Friday, February 06, 2015


Kelly asked about idioms, wondering if they should be treated like slang or nonstandard English. Not really. An idiomatic expression is one that the people in a given language or region understand even though it makes little sense if the words are parsed literally.

If you indicate that you are avidly listening to someone, you might say, “I’m all ears.” To acknowledge your clumsiness, you could say, “I’m all thumbs.” Neither expression is to be taken at face value, and native speakers know that.

The word idiom comes from a Greek word that meant a property or a peculiarity. Some idioms are understood by everyone who speaks a particular language. Some are confined to a particular dialect. Other limitations might include geographical area, categories of people, or a given era. These days, it has expanded beyond language and may be applied to other arts. Jazz might be referred to as a musical idiom, and cubism as an art idiom.

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about a month’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.


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