Idioms in newspaper style

Yerevan State Linguistic University after V. Brusov

Course paper

Theme: Idioms in newspaper style

Yerevan 2009


Table of contents


1. Idiom general characteristics

2. Newspaper style Conclusion



english language newspapers publication


Today the English language is widely spoken throughout the world. It is the language of 21st century the language of informative technologies so while describing the English language; first of all it should be underlined that the English language is the mother tongue of the global media. To understand English clearly one should know not only its standard vocabulary but also its different styles dialects proverbs sayings phrasal verbs and idioms as they are used in any sphere: books films newspapers formal speeches. One looking through some papers magazines and journals will discover the same language to sound quite different because he will find familiar words with unfamiliar meanings. He will face idioms phrasal verbs etc.

Besides knowing the standard English perfectly one may have difficulties in understanding for instance American English as many factors such as culture the natives’ language slang migration and development of the same language apart in dissimilar conditions cause many changes in the same English language.

The focus of the research project in this paper is to represent idioms in British and American newspapers. Moreover the research shows information on history of English language newspapers as well as on idioms.

English newspaper writing dates from the 17th century. The first newspaper carried only news without comments as commenting was considered to be against the principals of journalism. By the 19th century newspaper language was recognized as a particular variety of style characterized by a specific communicative purpose and its own system of language means .

It includes a system of interrelated lexical phraseological and grammatical means serving the purpose of informing instructing and in addition of entertaining the reader. The modern newspaper carries material of extremely diverse character. On the pages of a newspaper one can find not only news and comments on it but also stories and poems crossword puzzles and the like.

Thus we can point out two main functions of the newspaper:

1.  Informative

2.  Entertaining

In order to make the article sound lively and impressive the author enriches the writing with idioms and a like.

An idiom is a phrase where the words together have meaning that is different from the dictionary definitions of the individual words. It is a phrase whose meaning cannot be made sense of from the literal definition but refers instead to a figurative meaning that is known only through common use that is an expression in the usage of the language that has a meaning that two or more that means something other the literal meanings of its individual words.

Ex. Between a rock and a hard place: stuck between two very bad options.

My coarse paper consists of the following chapters: Idioms general characteristics and the usage of idioms in newspaper style .

In the first chapter we stated the definitions of idioms by different scholars their origin the semantic and syntactic structure of idioms. We have also discussed the usage of idioms in American and British language.

In the second chapter we have discussed newspaper style its origin and features.

Nowadays this theme is rather contemporary as every learner must be prepared to meet the challenge simply because idioms occur so frequently in the spoken and written English.

1. Idiom general characteristics


Idioms are found in every language and learning them is an important aspect of mastery of language. The English language is no exception as it contains a large number of idioms which are extensively used. However because of their rigid structure and quite unpredictable meaning idioms are often considered difficult to learn. John Seed defines an idiom as words collocated together happen to become fossilized becoming fixed over time. This collocation -- words commonly used in a group -- changes the definition of each of the words that exist. As an expression the word-group becomes a team so to speak. That is the collocated words develop a specialized meaning as a whole and an idiom is born. An idiom is a group of words in which the meaning of this group is different than what would be expected. If the actual words of an idiom were understood as they appear the entire meaning would be changed and the group of words would make no sense in its context as if it was understood as to be an idiom. When a person uses an idiom the listener might take the actual meaning wrong if he or she has not heard this figure of speech before. In someone's native language idioms may be a natural part of speaking. Thus an idiom is not really considered to be set in a language. They are more in one's culture. Idioms are mostly for just one language. In some cases when an idiom is translated into another language the meaning of the idiom is changed or does not make any sense as it once did in another language. Idioms are probably the hardest thing for a person to learn in the process of learning a new language. This is because most people grow up using idioms as if their true meanings actually make sense. In the English expression «to kick the bucket« for example a listener knowing only the meaning of kick and bucket would be unable to deduce the expression's actual meaning which is to die. Although it can refer literally to the act of striking a specific bucket with a foot native speakers rarely use it that way. Another kind of idiom is the use of a single word to have multiple meanings sometimes at the same time and sometimes one meaning to be discerned from context. This can be seen in the (mostly uninflected) English language in polysemes the common use of the same word for an ability for those engaged in it the product place or time of an activity and sometimes for a verb. Idioms tend to confuse those not already familiar with them; students of a new language must learn its idiomatic expressions the way they learn its other vocabulary. Many natural language words have idiomatic origins but have been sufficiently assimilated so that their figurative senses have been lost. An idiom is generally a colloquial metaphor — a term which requires some foundational knowledge information or experience to use only within a culture where parties must have common reference.

According to Stephen Cramley idiom is defined as « a complex item which is longer than a word- form but shorter then a sentence and which has a meaning that cannot be derived from the knowledge of its component parts».

Raymond W. Gibbs suggests another definition of idiom according to which « by the term idiom the speaker should learn «dead» metaphors and speech gambits by arbitrarily pairing each phrase some non – literal meaning without any awareness of why these phrases mean what they do».

Gill Philip stated that « idioms are class of multy –word units which pose a challenge to our understanding of grammar and lexics that hasn’t yet been fully met».

Charles Hocket (1958) consider idiom «as a modern linguistic agreement on one composed of two or more constituent parts generally deemed to be words. The closer the wording of an idiom reflects a real world situation the easier it is to interpret».

However some idioms can be more universally used than others and they can be easily translated metaphorical meaning can be more easily deduced. While many idioms are clearly based in conceptual metaphors such as "time as a substance" "time as a path" "love as war" or "up is more" the idioms themselves are often not particularly essential even when the metaphors themselves are. For example "spend time" "battle of the sexes" and "back in the day" are idiomatic and based in essential metaphors..In forms like "profits are up" the metaphor is carried by "up" itself. The phrase "profits are up" is not itself an idiom. Practically anything measurable can be used in place of "profits": "crime is up" "satisfaction is up" "complaints are up" etc. Truly essential idioms generally involve prepositions for example "out of" or "turn into".

It is said that if that natural language had been designed by a logician idioms would not exist. They are indivisible units whose component cannot be varied or varied only within definable limits. Idioms are comparatively stable and semantically inseparable. The essential feature idioms is lack of motivation. This term (idiom) habitually used by English and American linguistics is very often treated as synonymous with the term phrasiological unit. Phrasiological units are habitually defined as non – motivated word – groups that cannot be freely made up in speech but are reproduced as ready – made units. Phraseological units are comparatively stable and semantically inseparable. «idioms vary in ‘transparency’: that is whether their meaning can be derived from the literal meanings of the individual words. For example make up [one’s ] mind is rather transparent in suggesting the meaning ‘reach a decision ’ while kick the bucket is representing the meaning ‘die».

A.I. Smirnitsky worked out structural classification of phraseological units comparing them with words. He points out one-top units which he compares with derived words because derived words have only one root morpheme. He points out two-top units which he compares with compound words because in compound words we usually have two root morphemes. Among one-top units he points out three structural types; a) units of the type «to give up» (verb + postposition type) e.g. to art up to back up to drop out to nose out to buy into to sandwich in etc.; b) units of the type «to be tired» . Some of these units remind the Passive Voice in their structure but they have different prepositions with them while in the Passive Voicewe can have only prepositions «by» or»with» e.g. «to be tired of» «to be interested in» «to be surprised at» etc.There are also units in this type which remind free word-groups of the type»to be young» e.g. «to be akin to» «to be aware of» etc. The difference between them is that the adjective «young» can be used as an attribute and as a predicative in a sentence while the nominal component in such units can act only as a predicative. In these units the verb is the grammar centre and the second component is the semantic centre; c) prepositional- nominal phraseological units. These units are equivalents of unchangeable words: prepositions conjunctions adverbs that is why they have no grammar centre their semantic centre is the nominal part e.g. on the doorstep (quite near) on the nose (exactly) in the course of on the stroke of in time on the point of etc. In the course of time such units can become words e.g. tomorrow instead etc. Among two-top units A.I. Smirnitsky points out the following structural types: a) attributive-nominal such as: «a month of Sundays» «grey matter» «a millstone round one’s neck» and many others. Units of this type are noun equivalents and can be partly or perfectly idiomatic. In partly idiomatic units (phrasems) sometimes the first component is idiomatic e.g. «high road» in other cases the second component is idiomatic e.g. first night.In many cases both components are idiomatic e.g. red tape blind alley bed of nail shot in the arm and many others. b) verb-nominal phraseological units e.g. «to read between the lines» «to speak BBC» «to sweep under the carpet» etc. The grammar centre of such units is the verb the semantic centre in many cases is the nominal component e.g. to fall in love. In some units the verb is both the grammar and the semantic centre e.g. not to know the ropes. These units can be perfectly idiomatic as well e.g. «to burn one’s boats» «to vote with one’s feet» «to take to the cleaners» etc.Very close to such units are word-groups of the type «to have a glance» «to have a smoke». These units are not idiomatic and are treated in grammar as a special syntactical combination a kind of aspect. c) phraseological repetitions such as : «now or never» «part and parcel» «country and western» etc. Such units can be built on antonyms e.g. «ups and downs» «back and forth»; often they are formed by means of alliteration e.g «cakes and ale» «as busy as a bee». Components in repetitions are joined by means of conjunctions. These units are equivalents of adverbs or adjectives and have no grammar centre. They can also be partly or perfectly idiomatic e.g. «cool as a cucumber» (partly) «bread and butter» (perfectly).Phraseological units the same as compound words can have more than two tops (stems in compound words) e.g. «to take a back seat» «a peg to hang a thing on» «to be a shaddow of one’s own self» «at one’s own sweet will».

The essential features of idioms are stability of the lexical components and lack of motivation. Lexical stability means that the components of set expressions are either irreplaceable like «red tape»or partly replaceable or partly replaceable within the bounds of phraseological or phraseomatic variance (a skeleton in the cupboard or a skeleton in the closet ). It is consequently assumed that unlike components of free word – groups which may vary according to the needs of communication member words of idioms are always reproduced as a single unchangeable collocations.

Phraseological units can be also classified according to the degree of motivation of their meaning. Gisburg stated that there are three types of phraseological units: a) Phreseological fusions are completely non- motivated word- groups. They are highly idiomatic and cannot be translated word for word into other languages the meaning of the components has no connection e.g. on Shank’s mare - (on foot) at sixes and sevens - (in a mess) etc; b) Phreseological unities which are partially non motivated as their meaning can usually be perceived through the metaphoric meaning of the whole phraseological unit e.g. to play the first fiddle ( to be a leader in something) old salt (experienced sailor) etc; c)Phraseological collocations are motivated but they are made up of words possessing specific lexical valency which accounts for a certain degree of stability in such word groups. e.g. cash and carry - (self-service shop) in a big way (in great degree) etc.This habitual collocations tend to become kind of clichés where the meaning of member words is to some extent dominated by the meaning of the whole group.

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