Idioms in Commercials Pragmatic Aspect

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Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine

Kyiv National Linguistic University

Department of stylistics and linguistics


Course Paper

”Idioms in Commercials: Pragmatic Aspect”


Scientific supervisor:

Associate Professor V.V. Timofeyeva
















The English language provides a great array of means created for the expression and rendering thoughts. In this work we focus on one of the most efficient expressive tool namely an idiom. In brief an idiom is an expression (i.e. term or phrase) whose meaning cannot be deducted from the literal definitions and the arrangement of its parts but refers instead to a figurative meaning that is known only through conventional use. In linguistics idioms are widely assumed to be figures of speech that contradict the principle of compositionality. [10; 79]

Idiom is an indispensable part of the language. It helps to create a brighter image to render concisely an extended idea or create the particular impression with the listener.  Many researches are dedicated to the use of the idiom in literary works by poets and prose writers.

However such a powerful language element could not be also overlooked by the people who search for ways of manipulation and persuasion for their own purpose and in business. Therefore we will analyze the usage of the idioms in business advertising. With a speedy tempo of contemporary life and  high rates at media time the usage of idioms in order to make the commercial advertising more effective becomes more important which brings about the actuality of this study.

The aim of the research is basically to define the idiom as a tool of commercial manipulation and underline the pragmatic aspect of this language phenomenon in this respect.

This study sets a row of specific tasks to be completed during the research namely:

-  To study and classify the phenomenon of the idiom as a linguistic element

-  To analyze the value of idiom both for the conversational and commercial use

-  To bring out the pragmatic aspect of the idiom in the sphere of commercial advertising.

The object of the research paper is the idiomatic phrases and words in English language and their usage.

The subject of the study is the use of English idioms in commercial advertising regarding their pragmatic aspect.

The paper consists of the introduction part two chapters the conclusion the reference list of the literature used and a resume.

Chapter 1. The linguistic essence of idioms


1.1.  Definition of the idiom as a linguistic phenomenon

idiom linguistic commercial advertising

The English language abounds in idioms like any other highly developed tongues. Idioms consist of set phrases and short sentences which are peculiar to the language in question and loaded with the native cultures and ideas. Therefore idioms are colorful forcible and thought provoking.

Idiom is an expression in the usage of a language that is peculiar to itself either grammatically (as no it wasn't me) or in having a meaning that cannot be derived from the conjoined meanings of its elements.

We can draw a simple classification of the idioms.

Category and Level. First we might wish to group them according to their category and level. Lexical idioms (ignoring mono-morphemic lexical items) can be nouns verbs and adjectives. Phrasal idioms can be adjectival ("stark raving mad"). Nominal ("notary public") verbal ("come a cropper") prepositional ("in a brown study") or sentential ("it takes one to know one").

Function. For the idioms that are not syntactically dependent on other elements we could classify them according to their function. Some formulaic expresses accompany acts ("this hurts me more than it hurts you") some accomplish acts ("I declare the meeting adjourned") some are comments on the ongoing discourse ("I wouldn't touch that with a ten-foot pole") some are parenthetical qualifying what is being said ("you might say") and so on.

Sentence Type. Sentential idioms can be classified according to the sentence type. Some are imperatives ("knock on wood" "shut up") some are conditionals ("if the shoe fits wear it") some are questions ("who knows?" "can the leopard change its spots?") and some use certain special constructions ("the more the merrier" "the bigger they come the harder they fall").

Gaps. Many idioms are not complete "runs" but have gaps in them. Some such gaps are complete sentences ("it's (about) time [you brushed your teeth]" where the sentence has to be in past tense form) some are verb phrases ("I wouldn't [marry Louise] for all the tea in China") some are noun phrases ("play second fiddle to [Harry]"). Possessive gaps can be co-referential to the subject in the case of verbal idioms ("to blow [one's] nose") or referentially distinct ("to pull [someone's] leg") and some can go either way ("to cook [(some) one’s] goose").

Collocations. Collocations are phrase made up of two or more words in some grammatical relation to each other where it appears that one or both of the words is has some special conventional association with the other. In some cases one of the word only or almost only occurs in the phrase in question (the "blithering" of "blithering idiot" the "aspersions" of "cast aspersions") sometimes each word occurs frequently elsewhere but the combination has a special sense or a special frequency of occurrence ("spontaneous combustion" "manual labor" "consenting adult") and so on. [1; 62]

In many cases a dependent or modifying word fulfills a necessary function in respect to the other word such as that of intensifying: "broad daylight" "dark red" "fancy footwork" "vast majority" etc.

In the case of sentential idioms it is important to distinguish between the conventional meaning that a construct built on them might have and the kind of reasoning that is involved in cooperative conversational interaction. If a mother says "I wonder who could have left their dirty socks on the middle of the floor" she probably expects her intended addressee to take this as a sarcastic request to pick the socks up and put them where they belong. A lot has been written about the mechanisms for this kind of reasoning; one reasonable view is that the mother expects what she says to be taken as the first part of a potentially continuing conversation that given the relationships that hold between speaker and hearer is going to lead to a specific conclusion; the cooperative child can anticipate this path and act on the inference without requiring the whole conversation to be played out. [1; 63]

But now consider certain negative "why" questions in particular questions such as those exhibited here:

"Why don't you try again tomorrow?"

"Why don't you just memorize your Social Security Number?

"Why don't you visit me some time?"

"Why don't you be the leader?"

An attempted pragmatic reasoning explanation for these sentences might follow some such train as train as this: if someone asks me to explain a state of affairs that I am involved in it might be that she thinks there's something wrong about that state of affairs and making that inference might lead me to doing something to change it. Such reasoning will perform quite well with certain kinds of questions but I will claim that it doesn't work in the case of these sentences.

If you hear "Why aren't you wearing your shoes?" your natural inclination might be to think that the speaker finds this situation questionable and is suggesting you should put your shoes on. Such an inference however does not depend on the question being negative in form: it would be called on just as well if the question had been "Why are you going barefoot?". [1; 86]

The argument that the first group of negative "why" questions make up a special construction even though constructs built on it closely resemble ordinary questions includes the following points:

(1) "Real" questions with "why" can generally be paraphrased as something like "situation S exists; explain that". Thus "You are not wearing shoes; explain yourself." The "why" questions that are taken as suggestions cannot. "Why don't you be the leader?" for example cannot be paraphrased as "You don't be the leader; explain!".

(2) Instances of the construction can use "do" with "be" true also of imperatives (obligatory in the negative "don't be obtuse" and optional in the affirmative as in the gushy "do be careful"). Notice the difference in interpretation between "Why aren't you the leader?" and "Why don't you be the leader?". The first of these does permit the two-part paraphrase. ("You aren't the leader; tell me why").

(3) "Real negative "why" questions are generally negative polarity contexts negative-why-question suggestions are not. In the following two sentences notice the difference between the suggestion with "something" and the ordinary question with "anything.

"Why don't you try something new?"

"Why don't you (ever) try anything new?"

Our conclusion using the preceding observations and a few others will have to be that there exists in English a way of expressing suggestions that has the form of a negative "why" question and has some of the internal trappings of a positive suggestion. [13;26]

1.2.  Basic features of idioms

All English idioms possess basic common features.

Non-compositionality: The meaning of a collocation is not a straightforward composition of the meaning of its parts. For example the meaning of kick the bucket has nothing to do with kicking buckets. (Kick the bucket means to die.)

Non-substitutability: One cannot substitute a word in a collocation with a related word. For example we cannot say kick the pail instead of kick the bucket although bucket and pail are synonyms.

Non-modifiability: One cannot modify a collocation or apply syntactic transformations. For example John kicked the green bucket or the bucket was kicked has nothing to do with dying. (Although John kicked his bucket and John's bucket was kicked are both valid)

It is likely that every human language has idioms and very many of them; a typical English commercial idiom dictionary lists about 4 000. When a local dialect of a language contains many highly developed idioms it can be unintelligible to speakers of the parent language; a classic example is that of Cockney rhyming slang. But note that most examples of slang jargon and catch phrases while related to idioms are not idioms in the sense discussed here. Also to be distinguished from idioms are proverbs which take the form of statements such as "He who hesitates is lost." Many idioms could be considered colloquialisms [24;88].

Many idioms were first created by working people. These idioms consist of familiar terms which are associated with their own trades and occupations. Such idioms were all colloquial and informal and once confined to a limited group of people in the same trade or activity. But they proved terse vivid forcible and stimulating so that later they broke out of their bounds and gradually gained wide acceptance. As a result their early stylistic features faded in part and many became part of the common core of the language and are now used in different situations.

Despite the fact idioms are generally felt to be informal and some are colloquialisms and slang therefore inappropriate for formal style. Occasionally we find idioms which are extremely formal and used only in frozen style[8;37].

The same idiom may show stylistic differences when it is assigned different meanings. In addition slang expressions are often peculiar to social or regional varieties. Some may be used only in British setting; others may be suitable for certain groups of people. All this needs care on the part of the user in the course of production.

Apart from the stylistic features idioms manifest apparent rhetorical coloring in such respects as of phonetic manipulation lexical manipulation and figures of speech.

1. Phonetic manipulation. This manipulation includes alliteration and rhyme.

2. Lexical manipulation. Lexical manipulation embraces repetition reiteration (duplication of synonyms) and juxtaposition (of antonyms).

3. Figures of speech. Idioms are terse and vivid because of the copious images created by them. Large numbers of idioms are used in their metaphorical meaning. Since idioms are peculiar to the native culture and language many images appear exotic to foreign learners but are expressive impressive and effective. The figures of speech which can be found in idioms are: simile metaphor metonymy synecdoche personification and euphemism.

Characterized by semantic unity and structural stability idioms do not allow changes as a rule. But structural stability is not absolute. When idioms are used in actual context they do experience grammatical changes such as different forms of verbs agreement of personal pronouns and number and so on. Occasionally we may find changes in constituents of idioms: addition deletion replacement position shifting dismembering.

1. Replacement. In some idioms a constituent may be replaced by a word of the same part of speech resulting in synonymous or antonymous idioms.

 2. Addition or deletion. In some instances some constituents can be added or deleted which does not affect the meaning of the idioms.

3. Position-shifting. The positions of certain constituents in some idioms can be shifted without any change in meaning.

4. Shortening. This occasionally occurs in proverbs and sayings where only a part of them is used instead of the whole.

5. Dismembering. It is what I mean by breaking up the idioms into pieces an unusual case of use of idioms particularly in literature or popular press to achieve special effect.

As we can see idioms are very important elements of the language with a elaborate structure and various ways of expressing thoughts which can be effectively used both in literature and for some practical purposes as well [27;328].

Chapter 2.  Practical usage of the idioms in commercial advertising

2.1. Manipulating by idioms. Foregrounding

Idioms are bright short and image provoking as we mentioned before. This gives a lot of opportunities to use them for advertising and product promotion.

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