and witty statement. They are among the best examples of the power of poetry to compress insight and wit.

Epigram is in origin a Greek word, 'epi-gramma' - "written upon" - and the Western tradition of epigram ultimately looks back to Greek literary models. As the name indicates, though, epigram began as poems inscribed on votive offerings at sanctuaries - including statues of athletes - and on funerary monuments ("Go tell it to the Spartans, passer-by..."). These original epigrams did the same job as a short prose text might have done, but in verse. Epigram became a literary genre in the Hellenistic period.

In early English literature the short couplet poem was dominated by the poetic epigram and proverb. Since 1600, two successive lines of verse that rhyme with each other, known as a couplet featured as a part of the longer sonnet form, most notably in William Shakespeare's sonnets. Sonnet number 76 is an excellent example. The two line poetic form as a closed couplet was also used by William Blake in his poem Auguries of Innocence and later by Byron (Don Juan XIII); John Gay (Fables); Alexander Pope (An Essay on Man).

In the early part of the 20th century a short image form of the Poetic epigrams was created by Adelaide Crapsey whereby she codified this Couplet form into a two line rhymed verse of ten syllables per line.

What is an Epigram? A dwarfish whole;

Its body brevity, and wit its soul.

— Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I'm tired of Love: I'm still more tired of Rhyme.

But Money gives me pleasure all the time.

— Hilaire Belloc

Non-poetic epigrams

Occasionally, simple and witty statements, though not poetical, may also be considered epigrams, such as those attributed to Oscar Wilde: "I can resist everything except temptation." "The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it."

4) A quotation, also called a quote, is a fragment of a human expression, written or oral, which has been inserted into another human expression. This latter type of quotation is almost always taken from literature, though speech transcripts, film dialogues, and song lyrics are also common and valid sources.

E.g. The wisdom of the wise, and the experience of ages, may be preserved by quotation (Isaac D'Israeli, Curiosities of Literature: Quotation).


A typical, and perhaps ideal, quotation is usually short, concise and commonly only one sentence long. There are two broad categories which most quotations fall into, beauty and truth, although some quotations fit equally well into both these groups. 'Beautiful' quotations are words remembered for their aesthetically pleasing use of language, whereas many other quotations are remembered because they are thought to express some universal truth. These latter quotations are often called maxims or aphorisms and they are highly regarded for being pithy renderings of ideas that most people have but most have not been able to express so clearly. A third type of quotation may be any line which merely reminds the person who quotes it of a particularly memorable work, sometimes making a subtle comparison to the situation or topic at hand.

Category Example
Beauty "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; " Ode To Autumn, John Keats
Truth "Authority is never without hate." Ion, Euripides
Memorable "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." Inferno III, 9, Dante Alighieri (Inscribed above the gates of Hell.)
Inspirational "The man who lives for himself is a failure; the man who lives for others has achieved true success." Norman Vincent Peale

Reasons for using quotations

Quotations are used for a variety of reasons: to enrich, illuminate the meaning or support the arguments of the work in which it is being quoted, to pay homage to the original work or author, to make the user of the quotation seem well-read and even to ridicule the original author.

Common quotation sources

Chiefly for reference and accuracy, famous quotations are frequently collected in books that are sometimes called quotation dictionaries or treasuries. On the other hand, diaries and calendars often include quotations for entertainment or inspirational purposes, and small, dedicated sections in newspapers and weekly magazines — with recent quotations by leading personalities on current topics — have also become commonplace. Finally, chiefly through the World Wide Web, the Internet has become the world's main quotation repository.

5) Allusion is a stylistic device in which one refers covertly or indirectly to an object or circumstance that has occurred or existed in an external context. It is left to the reader or hearer to make the connection (Fowler). In the most traditional sense, allusion is a literary term, though the word also has come to encompass indirect references to any source, including film, art, or real events.

Allusion is an economical device, a figure of speech that draws upon the ready stock of ideas or emotion already associated with a topic in a relatively short space. Thus, an allusion is understandable only to those with prior knowledge of the reference in question.

It stimulates ideas, associations, and extra information in the reader’s mind with only a word or two. It means “reference”. It relies on the reader being able to understand the allusion and being familiar with all of the meaning hidden behind the words.

The poetry of T.S. Eliot is often described as "allusive", because of his habit of referring to names, places or images that may only make sense in the light of prior knowledge. This technique can add to the experience, but for the uninitiated can make Eliot's work seem dense and hard to decipher.

Allusions in English are commonly made to the Bible, nursery rhymes, myths, famous fictional or historical characters or events, and Shakespeare. They can be used in prose and poetry.

E.g. Christy didn’t spend money. She as no Scrooge, but she seldom purchased anything except the bare necessities.

The name Scrooge should bring to mind an image of someone who “pinches pennies” and hoards money with a passion. But the allusion only works if the reader is familiar with Charles Dickens’ story “A Christmas Charol”.

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