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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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10 Gestures, Postures and Facial Expressions


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10.1 Nonverbal Communication as Source Domain: Preliminary Remarks

The data I collected show that the source domain THE HUMAN BODY is the most extensive one—as elsewhere in the figurative lexicon—also in the field of widespread idioms. I distributed the WIs from this domain over three chapters, starting with idioms which contain certain gestures, postures or mimic expressions in their image. Chapters on physical sensations as source domains and further somatisms (idioms with body part constituents) will follow.

The source concept NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION has produced a plethora of idioms in various languages, i.e. idioms whose underlying cultural knowledge chiefly goes back to knowledge about semiotized gestures such as movements of the body, the hands, head, eyes, or other kinds of facial expressions and postures. Most of these gesture-based idioms are covered by the terms kinegram1 or kinetic idiom. A characteristic of these idioms is their ambiguity; ← 449 | 450 → they have several levels of linguistic and non-linguistic behavior which can be realized simultaneously or separately: on the one hand, there is the conventionalized nonverbal behavior (such as a gesture, e.g. twiddling one’s thumbs). On the other hand, there is the linguistic encoding of the extra-linguistic facts (the gesture). The utterances of the idiom (to twiddle one’s thumbs) can be accompanied by the gesture in question; however, the idiom develops its lexical meaning regardless of whether the action is performed or not. It is also possible to only perform the gesture: people may twiddle...

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