A Brief Look at the Origin of English Idioms

Topics: Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Trojan War, Homer Pages: 3 (1094 words) Published: November 30, 2010
Idioms appear in every language and their meaning is often confusing. Because the meaning of the whole group of words taken together has little to do with the meanings of the words taken one by one. In order to understand a language, one must know what idioms in that language mean. If we want to figure out the meaning of an idiom literally, word by word, we will get befuddled as we have to know its “hidden meaning”. Most of the idioms do not coincide with their direct meanings but hundreds of years ago they actually did. If we search into the origin of the idioms, we can obtain a great deal of information about that nation’s culture, history and even policy. Idioms come from different sources, from the Bible to horse racing, from ancient fables to modern slang. Sometimes famous authors such as Homer, Geoffrey Chaucer, or William Shakespeare made them up to add spark to their writings. Some idioms came from Native-American customs and others from African-American speech. Several popular idioms began as folksy sayings used in particular regions of the country and spoken in local dialects. However, the name of the first author or speaker who used particular expressions is not often obvious. Some idioms go back in time to the ancient Greeks and Romans, thousands of years ago. For instance, Achilles’ heel- the meaning is the weakness, fault or vulnerable spot in one’s strong character. But the origin of this idiom goes back to the times when Greek poet Homer wrote his famous work “Iliad”. In the “Iliad” the famous story about the Trojan War Achilles was a great hero and warrior. However, he had one weak spot, the heel of one foot. When he was a baby, his mother wanted to be certain that her son could never be harmed, so he dipped little Achilles upside-down in the magical river Styx. Wherever the water touched his body, he became invulnerable. But since she was holding him by his heel, that part of him never got wet. Years later...
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