The use of common names in idiomatic expressions

  All roads lead to Rome This means that there can be many different ways of doing something ( Big Easy

The use of common names in idiomatic expressions

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intellectually trivial or not of a very high standard (
  • Rip van Winkle Rip van Winkle is a character in a story who slept for twenty years, so if someone is a Rip van Winkle, they are behind the times and out of touch with what's happening now (
  • Smile like a Cheshire cat to have a big smile on your face, so that you look silly or too pleased with yourself (
  • Take the Mickey to you tease someone (
  • Vicar of Bray (UK) A person who changes their beliefs and principles to stay popular with people above them (
  • Other names:

    1. A doubting Thomas used about someone who does not believe that something is true, or says that it has not been proved to them (Longman Idioms Dictionary: 1999:347).
    2. Barkus is willing this idiom means that someone is willing to get married (
    3. Be whistling Dixie to be saying that something is untrue (
    4. Buggles' turn when someone gets promotion through length of service rather than ability, especially in the British civil service (
    5. Clever Dick used about someone who is annoying because they are always right or always think they are right (
    6. Going Jesse (USA) if something is a going Jesse, it's a viable, successful project or enterprise (
    7. Jack the Lad A confident and not very serious young man who behaves as he wants to without thinking about other people is a Jack the Lad (www.
    8. John Q Public (USA) John Q Public is the typical, average person (
    9. Nervous Nellie Someone excessively worried or apprehensive is a nervous Nellie (or Nelly) (
    10. Not known whether you are Arthur or Martha-to feel very confused, especially because you have too much to do (

    4.1 Idioms with place names


    1. All roads lead to Rome This means that there can be many different ways of doing something (
    2. Big Easy (USA) The Big Easy is New Orleans, Louisiana (www.
    3. Coals to Newcastle (UK) Taking, bringing, or carrying coals to Newcastle is doing something that is completely unnecessary (
    4. Crossing the Rubicon When you are crossing the Rubicon, you are passing a point of no return. After you do this thing, there is no way of turning around. The only way left is forward (
    5. Dunkirk spirit (UK) Dunkirk spirit is when people pull together to get through a very difficult time (
    6. Fiddle while Rome burns used when you disapprove because someone is spending too much time or attention on unimportant matters instead of trying to solve bigger and more important problems (Longman Idioms Dictionary: 1999:288).
    7. From Missouri (USA) If someone is from Missouri, then they require clear proof before they will believe something (
    8. Himalayan blunder a Himalayan blunder is a very serious mistake or error (
    9. Lie back and think of England a humorous expression used when someone has sex without wanting it or enjoying it, and often used when someone has to do another activity or job that they do not want to (Longman Idioms Dictionary:1999:106).
    10. Man on the Clapham omnibus (UK) The man on the Clapham omnibus is the ordinary person in the street (
    11. More front than Brighton (UK) If you have more front than Brighton, you are very self-confident, possibly excessively so (
    12. New York minute (USA) If something happens in a New York minute, it happens very fast (
    13. Not for all tea in China used in order to emphasize that you do not want to do something, and no reward would be big enough to make you to do i (Longman Idioms Dictionary: 1999:340).
    14. On Carey Street (UK) If someone is on Carey Street, they are heavily in debt or have gone bankrupt (
    15. Road to Damascus If someone has a great and sudden change in their ideas or beliefs, then this is a road to Damascus change, after the conversion of Saint Paul to Christianity while heading to Damascus to persecute Christians (
    16. Rome was not built in a day This idiom means that many things cannot be done instantly, and require time and patience (
    17. Saigon moment (USA) A Saigon moment is when people realize that something has gone wrong and that they will lose or fail (
    18. Somebody met his/her Waterloo used in order to say that someone has finally met a person or thing that can defeat them (Longman Idioms Dictionary: 1999:373).
    19. Send someone to Coventry (UK) If you send someone to Coventry, you refuse to talk to them or co-operate with them (
    20. Set the Thames on fire If you do something remarkable, you set the Thames on fire, though this expression is used in the negative; someone who is dull or undistinguished will never set the Thames on fire (
    21. Shipshape and Bristol fashion If things are shipshape and Bristol fashion, they are in perfect working order (
    22. The black hole of Calcutta used about a place that is very dark and very hot and too full of people or things (
    23. When in Rome, do as the Romans do This idiom means that when you are visiting a different place or culture, you should try to follow their customs and practices (
    24. _____ for England a humorous way of saying that someone does a lot or too much of a particular activity (Longman Idioms Dictionary: 1999:106).




    The analyses presented in this study are an answer that proper names are quite often used in English idioms. We have analyzed 97 idioms: 73 with personal names and 24 with place names. The origin of personal and place names in English idioms are of different types. In spite of this we identified the following six groups of the origin of personal names:

    • Mythical
    • Derived from religion
    • Based on characters of the films, books, cartoons.
    • The real persons.
    • Folk etymology.
    • Others.

    The analysis showed that idioms with personal names are used in English language more frequently that idioms with place names.

    Almost all the place names are authentic, not made-up. Among personal names the most frequent were names derived from religion and characters of books, films etc. Number of idioms with personal names that derived from mythology was the smallest one.




    1. English Dictionary for Speakers of Lithuania. (2000).

    2. Everaert M. (1995). Idioms. Structural and psychological perspectives. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

    3. Ifill T. (2002) Seeking the Nature of Idioms: A Study in Idiomatic Structure. Haverford College.

    4. Locke J. (1869) An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding.

    5. Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (2003).

    6. Longman idioms dictionary (1999). Longman.

    7. Makkai, A. (1972). Idiom Structure in English. The Hague: Mouton.

    8. Mill J. S. (1843) A System of Logic.

    9. Moreno R. Relevance Theory and the construction of idiom meaning (Ошибка! Недопустимый объект гиперссылки.)

    10. Oxford Talking Dictionary.

    11. Pulman S. (1986) The recognition and interpretation of idioms. University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory.

    12. Saeed, J. I. (2003), Semantics. Oxford: Blackwell.

    13. Strдssler J. (1982). Idioms in English a pragmatic analysis. Gunter Narr Verlag.

    14. Valeika L. (2003) Introductory course in theoretical English grammar. Vilnius pedagogical university.


    16. (Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2009.)












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