The role of idioms in english

English idioms: syntactic features of idioms and classification of idioms. The role of idioms in english. Idioms used in different spheres. Differences in the usage of idioms in british and american english. How idioms are used in translation: EN-RU.

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The Faculty of European Civilizations

The Theory and Practice of Translation Department



Done by: Zhenishbekova Meerimai, A-14-1



Chapter I. English Idioms

I.1 Idioms

I.2 Syntactic Features of Idioms

I.3 Classification of idioms

I.4 Examples

Chapter II. The role of Idioms in English

II.1 Idioms used in different spheres

II.2 Differences in the usage of idioms in British and American English

II.3 How idioms are used in translation: EN-RU




In recent years, there has been heightened awareness of the critical role of vocabulary in English language learning and teaching. Within this broad area of academic inquiry, there is also general consensus that the vocabulary of a given language is much more than a list of individual words. A speaker's mental dictionary (or lexicon) also contains a wide range of multiword units such as phrasal verbs ("put up with"), social routines ("take care"), collocations ("plastic surgery"), and idioms ("bite the bullet"). There is good reason for focusing on multiword units: research suggests that a large proportion of language, perhaps as high as 50 percent - is composed of such sequences. Many of these multiword units contain one or more figurative elements, such that the meaning of the entire phrase is not easily predicable. In connection with the relevance of the submitted course paper is to show that Idioms overall has greatly influenced the entire English language.

Idiom is a phrase or expression whose total meaning differs from the meaning of the individual words. For example, to blow one's top (get angry) and behind the eight ball (in trouble) are English-language idioms. Idioms come from language and generally cannot be translated literally (word for word). Foreign language students must learn them just as they would learn vocabulary words. Idioms come to be a very numerous part of English. Idioms cover a lot of drawbacks of the English language and it is one-third part of the colloquial speech. While some teaching materials may ignore idioms, or try to demote their importance, it is best for teachers to take the time to explain, discuss, and make their students use them.

There is no pedagogy exclusive to idioms; most research suggests using a wide range of techniques. Teachers can rest assured that most vocabulary teaching strategies will be applicable to idioms as well. An important first step is exposing students to idioms in context. Students should be encouraged to infer the meaning of the idiom by using contextual clues, conceptual knowledge, and first language equivalents. The role of context is central in language learning. It's common that students don't really understand the various meanings of new words in different contexts. That's why students don't know how to apply the words they have learned practically in various contexts. It's fundamental for teachers to provide a rich context for students' language. [Верещагин Е. М., Костомаров В.Г. Национально-культурная семантика русских фразеологизмов// Словари и лингвострановедение. М: Русский язык - 1982, сс. 5-9]

Realization of the goal provides the solution of the following tasks:

-to classify idioms;

-to distinguish different kinds of idioms describing human appearance;

-to analyze many examples of Idioms;

-to study the role and contribution of Idioms to English;

-to describe importance of Idioms in language and in a life.

The topicality of our work is analyze the huge contribution to creation of English that was made by Idioms' way.

Practical value consists in the fact that the present work is a valuable manual for specialists concerned with teaching and learning English and can be used as a teaching guide for stirring up idiomatic sentences. The results of the investigation are aimed at better understanding of the language.

Theoretical value consist in understanding the importance and worth of the idiom in modern English.

Structure of course paper. The paper consists of introduction, two main chapters, conclusion and bibliography.

Chapter I. English Idioms

I.1 Idioms

english Idiom translation

“Idiom” is not originally an English word - it is one of the many that have come into the language from Greek. “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.


Many idiomatic expressions, in their original use, were not figurative but had literal meaning.

For instance: spill the beans, meaning to reveal a secret, originates from an ancient method of democratic voting, wherein a voter would put a bean into one of several cups to indicate which candidate he wanted to cast his vote for. If the jars were spilled before the counting of votes was complete, anyone would be able to see which jar had more beans, and therefore which candidate was the winner. Over time, the practice was discontinued and the idiom became figurative.

Break a leg: meaning good luck in a performance or presentation. It is unclear how this common idiom originated, but many have it coming from belief in superstitions in one way or another. A particularly simple one says that it comes from the belief that one ought not to utter the words "good luck" to an actor. By wishing someone bad luck, it is cynically supposed that the opposite will occur.


In linguistics, idioms are usually presumed to be figures of speech contradicting the principle of compositionality. That compositionality is the key notion for the analysis of idioms is emphasized in most accounts of idioms. This principle states that the meaning of a whole should be constructed from the meanings of the parts that make up the whole. In other words, one should be in a position to understand the whole if one understands the meanings of each of the parts that make up the whole. The following example is widely employed to illustrate the point:

Fred kicked the bucket.

Understood compositionally, Fred has literally kicked an actual, physical bucket. The much more likely idiomatic reading, however, is non-compositional: Fred is understood to have died. Arriving at the idiomatic reading from the literal reading is unlikely for most speakers. What this means is that the idiomatic reading is, rather, stored as a single lexical item that is now largely independent of the literal reading.

In phraseology, idioms are defined as a sub-type of phraseme, the meaning of which is not the regular sum of the meanings of its component parts.John Saeed defines an idiom as collocated words that became affixed to each other until metamorphosing into a fossilised term.[ Saeed, J. 2003. Semantics. 2nd edition. Oxford: Blackwell p. 60] This collocation of words redefines each component word in the word-group and becomes an idiomatic expression. Idioms usually do not translate well; in some cases, when an idiom is translated directly word-for-word into another language, either its meaning is changed or it is meaningless.

When two or three words are often used together in a particular sequence, the words are said to be irreversible binomials, or Siamese twins. Usage will prevent the words from being displaced or rearranged. For example, a person may be left "high and dry" but never "dry and high". This idiom in turn means that the person is left in their former condition rather than being assisted so that their condition improves. Not all Siamese twins are idioms, however. "Chips and dip" is an irreversible binomial, but it refers to literal food items, not idiomatic ones.


Idioms possess varying degrees of mobility. While some idioms are used only in a routine form, others can undergo syntactic modifications such as passivization, raising constructions, and clefting, demonstrating separable constituencies within the idiom.[ Horn, George. "Idioms, Metaphors, and Syntactic Mobility". p 245-250] Mobile idioms, allowing such movement, maintain their idiomatic meaning where fixed idioms do not:

Mobile: I spilled the beans on our project. > The beans were spilled on our project.

Fixed: The old man kicked the bucket. > The bucket was kicked (by the old man).

Many fixed idioms lack semantic composition, meaning that the idiom contains the semantic role of a verb, but not of any object. This is true of kick the bucket, which means die. By contrast, the semantically composite idiom spill the beans, meaning reveal a secret, contains both a semantic verb and object, reveal and secret. Semantically composite idioms have a syntactic similarity between their surface and semantic forms.[ Horn, George. "Idioms, Metaphors, and Syntactic Mobility". p 255-256]

The types of movement allowed for certain idiom also relates to the degree to which the literal reading of the idiom has a connection to its idiomatic meaning. This is referred to as motivation or transparency. While most idioms that do not display semantic composition generally do not allow non-adjectival modification, those that are also motivated allow lexical substitution. For example, oil the wheels and grease the wheels allow variation for nouns that elicit a similar literal meaning. These types of changes can occur only when speakers can easily recognize a connection between what the idiom is meant to express and its literal meaning, thus an idiom like kick the bucket cannot occur as kick the pot.

From the perspective of dependency grammar, idioms are represented as a catena which cannot be interrupted by non-idiomatic content. Although syntactic modifications introduce disruptions to the idiomatic structure, this continuity is only required for idioms as lexical entries. [ O'Grady, William. "The Syntax of Idioms". Natural Language and Linguistic Theory.(1998) p.279.]

Certain idioms, allowing unrestricted syntactic modification, can be said to be metaphors. Expressions such as jump on the bandwagon, pull strings, and draw the line all represent their meaning independently in their verbs and objects, making them compositional. In the idiom jump on the bandwagon, jump on involves joining something and a 'bandwagon' can refer to a collective cause, regardless of context. [ Saeed, J. 2003. Semantics. 2nd edition. Oxford: Blackwell p. 70]

I.2 Syntactic Features of Idioms

Idioms are the expressions the elements of which cannot be changed or replaced by other elements. They are called fixed expressions. However, some changes are possible within idioms. These changes may be both lexical and grammatical. The part deals with the syntactic features of idioms, possible transformations within idioms. Besides, the essential point in the article is to understand why some idioms undergo transformations, while the others don't. Semantics and syntax are taken as a whole in the system of the English language, and the research is carried as to the mutual relationship between them. Different linguistic and cognitive approaches by different scholars have been analyzed in the article, and the proper conclusions have been made.

Research Methodology

As a method of investigation transformational approach is highlighted. Transformations within idioms are considered and explained not only grammatically, but also from the cognitive point of view.

Unless any grammatical form predicts of what a meaning consists, it means that the very grammar form differs from the language rules which we establish a sentence, and the one not corresponding to the grammar rules turns to an exceptional form. In this case it should be learned and investigated as a whole construction. Existence of such constructions is the main condition of the existence of combinations which we call idioms. We should mark that syntax establishes the coordinated system of form and meaning. Any thought in the language can be expressed in different forms. Sometimes two semantic descriptions in a sentence appear: real or concrete, idiomatic or figurative. Without depending on the sameness of the syntactic structure, the carried out analysis in the same sentence basing on the context shows itself differently. As a result of this, the same form, the same syntactic structure attains different meanings.

While describing an idiom its internal specific features must be taken into consideration. The element of idioms cannot be regarded as lexical units. The function which an idiom carries out within a sentence is equal to the function of a single word in the sentence. As an ordinary word an idiom can't be broken into parts in a sentence, neither can be changed. Despite this, it is possible to create a new lexical unit from the words, but on the ground of idioms new combinations cannot be established. Words possess independent meanings, but as the words constituting idioms lose their independence of meaning, the meaning of idioms is not given in the separately-taken words, but the whole idiom expresses the meaning as that of one word. A word is an ordinary realization of meaning, but an idiom is its figurative expression. Words united with one another may form a compound, but it doesn't mean that any compounding is an idiom. []

The form, syntactic features and meaning are what make lexical units and idioms identical. Idioms differ from lexical units only in not possessing morphological structure as the construction is taken as a whole.

Highlighting all these features, we stress the fact that during the general analysis of a sentence containing an idiom the whole idiomatic construction must be analyzed as a single word, and question to the whole construction must be put just in the same way as the question directed to a word. Without depending on the number of the words in the sentence, the unity of the syntactic function of an idiom is the major feature characterising it. So, we may name the idiom as a syntactic unit, possessing lexical wholeness. Such syntactic units belong to phraseology and are studied within phraseology.

Syntactic Changes within Idioms

Though the analysis of separately-taken constituent parts of idioms is impossible, the grammar features in them should be kept in view. In many cases the syntactic characterization of idioms has been a subject of dispute. Idioms are classified by different linguists differently, for example, Chomsky approached the idioms as combinations consisting of constructions, containing logical units. As to Chomsky's considerations some combinations having found their reflection in the human thought should be learned as supplements entering the grammar consisting of certain elements and constructions.

Chomsky sought out a still easier grammar means always able to describe all the sentences. His methods to describe all the sentences by the help of forms have been the main direction of his investigation. Idioms in Chomsky's theories, violating the distribution of grammatical morphemes are viewed as extra-linguistic features, consisting of certain constructions. [Chomsky, N., 1965, p. 320]

Fraser has specified the idioms between those which are able to undergo all the grammatical changes and those which are unable to undergo the smallest grammar changes at all. It should be marked that the development of idioms, their wide usage is a rapid process. They are expressions, not subjected to analysis, only some syntactic changes may be carried out in them. The idioms which can easily be subjected to syntactic changes are more flexible. The usage of different grammar tenses within the idioms, the usage of moods of the verb (active, passive voices), change of places of words, inclusion of additional words or reduction of the words within the constructions are the criteria causing difficulties in the investigation of the idioms. [Fraser, B., 1970, p. 33-37]

Tense changes within idioms can be possibly made in most of the idioms, for they indicate the animation of the actions in different tenses on the person's mind.

Well, the best way to understand a man is to put yourself in his shoes. (Maugham W.S., The Painted Veil) Vanished into thin air, just like her four friends. (Cornelia Funke, The Thief Lord).

Italian-Americans here say they fear they have been made a scapegoat. (Ethel Tiersky, Maxine Chernoff, Herald Tribune)

Changes as to singular and plural forms are also possible within idioms; but not all the idioms undergo these changes, i.e. in the idioms smell a rat, kick the bucket, chew the fat the plural forms of buckets, rats, fats are irrelevant. But both idioms can be subjected to tense changes. Adequately, unless in some idioms the plural form is impossible, singular form may also be impossible in the others (spill the beans, rain cats and dogs).

In some idioms the words can be used both in plural and in singular, besides, countable nouns can become uncountable ones and vice-versa. For example: wear the deck - wear the decks, go into detail - go into details, in deep water - in deep waters, kid stuff - kids' stuff, on bended knee - on bended knees, a red herring - red herrings, etc.

It should be noted that the changes as to the tense forms and as to the number appear as minimal changes in idioms. The syntactic transformations occuring in idioms are the problems we cope during the process of their investigations. Some scholars, like Katz, Weinreich [Weinreich, U., 1969, p 15 - 23] suggested marking idioms with “+”, “-” according to the transformations.

One of the features arousing our interest in the investigation of idioms is that some combinations can be used in the passive voice as non-idiomatic expressions while others cannot.

The investigations are distinguished by the richness of their varieties. Trying to keep many of such investigations in the highlight, we'll try to throw light on the problem.

Let's pay attention to the usage of idioms in the passive voice within generative grammar. In the generative grammar a sentence does not consist of any groundless individually-taken words.

All these possibilities show if syntax and semantic are viewed in relation to one-another, better results could be attained. The unity of syntax and semantics has widely found its wide consideration in Fillmore's works. He considers semantics as a constituent part of syntax.

So, basing on this investigation, we can divide verbal idioms into two groups: the ones not being able to separate as to the constituent parts (idioms as kick the bucket, face the music), and the ones which can be separated as to the constituent parts (such as make someone's blood boil, spill the beans, put on airs, etc). Idioms belonging to the first group are syntactically frozen idioms (fusions). For example, the component bucket within the expression kick the bucket does not possess any individual meaning, therefore, cannot include any element inside (kick the yellow bucket). But the idioms of the second group possess more syntactic flexibility. The constituent parts to some extent possess individual meaning. Of course, these meanings are not the literary meanings of the components. Though the notion expressed by the words of the construction is figurative, they establish adequacy with the paraphrase. We see connections between the components of idioms and the paraphrase. This connection may be metaphorical, metonymical or based on the encyclopedic knowledge of the human being. This group of idioms can undergo several transformations.

I.3 Classification of idioms

There is a variety of criteria according to which idioms can be classified. Kvetko points to many different aspects that need to be taken into consideration in an attempt to carry out an overall classification. He mentions the semantic and constructional point of view, fixedness and variability, function, stylistics and etymology. However, the understanding of idioms by particular linguists varies and therefore different categorizations arise.

With regard to the compositionality of idioms Glucksberg offers the following division:

Non-compositional idioms - there are no relations between the idiom's constituents and the idiom's meaning cannot be discerned

Partially compositional idioms - there are some relationships between an idiom's constituents and its idiomatic meaning can be discerned and exploited

Fully compositional idioms - the constituents correspond directly with their idiomatic referents.

Based on the level of transparency, idioms can be classified according to the extent to which the meaning of an idiom can be derived from the meaning of its particular constituents. Glucksberg refers to:

Opaque idioms - where the relations between an idiom's constituents and its meaning may be opaque, but the meanings of individual words can nevertheless constrain both interpretation and use

Transparent idioms - where there are one-to-one semantic relations between the idiom's constituents and components of the idiom's meaning.

Furthermore, Glucksberg introduces a quasi-metaphorical type of idiom, the meaning of which is conveyed through its allusional content. These idioms refer to an ideal exemplar of a concept providing at the same time a characterization of an event or situation as an instance of that concept.

The notion of the continuum from opacity to transparency leads Cacciari to come up with the following division of idioms:

Totally opaque idioms

Retrospectively transparent idioms - they become transparent once the speaker either knows the meaning or is reminded of the episode or setting that originated the idiom

Directly transparent idioms - the senses of the words lead the speaker to the idiomatic meaning of the string (e.g. by means of the recreation of an analogical or metaphorical mapping)

Figuratively transparent idioms - they are composed of other idioms, or parts that appear in other idioms or as metaphorical devices

On the other hand, sememic idioms are considered to be of a higher and more abstract linguistic level. They correlate with institutionalized culturally pragmatic meanings and their purpose is mainly to express culture-bound notions, such as politeness, understatement etc. []

I.4 Examples

The following sentences contain idioms. The fixed words constituting the idiom in each case are bolded [Crystal, A dictionary of linguistics and phonetics, 4th edition. Oxford, UK. p.11]:

The ball is in your court. This means it is up to you to make the next decision or step.

It's in the ballpark. This means within an acceptable or similar range.

To take your ball and go home. This means to cease participating in an activity that has turned to one's disadvantage.

I'm going back to the drawing board. This means when an attempt fails and you have to start all over.

To kill two birds with one stone. This means to solve two problems at one time with a single action.

They are pulling my leg. This means they are teasing me by telling me something untrue.

To beat around the bush. This means to avoid doing something, to stall, to waste time.

It's my cup of tea. This means one's choice or preference.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease. This means people who complain the most will get attention or what they want.

You are on the ball. This means you have qualities, such as competence, skill, or knowledge, that are necessary for success.

Thats water under the bridge, It's spilled milk, To burn your bridges. This means a past occurrence, especially something unfortunate, that cannot be undone or rectified.

I'll drop you a line. This means to send a message or start a telecommunicated conversation.

To get the ball rolling, To set the wheels in motion. This means to get a process started.

To kick the bucket, They are going to croak. This means to die.

To tighten up something. This means to make something more disciplined.

They are a knock out, They are hot. This means that the person a is a very good-looking man or woman.

To beat a dead horse. This means to waste time doing something that has already been unsuccessfully attempted.

Be glad to see the back of. This means to be happy when a person leaves.

That one size fits all. This means is what considered acceptable for one person or situation is considered to be suitable for a wide range of people or situations.

You should keep an eye out for that. This means to maintain awareness of it as it occurs.

To put words into someone else's mouth. This means to interpret what someone said so that the words mean what you want and not what the speaker wanted.

You need to pull up your socks. This means you need to make an effort to improve your work or behavior because it is not good enough.

I have a bone to pick with you, I am going to give you a piece of my mind. This means you want to talk to someone about something they have done that has annoyed you, or tell someone angrily that you disapprove of something they have done.

You are out to lunch, You have rocks in your head. This means you are wrong about what your belief is, or are very ignorant or stupid about your opinion.

I can't keep my head above water. This means inability to manage a situation.

To come to your senses. This means to start to understand that you have been behaving in a stupid way.

To come around. This means to change your opinion of something.

It's raining cats and dogs. This means to rain very heavily.

I'm tied up right now. This means that you are busy.

I'm going to hit the hay, I'm going to crash. This means you are going to go to sleep.

Someone cut the cheese! This means someone farted.

Oh no! You spilled the beans!, You let the cat out the bag. This means to let out a secret.

Scraping the bottom of the barrel. This mean to choose from the very worst of what is available, even if unsatisfactory.

I'm feeling cold. This means to feel sad.

They are full of themselves. This means that they are conceited, self-centered, or self-important.

That costs an arm and a leg, To pay through the nose. This means it costs a lot of money, or too much money.

It's not rocket science, It's not brain surgery. This means something is not exceedingly difficult.

Put a cork in it, Shut your hole, To pipe down, You need to zip it. This means, "shut up!" (another idiom), be quiet, and stop talking.

To mix oil and water, Putting a square peg into a round hole. This means trying to combine two things that do not belong or fit together.

To sit down with. This means to spend time with someone in order to discuss something.

I'm screwed. This means that one is doomed, is in big trouble, or has made a huge mistake.

I'll bet. This is a hyperbolic or sarcastic way of saying "certainly" or "of course".

Who knows. This is a hyperbolic or sarcastic way of saying "I don't have any idea or clue".

This is a piece of cake! This means a task will be easy.

Put your eye on it. This means to watch or monitor something or a person/persons closely and carefully.

Wear your heart on your sleeve, To air your dirty laundry. This means to be open, maybe too open, about your feelings in the public, or to talk to other people about personal things that you should keep private.

Each of the word combinations in bold has at least two meanings: a literal meaning and a figurative meaning. Such expressions that are typical for a language can appear as words, combinations of words, phrases, entire clauses, and entire sentences.

The devil is in the details.

The early bird gets the worm.

Break a leg.

Waste not, want not.

Go take a chill pill.

I have butterflies in my stomach.

Expressions such as these have figurative meaning. When one says "The devil is in the details", one is not expressing a belief in demons, but rather one means that things may look good on the surface, but upon scrutiny, undesirable aspects are revealed. Similarly, when one says "The early bird gets the worm", one is not suggesting that there is only one opportunity; rather one means there are plenty of opportunities, but for the sake of the idiom one plays along, and imagines that there is only one. Alternatively, the figurative translation of this phrase is that the most attentive and astute individual, or perhaps the hardest working or most opportunistic receives the most desirable opportunity. On the other hand, "Waste not, want not" is completely devoid of a figurative meaning. It counts as an idiom, however, because it has a literal meaning and people keep saying it.

Chapter II. The role of Idioms in English language

II.1 Idioms used in different spheres

Globalization is taking over, our life and different spheres of it go through constant changes. Life changes - language does the same. The reason is language is the mirror of life, and according to the demand of it lexical units of the language (words, word combinations, phrases, sentences) acquire new meanings, which often may be misunderstood or confused. Lexicography - the study of the meaning, evolution and function of the vocabulary units of a language - successfully copes with registration of new meanings of language units. Nowadays there are numerous dictionaries of synonyms, antonyms, phrasal verbs and idioms.

Business English has its own stock of idioms:




Across the board

Nothing or nobody would be exempted; everything, everybody

The union wants a salary increase across the board.

Bang for buck

Value for money;

To realize the full worth of investments or expenses

We will get a high bang for buck if we put our money in stocks.

Strike while the iron is hot

To seize a present opportunity that may easily go away;

To take advantage of an existing chance

The executives decided to strike while the iron is hot and bought into the fast-growing and progressive start-up company quickly.

Saddled with debt

To be burdened with huge debt;

Financial crisis

Saddled with debt, the bank filed for bankruptcy and for protection against debt collectors.

Calculated risk

A risk or an action that has been well studied and is thought to have high chances of resulting in success

We were taking a calculated risk when we decided to invest in stocks rather than in bonds.

In the trade branch idioms are of a great essence. From the table below you can find several examples of the most widely used idioms in the sphere of trade:




Stock in trade

Whatever goods, skills, etc., are necessary to undertake an activity

Packing household goods is my stock in trade.

Jack of all trades is a master of none

If you are able to do a lot of things fairly well, you do not have time to learn to do one extremely well

Harry can do so many things: he writes novels, makes sculptures, plays guitar. But he probably doesn`t do all of them terribly good.

Trade something off

To get rid of something in an exchange

I traded off my old car for a new one.

Do a roaring trade

To sell a lot of goods quickly

The toy department was doing a roaring trade in furry dinosaurs.

Ply your trade

To do your usual work

Fishermen in small boats ply their trade up and down the coast.

The tools of the trade

The things that you need to use in order to do a job

For the modern sales executive, a car phone is one of the tools of the trade.

English language numbers more than 25 000 idioms, in each sphere people face with the use of the idioms: during negotiations, in a shop, in song lyrics, etc. But the highest possibility of facing with the usage of idioms is due to the everyday speech. Idioms are a part of our speech that we use absent-mindedly, automatically. Representatives of one language freely operate with idioms in his or her native language, but when learning a foreign language idioms may cause a great deal of misunderstanding. In this case we need to look up the idiomatic expression in dictionaries. The table below shows several of the most frequently used idioms in everyday speech:




To have a narrow escape

To be very close to danger or something terrible but manage to escape

I had a narrow escape this morning. I was cycling to work when a lorry knocked me off my bike.

To be/go as white as a sheet

To be very pale in the face, especially because of illness or great fear

She went pale as she heard about the terrible murder happened in the house.

Shaking like a leaf

To tremble with a fear or great anxiety

I was shaking like a leaf when my neighbor`s big dog was running up to me.

The sky`s the limit

You haven`t got any limits to improve yourself

I dare to dream big and only the sky is the limit for me.

That is beside the point

It doesn`t concern the matter

We are talking about ballet, IT technologies is beside the point.

To get one`s hand on somebody

To interfere into somebody`s business

He was too annoying so I asked him to get his hands out my business.

A write-off

Completely destroyed

The car cannot be used anymore, it`s write-off.

To have a real heart-to-heart with

To have a friendly conversation

When I last saw him we had a real heart-to-heart in that cozy restaurant on the Gastings avenue.

That`s all water under the bridge

To forget everything (esp., bad things) which took place in the past

They split up a year ago, but agreed on that`s all water under the bridge.

Hit below the belt

To act in an unfamiliar way

The candidate of the opposition party spread false rumours about the Minister. People felt that he was hitting below the belt.

Gift of the gap

The ability to speak well

I was able to keep the audiences amused with her stories. She surely has the gift of the gab.

II.2 Differences in the usage of idioms in British and American English

If you look up the word idiom in Webster, you will be given the following definition: Idiom is an expression whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its constituent element as kick the bucket, hang one's head etc., or from the general grammatical rules of language, as the table round for the round table, and which is not a constituent of a larger expression of like characteristics. This definition seems a bit dry and doesn't really tell anything about the function of idioms in English language.

English is a language particularly rich in idioms - those modes of expression peculiar to a language (or dialect) which frequently defy logical and grammatical rules. Without idioms English would lose much of its variety and humor both in speech an writing.

The background and etymological origins of most idioms is at best obscure. This is the reason why a study of differences between the idioms of American and British English is somewhat difficult. But it also makes the cases, where background, etymology and history are known, even more interesting. Some idioms of the "worldwide English" have first been seen in the works of writers like Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, Lewis Carroll or even in the paperbacks of contemporary novelists. An example of Shakespearian quotation can be found in the following sentence:" As a social worker, you certainly see the seamy side of life." Biblical references are also the source of many idioms. Sports terms, technical terms, legal terms, military slang and even nautical expressions have found their way to the everyday use of English language. Following are some examples of these, some used in either American or British English and some used in both:

"Having won the first two Tests, Australia is now almost certain to retain the Ashes." (Ashes is a British English idiom that is nowadays a well-established cricket term.)

"In his case the exception proves the rule." (A legal maxim -- in full:"the exception proves the rule in cases not excepted". Widely used in both American English and British English.)

"To have the edge on/over someone." (This is originally American English idiom, now established in almost every other form of English, including British Emglish.)

"A happy hunting ground." (Place where one often goes to obtain something or to make money. Originally American English idiom from the Red Indians' Paradise.)

In the old days English idioms rarely originated from any other form of English than British English. (French was also a popular source of idioms.) Nowadays American English is in this position. It is hard to find an American English idiom that has not established itself in "worldwide English" (usually British English). This is not the case with British English idioms which are not as widespread. It has to be remembered that it is hard to say which idioms are actively used in English and which are dying out or have already died. Idioms are constantly dying and new-ones are born.

Some idioms may have gone through radical changes in meaning. The phrase - There is no love lost between them - nowadays means that some people dislike one another. Originally, when there was only the British English form, it meant exactly the opposite. The shift in meaning is yet unexplained. All dialects of English have different sets of idioms and situations where a given idiom can be used. American English and British English may not, in this respect, be the best possible pair to compare because they both have been developing into the same direction, at least where written language is concerned, since the Second World War. The reason that there is so much American influence in British English is the result of the following:

1. Magnitude of publishing industry in the U.S.;

2. Magnitude of mass media influence on a worldwide scale;

3. Appeal of American popular culture on language and habits worldwide;

4. International political and economic position of the U.S.

All these facts lead to the conclusion that new idioms usually originate in the U.S. and then become popular in so-called "worldwide English". This new situation is completely different from the birth of American English as a "variant" of British English. When America was still under the rule of the Crown, most idioms originated from British English sources. Of course there were American English expressions and idioms too, before American English could be defined as dialect of English.

Some examples of these early American English idioms follow:

"To bark up the wrong tree." (Originally from raccoon-hunting in which dogs were used to locate raccoons up in trees.)

"Paddle one's own canoe." (This is an American English idiom of the late 18th Century and early 19th Century.) [International Journal of English Linguistics; Vol. 3, No. 3; 2013]

Some of these early American idioms and expressions were derived from the speech of the American natives like the phrase that "someone speaks with a forked tongue" and the "happy hunting ground" above. These idioms have filtered to British English through centuries through books, newspapers and most recently through powerful mediums like radio, TV and movies.

Where was the turning point? When did American culture take the leading role and start shaping the English language and especially idiomatic expressions? There is a lot of argument on this subject. Most claim that the real turning point was the Second World War. This could be the case. During the War English-speaking nations were united against a common enemy and the U.S. took the leading role. In these few years and a decade after the War American popular culture first established itself in British English. Again new idioms were created and old ones faded away. The Second World War was the turning point in many areas in life. This may also be the case in the development of the English language.

In the old days the written language (novels, poems, plays and the Bible) was the source from which idioms were extracted. This was the case up until WWII. After the war new mediums had established themselves in English-speaking society, there was a channel for the American way of life and the popular culture of the U.S. TV, movies and nowadays the interactive medium have changed the English language more to the American English direction. Some people in the Europe speak the Mid-Atlantic English, halfway from the British English to American English.

The influence of American English can even be seen in other European languages. In Finland, we are adopting and translating AmE proverbs, idioms and expressions. It can be said that the spoken language has taken the leading role over the written and the only reason for this is TV and radio. Most proverbs and idioms that have been adopted to British English from American English are of spoken origin. This is a definite shift from the days before WWII. What will this development do to the English language? Will it decrease its value? This could be argued, but the answer would still be no. Languages develop and change. So is the case with English language and idioms.

How then does American English differ from British English in the use of idioms? There are no radical differences in actual use. The main differences are in the situations where idiomatic expressions are used. There have been many studies recently on this subject. American English adopts and creates new idioms at a much faster rate compared to British English. Also the idioms of American English origin tend to spread faster and further. After it has first been established in the U.S., an American idiom may soon be found in other "variants" and dialects of English.


Nowadays new British idioms tend to stay on the British Isles and are rarely encountered in the U.S. British idioms are actually more familiar to other Europeans or to the people of the British Commonwealth than to Americans, even though the language is same. The reason for all these facts is that Britain is not the world power it used to be and it must be said that the U.S. has taken the role of the leading nation in the development of language, media and popular culture. Britain just doesn't have the magnitude of media influence that the United States controls.

The future of idiomatic expressions in the English language seems certain. They are more and more based on American English. This development will continue through new mediums like the Internet and interactive mediums. It is hard to say what this will do to idioms and what kind of new idioms are created. This will be an interesting development to follow, and by no means does it lessen the humor, variety and color of English language.

II.3 How Idioms used in Translations: EN-RU

The fullest understanding of the native speakers can be received from the idioms of initial language because it is the idiom that shows history and culture, mode and world perception of a nation.

The way in which an idiom or a fixed expression can be translated into another language depends on many factors. It is not only a question of whether an idiom with a similar meaning is available. Other factors include, for example, the significance of the specific lexical items which constitute the idiom, i.e. whether they are manipulated elsewhere, as well as the appropriateness of using idiomatic language. The acceptability of using any of the strategies described below will therefore depend on the context in which a given idiom is translated. The first strategy described, that of finding an idiom of similar meaning and form may seem to offer the ideal solution, but that is not necessarily always the case. Questions of style, register and rhetorical effect must also be taken into consideration. Fernando and Flavell are correct in warning us against the “strong unconscious urge in most translators to search hard for an idiom, however inappropriate it may be”. [Stephens J. F. American studies in the United States. 15, p 5-10]

Firstly, idiom is an expression which meaning is not predictable from the usual meaning of its constituent elements or from the general grammatical rules of a language, and that is not a constituent of a larger expression of similar characteristics. Secondly, idiom is a construction or expression of one language parts of which correspond to the elements in source language but structure and meaning of which is not matched in the same way in the recipient language. That`s why the same meaning of idioms in different languages can be similar or different. It can be demonstrated by examples of idioms compared in English and Russian languages.

Considering from the translation theory perspective, idioms can be divided into those which have equivalents in Russian language and those, which do not have equivalents.

· To have a narrow escape - еле спастись

· To be as white as a sheet - белый как простыня

· A write-off - списать со счетов

· Across the board - не оставить никого за бортом

· Strike while the iron is hot - куй железо пока горячо

· Saddled with debt - по уши в долгах

· Calculated risk - оправданный риск

· Heads will roll - головы полетят

· Roaring trade - торговля кипит

· Trade something off - выменять

· To have a real heart-to-heart with - разговор по душам

· That`s all water under the bridge - кто прошлое помянет, тому глаз вон

· At a premium - на высоте

· Nothing ventured, nothing gained - кто не рискует, тот не пьет шампанского The sky`s the limit - нет предела совершенству

[Верещагин Е. М., Костомаров В.Г. Национально-культурная семантика русских фразеологизмов// Словари и лингвострановедение. М: Русский язык - 1982, сс. 89 - 98]

Like all mentioned above, almost every idiom can be translated without loss of information or semantic meaning. It always depends on the situation and on the context the idiom bears. Translator`s experience is of the essence as well. During simultaneous interpretation translators do not usually have enough time to recall the relevant equivalent of definite idiom, that is why interpreters must be really on the ball and have a good intuition. But translating in written form, translators are given more opportunities to make more adequate translations. While translation dictionaries need to be found in order to make a translation, based on the data given in the dictionary.


The heterogeneous and complex nature of idioms still makes it difficult to offer a complete image of their true essence. There is still little consensus regarding which features are supposed to be of primary importance in defining the phenomenon of idiomaticity. [Article of LIGIA BRГDEANU -"STUMBLING BLOCKS" IN THE PROCESS OF TRANSLATION, 2013.]

These all idioms are accepted as part of everyday speech and undoubtedly are of great practical value. This paper also includes the observation of main problems in definition of phraseological unit and different approaches to their classification. This can help not to make mistakes in choosing of the idiom and studying it. This knowledge (of slightly difference in terms) gives ability to work not only with native linguistics works but also with foreign manuals and dictionaries. An idiom may be treated as a natural manner of speaking to a native speaker of a language. So idioms are integral part of language which make our speech more colourful and authentically native.[]

We have analyzed the huge contribution in English that was made by idioms. We have completed the following tasks: analyzing features of idioms; studying differences in the usage of idioms; describing the role of idiom in modern English.

The practical value of the research consists in a possibility of use of material of work in lecture and seminar classes in a lexicology and cognitive linguistics, in the special courses devoted to a technique of conceptual researches and representation of a language picture of the world.






5. Chomsky, N., 1965, p. 320 . Aspects of the Theory of Syntax

6. Crystal, A dictionary of linguistics and phonetics, 4th edition. Oxford, UK. p.11

7. Fraser B., 1970, Idioms Organiser

8. Horn, George. "Idioms, Metaphors, and Syntactic Mobility".

9. Saeed, J. 2003. Semantics. 2nd edition. Oxford: Blackwell

10. Leaney, C. "Understanding and using idioms", New York: Cambridge University Press (2005).

11. O'Grady, William. "The Syntax of Idioms". Natural Language and Linguistic Theory.(1998)

12. Stephens J. F. American studies in the United States. In U.S. Society & Values.

13. Верещагин Е. М., Костомаров В.Г. Национально-культурная семантика русских фразеологизмов// Словари и лингвострановедение. М: Русский язык

14. International Journal of English Linguistics; Vol. 3, No. 3; 2013

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