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Webster's New World American Idioms Handbook by Gail Brenner (Webster's New World, 2003)

Definition: A set expression of two or more words that means something other than the literal meanings of its individual words. Adjective: idiomatic.

A set expression of two or more words that means something other than the literal meanings of its individual words. Adjective: idiomatic. See also:

Catchphrase Chunk Clich Collocation Listeme Malaphor Metaphor Phrasal Verb Proverb

Etymology: From the Latin, "own, personal, private"

Examples and Observations:

"Every cloud has its silver lining but it is sometimes a little difficult to get it to the mint." (Don Marquis)

"Fads are the kiss of death. When the fad goes away, you go with it." (Conway Twitty)

"American idioms drive me up the hall!" (Ziva David in NCIS)

"I worked the graveyard shift with old people, which was really demoralizing, because the old people didn't have a chance in hell of ever getting out." (Kate Millett)

Kirk: If we play our cards right, we may be able to find out when those whales are being released. Spock: How will playing cards help? (Captain James T. Kirk and Spock in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, 1986)

"People use idioms to make their language richer and more colorful and to convey subtle shades of meaning or intention. Idioms are used often to replace a literal word or expression, and many times the idiom better describes the full nuance of meaning. Idioms and idiomatic expressions can be more precise than the literal words, often using fewer words but saying more. For example, the expression it runs in the family is shorter and more succinct than saying that a physical or personality trait 'is fairly common throughout one's extended family and over a number of generations.'" (Gail Brenner, Webster's New World American Idioms Handbook. Webster's New World, 2003)

"If natural language had been designed by a logician, idioms would not exist." (Philip Johnson-Laird, 1993)

"Idioms, in general, are deeply connected to culture. . . . Agar (1991) proposes that biculturalism and bilingualism are two sides of the same coin. Engaged in the intertwined process of culture change, learners have to understand the full meaning of idioms." (Sam Glucksberg, Understanding Figurative Language. Oxford Univ. Press, 2001)

"Shakespeare is credited with coining more than 2,000 words, infusing thousands more existing ones with electrifying new meanings and forging idioms that would last for centuries. 'A fool's paradise,' 'at one fell swoop,' 'heart's content,' 'in a pickle,' 'send him packing,' 'too much of a good thing,' 'the game is up,' 'good riddance,' 'love is blind,' and 'a sorry sight,' to name a few." (David Wolman, Righting the Mother Tongue: From Olde English to Email, the Tangled Story of English Spelling. Harper, 2010)

"Idioms vary in 'transparency': that is, whether their meaning can be derived from the literal meanings of the individual words. For example, make up [one's] mind is rather transparent in suggesting the meaning 'reach a decision,' while kick the bucket is far from transparent in representing the meaning 'die.'" (Douglas Biber et al., Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English. Pearson, 2002)

"The thought hit me that this was a pretty pathetic way to kick the bucket-being accidentally poisoned during a photo shoot, of all things--and I started weeping at the idiocy of it all." (Lara St. John)