Personal Idioms

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The Sage Encyclopedia of Human Relationships
Personal Idioms
Sandra Metts, Illinois State University
Sylvia Mikucki, University of Illinois
“Raining cats and dogs.” “Green with envy.” “Easy as pie.” What these odd expressions share in common is the classification as cultural idioms. They are colloquial expressions that use the English language in creative ways to capture an attitude, image, or a feeling. A person who came to America from another country would have to study the sky during a rainstorm for quite awhile to find cats or dogs. In much the same way, friends, lovers, families, and close-knit social networks have idioms that are unique to their interactions. Outsiders would not understand that terms such as “Boo” might refer to a young man’s girlfriend or that “jelly beans” is a shorthand way to say, “You’re talking too much.” But, in fact, this is exactly the point of personal idioms. They allow persons in close relationships to communicate with a private language that simultaneously unites them while excluding outsiders. The purpose of this entry is to more fully define personal idioms, describe the categories into which they fall, and explain in more detail how they function within relationships. Defining and Categorizing Personal Idioms

Personal idioms are symbols or codes within the language of close relationships that have special meaning known only to those members. As people share a history, interact in a variety of situations, and come to know each other well, certain terms, phrases, or nonverbal gestures emerge within their conversations. Sometimes these expressions are adaptations of some famous line or scene in a movie, or a childhood nickname, or are simply the lingering phrase from goofy conversation, misspoken words, or word play. For whatever reason, these expressions are noticed and a meaning is assigned to them. From that point on, they become a shorthand way of communicating the meaning beyond the initial context....
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