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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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10.1 Widespread Idioms in Fables, Folk Narrations and Legends: Introduction It is a well-known fact that various types of “Simple Forms”1 such as fables and genres of verbal folklore like fairy tales, legends, riddles, etc., on the one hand, and proverbs, on the other, are often inextricably interrelated with each other, making it impossible to decide which form is the primary form. The interrelation between narratives and their “zero-grade” truncated forms (German Schwundstufe) in proverbs is a big subject (cf. Röhrich 1960; Mieder 1986). The mutual relationship between proverbial phrases and fables or other narratives has been a matter of intensive semiotic and intertextual research. A narrative in its simplest form can be identical with a proverb, with the relationship going in both directions: on the one hand, the truncated fable can live on in a proverb (or an idiom), and, on the other hand, fables have been derived from already existing proverbs, from antiquity on up to early modern times. It is not always clear whether it was the narrative or the non-narrative form that existed first (cf. Perry 1959; van Thiel 1971; Permjakov 1979; Grzybek 1984, 1989, 1994; Carnes 1988, 1994). Oral and literal traditions cannot be kept apart in most cases (cf. Röhrich 1989). Among the large number of widespread idioms that developed by means of intertextuality, the group of idioms that are rooted in popular narratives is rather small. We already examined widespread idioms like (A 12) or (A 13) that can be...

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