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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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5 Special Concepts of the World


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5.1 Beliefs and Religious Ideas; Life and Death: Introductory Remarks

Two different domains are treated together in this chapter because they share similar characteristics and can be subsumed under the topic “Special concepts of the world”. First, there are widespread idioms that are based on popular beliefs and ideas regarding supernatural beings and forces. In addition, there are idioms that are fixed in images of life and death. One element shared by both domains is a tendency to euphemize. There are parallels between ancient conceptions of the DEVIL, for example, whose name was not to be pronounced, and ideas about DYING and DEATH. Speakers were supposed to avoid talking about them directly, leading to a need for euphemizing circumlocutions. Another common feature is the phraseological productivity at both conceptual levels of these domains: HELL and DEVIL are richly elaborated source domains in many of the languages I have studied thus far; similarly, the target domain DYING and DEATH has produced rich idiomatic material in most of these languages.

Section 5.2, entitled Folk Belief, Superstition, Religion (K 1 – K 16), first addresses idioms that go back to ancient popular beliefs and conceptions of the world within the European area. They mainly reflect fragments of the medieval ← 179 | 180 → intellectual world including key concepts such as belief in evil forces and the devil, in God’s omnipotence and God’s judgment, fate and supernatural power. Secondly, this group includes widespread idioms which originate in superstitions found in...

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