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English idioms


English idioms
(运城学院 外语系 山西 运城 044000)

Abstract: An idiom is a phrase where the words together have a meaning that is different from the dictionary definitions of the individual words, which can make idioms hard for students and learners to understand. The idioms are set phrases and short sentences made up of two or more words; it functions as a unit of meaning which cannot be predicted from its literal meaning of its component words. Key words: English idioms; language; customs 摘要:习语是一种由词语共同组成的,不同于字典定义单个单词的短语,它可以 摘要 使努力学习习语的学生和学习者较难理解。习语短语和短句由两个或多个词组 成;它作为一个意义单位,不能被认为是由各个单词组成的意思。 关键词:英语习语;语言;习俗 关键词

The development of idioms
With the development of people’s social and living circumstances, idioms have also changed since the time that people started to communicate in language. Some old idioms out-of-date may have been abandoned or modified by people, or have taken on new meanings as time goes by. However, idioms are still colorful, active and steadily used in many aspects by ordinary people even by famous writers in their works.

The characteristics of idioms
An idiom is a phrase where the words together have a meaning that is different from the dictionary definitions of the individual words, which can make idioms hard for ESL students and learners to understand. The characteristics of the idioms mainly include the semantic unity and the structural stability. Each idiom is a semantic unity. For instance, keep in mind=remember, like a breeze=easily. The semantic unity can also be shown in the illogical relations between the literal meanings of the constituent words and the meaning of the idiom. For examples, how do you do=in what way do you do thing, rain cats and dogs=rain heavily. Compared with the free phrases, the structure of the idioms is very stable, it cannot change easily. That’s just showing in these aspects. First, the constituents of idioms cannot be replaced. Second, the order of the word cannot be changed, or it may have a different sense. Third, the constituents of an idiom cannot be deleted or added to, not even an article. Such as out of question and out of the question, in hospital and in the hospital. If we deleted or added to a word in an idiom , maybe it can affect the meaning we expressed. At last, many idioms are grammatically unanalysable.

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The classification of idioms
Classification can be approached from different angles. I just want to classify idioms by trope, such as, reduplication, rhyme, metaphor and contrast and so on. (1)reduplication Neck and neck 并驾齐驱 more and more 越来越 out and out 十足的 round and round 旋转不息的 through and through 彻头彻尾 by and by 渐渐 地 (2) rhyme First and foremost 首先 with might and main 全力以赴的 black and blue 遍体鳞伤 part and parcel 重要组成部分 here and there 到处 wear and tear 磨损 (3) metaphor As fierce as tiger 猛如虎 as heavy as lead 十分沉重 as silent as the grave 寂静无声 as pretty as a picture 美丽如画 to sleep like a log 酣睡 to spend money like water 挥金如土 (4) contrast Up and down 上下 give and take 平等交换 first and last 总的来说 weal and wore 福祸 to move heaven and earth 竭尽全力 to blow hot and cold 摇摆 不定

The Range of English idioms
The English idiom is the best part of the English vocabulary. Idiom is an extremely important language phenomenon. No beautiful language in the world doesn’t have its colorful and meaningful idioms. There have a great number of English idioms, which mainly have the allusions from three great resources, the Bible and Roman fables and the works of Shakespeare. There are also some English idioms come from the historic events in Europe. The English idioms may include colloquialisms, catchphrase, slang expressions, proverbs, etc. (1)colloquialisms hit below the belt \stab in the back 暗箭伤人 cut the ground from under sb. 在某人背后搞鬼 (2)slang expressions screw up 一塌糊涂 (3)proverb
A mother's love never changes.母爱永恒。

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A young idler, an old beggar. 少壮不努力,老大徒伤悲。

It’s raining cats and dogs.倾盆大雨

It’s no use crying over spilt milk./cry over spilt milk. 覆水难收

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English idioms with customs
Customs are a kind of social phenomenon, which are affected by politics, economy, religion, literary art and so on. English idioms are thus greatly influenced by English customs, which concern almost every respect of social life. Such as, English idioms are influenced by diet habit. Here are some examples as follows. First, English idioms related to some daily food, for instance, know which side one’s bread is buttered. In this idiom, all the words seem simple and easy yet when combining together. We are really at loss as to its meaning. In reality, the idiom is relevant to the meaning ‘know how to cultivate popularity’. Second, English idioms influenced by pet words. As the most complex animals, mankind co-exists with other animals in our plant throughout history. For all the years, animals have a very close relation with mankind. For example, there are also a quality number of idioms about the dogs, such as, help a lame dog over a stile, it has a connotative meaning, that is, a person in trouble or with difficulty in doing something. Going to the dogs in fact means to degenerate, lying down with dogs is originated form the proverb ‘he that lies with dogs must rise up with fleas’. Third, western people believe in the God and paradise, and they think they can communicate with God through the Bible. Here are some idioms from the Bible: cast pearls before swine, a make bricks without straws, apple of eye etc. There are many other idioms about English people’s beliefs, many of them are originally written in the Bible or just in people’s mind. However, they are very popular among people, so they can be passed down generation by generation.

In conclusion, English idioms are the product of culture. Learning English idioms has to take culture into full account, as English idioms are the drop in the ocean of English culture.

References: [1] 张维友 [2] 冯翠华 《英语词汇学教程》 武汉:华中师范大学出版社,2004 《英语修辞大全》 北京:外语教学与研究出版社,1995

[3] 《英语委婉语词典》(A Dictionary of English Euphemisms),商务印书馆, 2001

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