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Lexicon of Common Figurative Units

Widespread Idioms in Europe and Beyond. Volume II


Elisabeth Piirainen

The book continues the work of Widespread Idioms in Europe and Beyond (2012) and also brings new insights into the similarities of the European languages. Using comprehensive data from 78 European and some non-European languages, another 280 “widespread idioms” have been analyzed in terms of their distribution and origins. They are arranged according to their source domains (for example, performing arts, sports, history, war, technology, money, folk belief, medical skills, gestures, and nature). Among them are very modern layers of a common figurative lexicon, including quotes of personalities of recent times. Thorough research on the sources of these idioms goes beyond the entries in relevant reference works and brings new and unpredictable results. All of the data in this book adds new knowledge to the fields of language and culture. We now know which Europe-wide common idioms actually constitute a “Lexicon of Common Figurative Units” and which chronological and cultural layers they may be assigned to. The question about the causes of the wide spread of idioms across many languages now can partly be answered.

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1 Introduction


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1.1 Objectives and Terminology

Similarities among a variety of European languages—even geographically and culturally distant languages—have been well-known for a long time. They have been studied in the framework of renowned large-scale multilingual European research projects at different linguistic levels, be it phonetics/ phonology, morphology, syntax or lexis. The level of the figurative lexicon, however, has almost entirely been excluded from Europe-wide linguistic studies for a long time. Phraseology research produced comprehensive work on cross-linguistic comparisons of figurative units but opened to a Europe-wide approach only recently. The book “Widespread Idioms in Europe and Beyond: Toward a Lexicon of Common Figurative Units”1 (2012) may be considered a first attempt to look at conventional figurative units in terms of the linguistic situation of Europe as a whole. It has been shown that the similarities in the realm of a figurative lexicon of European languages are much greater than previously thought. That book may be seen as a predecessor of the present study. ← 5 | 6 →

This book presents multilingual research on conventional figurative units which are spread across a large number of European languages in a similar lexical structure and figurative core meaning. I coined the term widespread idioms (abbreviated WIs) for these particular figurative units. The results presented in this book go back to the large-scale project “Widespread Idioms in Europe and Beyond”. In Section 1.2, I briefly outline this project and its theoretical foundation and look at the definition of...

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