Idioms From Metaphors to “Just Long Words”?

Sam Glucksberg

in Understanding Figurative Language

Published in print August 2001 | ISBN: 9780195111095
Published online January 2008 | e-ISBN: 9780199872107 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Psychology Series

 Idioms From Metaphors to “Just Long Words”?

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Are idioms just long words or do they share syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic properties with language in general? Four classes of idioms are identified: (1) non-compositional/opaque, which cannot be analyzed either semantically or syntactically and whose meanings cannot be derived, e.g., “by and large”; (2) compositional/opaque, which can be syntactically analyzed but whose meanings also cannot be derived e.g., “kick the bucket”; (3) compositional/transparent, which can be both syntactically and semantically analyzed and whose meanings can be mapped onto their constituent words, e.g., “spill the beans”, and (4) quasi-metaphorical, which behave just as do metaphors, e.g., “don't give up the ship”. A quasi-metaphorical idiom uses a prototypical instance of a category of events (surrendering) to refer to a specific instance of surrendering, just as metaphors use a prototypical category member to refer to a new member of that category, e.g., “shark” as the class of predators to identify “lawyer” as a new member of that class. These four idiom types share a common property: they are understood more quickly than comparable literal expressions, presumably because they can be understood via memory retrieval, while literal expressions require syntactic and semantic analyses.

Keywords: compositional; opaque; transparent; syntactic flexibility; semantic analyses; quasi-metaphorical; prototype; comprehension speed

Chapter.  10493 words. 

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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