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Understanding Figurative LanguageFrom Metaphor to Idioms$
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Sam Glucksberg

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780195111095

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195111095.001.0001

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Idioms From Metaphors to “Just Long Words”?

Idioms From Metaphors to “Just Long Words”?

(p.68) 5 Idioms From Metaphors to “Just Long Words”?
Understanding Figurative Language

Sam Glucksberg

Oxford University Press

Are idioms just long words or do they share syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic properties with language in general? Four classes of idioms are identified: (1) non-compositional/opaque, which cannot be analyzed either semantically or syntactically and whose meanings cannot be derived, e.g., “by and large”; (2) compositional/opaque, which can be syntactically analyzed but whose meanings also cannot be derived e.g., “kick the bucket”; (3) compositional/transparent, which can be both syntactically and semantically analyzed and whose meanings can be mapped onto their constituent words, e.g., “spill the beans”, and (4) quasi-metaphorical, which behave just as do metaphors, e.g., “don't give up the ship”. A quasi-metaphorical idiom uses a prototypical instance of a category of events (surrendering) to refer to a specific instance of surrendering, just as metaphors use a prototypical category member to refer to a new member of that category, e.g., “shark” as the class of predators to identify “lawyer” as a new member of that class. These four idiom types share a common property: they are understood more quickly than comparable literal expressions, presumably because they can be understood via memory retrieval, while literal expressions require syntactic and semantic analyses.

Keywords:   compositional, opaque, transparent, syntactic flexibility, semantic analyses, quasi-metaphorical, prototype, comprehension speed

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