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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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12 The Human Body


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12.1 Introduction to Somatic Figurative Units

From the very beginning of phraseological research there has been a time-honored tradition of analyzing idioms containing body part constituents, so-called somatisms or somatic phrasemes, and it has been well-known for a long time that the human body with its parts and internal organs is an extensive, if not the largest source domain of the figurative lexicon of many languages.1 Somatisms have also been a favorite topic of cross-linguistic studies—from the earliest times to the present day.2 ← 533 | 534 →

In two realms, these many studies yielded almost the same results: Firstly—long before the investigations into widespread idioms—it was recognized that there were strikingly close similarities among somatisms in many languages. Dozens of identical or nearly identical idioms have been recorded for various pairs of languages and it is not surprising that among them many widespread idioms can be found. Secondly, due to the similarity of the images of many somatic idioms in two or more languages, numerous “false friends” have been discovered within the linguistic data of those studies.3 These two findings have had a powerful impact on the study of widespread idioms. In this chapter, I cannot aim at completeness but only treat individual examples in detail since the number of widespread idioms in this area is likely to be much greater. At the same time the problem of potential “false friends” must always be considered: intensive individual linguistic studies are required to...

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