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The Nature of Idioms

A Systematic Approach

Leon Jaeger

Diversity of outward appearance is prevalent among idiomatic expressions as a matter of observation; it is also a prominent obstacle to tracing the origin of idioms as a type of linguistic objects and closing in on the nature of idiomaticity. The enquiry presented here proposes a framework for dealing with this diversity. It is guided by the approach to widespread multiplicity of forms taken in other disciplines, and it applies methods of evolutionary systematics as developed in the study of living organisms. The issues discussed on this basis, using the case of English idioms, include: the relationship between idioms and figures of speech; the part played by definable figurative patterns in the make-up of individual idioms; the respective time dimensions of those patterns and the idioms of a given language. An evolutionary classification of idioms as lexical units is put forward and a hypothesis regarding the time depth of patterns advanced.
Contents: Relevance of evolutionary systematics to the study of diversity in idioms - Applicable tools of systematic biology - Description and diagnosis of a taxon Idioms - Pertinent relationships reviewed: Idioms and words; Idioms and figures of speech; Idioms and figurative patterns - Possible time dimensions of idioms - Place of idioms in an evolutionary classification of linguistic objects - Idiomatic nomenclature and its relation to rhetoric.