The use of common names in idiomatic expressions

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The use of common names in idiomatic expressions

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I have taken them to task for their indolence.


a. George and Simon have their ups and downs.

b. George and Simon are having their ups and downs.

c. George and Simon had their ups and downs.

In these example sets, we will analyze the idioms take NP to task and have ones ups and downs to be the listed forms of the idioms in (1) and (2). These examples clearly show that the verb tense can be changed in the internal structure of the idiom. We can make a conclusion that those idioms which were classified as “completely frozen” exhibit this kind of behavior (trip the light fantastic vs. tripping the light fantastic vs. tripped the light fantastic) (M. Everaert: 1995:45).

It has been widely noted that the individual words in an idiom cannot be replaced by synonyms and still retain the idiomatic reading of the phrase. This is what qualifies them as fixed forms. In most non-idiomatic discourse, a speaker can use synonymy to create a new sentence with the same semantic meaning. That means that changing a word from the idiom with its synonym we will not get the synonymic idiom. In spite of that, idioms can be synonymous among themselves. For example:

John kicked the bucket.

John kicked the pail.

One thing that is readily noticeable about idioms is that many seem to resist undergoing transformations that similar non-idiomatic constructions can readily undergo while retaining the same sense. For example:

John kicked the bucket.

The bucket was kicked by John.

In spite of that sentence is transformed its meaning remains the same.

All these changes can be found in all categories of idioms.


1.3 The categories of Idioms


Idioms have been classified into several groups. Many idioms are derived from the names of body parts and bodily functions:

  • cover one's back do something to protect yourself from criticism or future blame;
  • blood, sweat, and tears great personal effort;
  • in cold blood- without feeling;
  • feel (something) in one's bones sense something, have an intuition about something.

Other big group is idioms derived from animals names:

  • as weak as a kitten weak, sickly;
  • hit the bulls-eye to reach the main point of something;
  • dog-eat-dog ready or willing to fight and hurt others to get what one wants;
  • monkey see, monkey do someone copies something that someone else does.

The third big group is idioms derived from food and preparing it:

  • full of beans- to feel energetic, to be in high spirits;
  • grist for the mill- something that can be used to bring advantage or profit;
  • take the cake- to be the best or worst of something;
  • cook (someone's) goose- to damage or ruin someone.

Those are three the most common groups of idioms in English language. All these idioms are based on daily life events. They have risen from daily routine, from following the animals behavior as well as the humans body reaction to different situations. They are often used in every days speech and they are quite intelligible.

Other idioms are quite rare in English language. For example, politics idioms:

  • body politics A group of people organized under a single government or authority (national or regional);
  • fifth columnist a member of a subversive organization who tries to help an enemy invade;
  • on the stump politicians are campaigning for support and votes.

One rarer group is idioms based on crimes and police as well:

  • behind bars to be in prison;
  • new sheriff in town a new authority figure takes charge;
  • after the fact- after something (a crime etc.) has occurred.

These expressions are quite difficult to understand. For example, idiom new sheriff in town could be understood as a fact that a town has really got a new sheriff.

The category with common names in idioms is not the smallest one but it is not the most common one. We could say with some exceptions.

For example, idioms are widely known and understandable as well as common used in English language. This category we will analyze in our work.

  • Achilles heel a person's weak spot;
  • Adams apple a bulge in the throat, mostly seen in men.


2. Common names


Common name a noun that is not normally preceded by an article or other limiting modifier, as any or some, and that is arbitrary used to denote a particular person, place, thing without regard to any descriptive meaning the word or phrase may have, as Lincoln, Beth Pittsburgh. ( Common names are also called proper names.

According to Valeika (2003:44), “a proper noun is the name of a particular member of a class or of a set of particular members”. Also Valeika (2003) introduces to the idea that the function of a proper noun or name is the same as definite article, because both are particularizes: Smith means the man Smith/the Smith man. Thus, the presented idea reveals the difference between the definite article and proper noun, because the addition of the proper name cause to become the common name semantically unnecessary and it is dropped in the surface structure.

Another difference added by Valeika (2003) concerns the way the two modes of naming explain the problem of the uniqueness of reference: proper names are not always proper, because they may refer to more individual. As the consequence, this shows that proper names may function as common names.

Next, when proper names have no unique reference they behave like common names.

The common meaning of the word or words constituting a proper noun may be unrelated to the object to which the proper noun refers. For example, someone might be named "Tiger Smith" despite being neither a tiger nor a smith. For this reason, proper nouns are usually not translated between languages, although they may be transliterated.

For example, the German surname Knцdel becomes Knodel or Knoedel in English (not the literal Dumpling). However, the transcription of place names and the names of monarchs, popes, and non-contemporary authors is common and sometimes universal. For example, the Portuguese word Lisboa becomes Lisbon in English; the English London becomes Londres in French; and the Greek ἉсйуфпфелЮт (Aristotelēs) becomes Aristotle in English (


2.1 Characteristic of Proper nouns


A proper noun is first of all a kind of noun. Like other nouns, a proper noun may label a person, place, or thing, and may label a concrete object or an abstraction. Most proper nouns refer to a specific person Julius Caesar, a specific place Istanbul, a specific institution or organization the Red Cross, or a specific event the Renaissance. ( In English, there are a few typical characteristics which permit proper nouns to be recognized. A proper noun typically:

  1. ...has its initial letter capitalized.
  2. not used in the plural.
  3. not preceded by adjectives, articles, numerals, demonstratives, or other modifiers.

A philosophical consideration of proper nouns finds three properties:

  • Uniqueness of referent. According to J. S. Mill (1843), proper nouns identify a specific thing, one that is unique. The differentiation, therefore, between general names, and individual or singular names, is primal; and may be considered as the first grand division of names. A general name is closely prйcised, a name which is able of bring truly affirmed, in the same sense, of each of an indefinite number of things. An individual or singular name is a name which is only able of being truly affirmed, in the same sense, of one thing.
  • Specificity of label. J. Locke (1869) noted that this property originates from the way in which proper nouns are used to separate one particular item from all other similar ones. Likewise persons, countries, cities, rivers, mountains, and other distinctions of place have usually found peculiar names, and that for the same reason ; they being such as men have often an occasion to mark particularly, and, as it were, set before others in their discourses with them.
  • Does not impart connotation or attributes. According to J. S. Mill (1843), proper nouns do not carry meaning other than as a label for a specific object and they are not translated. Thus, man is capable of being truly affirmed of John, Peter, George, and other persons without assignable limits: and it is affirmed of all of them in the same sense; for the word man expresses certain qualities, and when we predicate it of those persons, we categorically state that they all own those qualities. But John is only capable of being truly affirmed of one single person, at least in the same sense. For although there are many persons who bear that name, it is not conferred upon them to indicate any qualities, or anything which belongs to them in common; and cannot be said to be affirmed of them in any sense at all, consequently not in t

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