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Widespread Idioms in Europe and Beyond

Toward a Lexicon of Common Figurative Units


Elisabeth Piirainen

This groundbreaking book in theoretical and empirical phraseology research looks at Europe’s linguistic situation as a whole, including 74 European and 17 non-European languages. The occurrence of idioms that actually share the same lexical and semantic structure across a large number of languages has never been demonstrated so clearly before Widespread Idioms in Europe and Beyond. This book answers significant questions regarding hitherto vague ideas about the phraseological similarities between European languages and their cultural foundation, ranging from intertextuality, aspects of European mental, material, and social culture, to culturally based perception of natural phenomena. This inventory, which analyzes 190 out of a total of 380 widespread idioms and includes maps, is valuable for academic teaching and further research in the fields of phraseology and figurative language, areal and contact linguistics, and European cultural studies.


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9.1 Widespread Idioms and Proverbial Units of Medieval and Reformation Times: Introduction As has been set out in Chapter 5, a large number of idioms that are in general use in many present-day European languages have their roots in proverbial units that were already common in classical antiquity. The many editions of Erasmus of Rotterdam’s “Adagia”, the famous collection of explanatory Greek and Latin 1 proverbs and proverbial phrases and commentaries in Latin helped greatly to spread these expressions all over Europe. The first edition from 1500 included 818 Greek and Latin phrases. His work from 1536 entit- led “Adagiorum Chiliades” (“Thousands of Adages”) swelled to 4,251 mo- nographs on proverbs and proverbial sayings (Gibson 2010: 9). This chapter will again deal with widespread idioms that originate from old proverbs and proverbial phrases and were already in circulation in the past. This time, however, we will look at expressions that have predominant- ly been documented only since post-classical times, starting from the early Middle Ages through to the period of Reformation and Renaissance. These units most probably go back to oral folk traditions, and their true origins remain unknown. 2 The use of these idioms cannot be attributed to particular authors (as opposed to the classical idioms dealt with in Section 5.4). At a time when scholars of different European countries used Latin as their lingua franca, they were partly passed on in Medieval Latin, as translations of ver- nacular proverbial sayings. In other instances, they were already written...

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