A phrase which has a meaning that is commonly understood by speakers of the language, but whose meaning is often different from the normal meaning of the words is called an idiom.
Of the various definitons of ‘idiom’, therr criteria, both semantic and syntactic, emerge as predominant. The first is semantic opacity, or what has come to be known as ‘noncompositionality’, the fact that the meaning of an idiom cannot be deduced from a sum of the meanings of its parts: in this sense, the meaning of an idiom is not ‘motivated’(bussmann 1996: 316). Thus, the meaning od ‘die’ cannot be produced from the sum of ‘kick’ + ‘the’+ ‘bucket’ , or ‘be patient, slow down’ from ‘hold’+ ‘your’+ ‘horses’. No constiluent os an idiom carries independent meaning. The secon criterion relates to the apparent morphological and transformational deficincies od idioms, in not permitting the syntatic variability displayed in other, freer sequences of words; operations such passive ( * the bucket was kicket by Sam), international modification ( * Hold your restless horses), and topicalization ( *The bucket Sam kicked) cannot occour with the idiomatic meaning being retained. The third criterion is the lack of substitutability in idioms, their ‘ lexical integrity’ (Fernando and Flavell 1981:38); synonymous lexical items cannot be substituted in an idiom, as in have a crush on , but not *have a smash on (Bussmann 1996: 216), nor can elements be reversed or deleted. Idioms are, therefore, syntagmatically and paradigmatically fixed (Nuccorini 1990: 418). In addition to these criteria, it has beed observed that idioms belong to an informal register, are figurative or metaphorical in meaning, have homonymous literal counterparts, are often “instutionalized” (Fernando and Flavell 1981: 17) or proverbial in nature (describling situations of common social interest), and have an affective quality (implying a certain affective stance) ( Nunberg, Sag, and Wasow 1994: 492-93). They are frequentlu...
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