difference: idiom, figure of speech

Discussion in 'English Only' started by rambler, Apr 29, 2008.

  1. rambler Senior Member

    Tampa, Florida (hurricanes!)
    English Canada (blizzards!)
    Greetings, everyone!

    Generally speaking, is there any difference between 'idiom' and 'figure of speech'?

    I've been assuming that they mean the same thing, but I would like confirmation.

    Thanks in advance for your help!
  2. Gwan Senior Member

    Indre et Loire, France
    New Zealand, English
    I would say that an idiom is something in common usage in a given culture, whereas anyone can make up a figure of speech.
    But that's possibly just my personal interpretation.
  3. Cathy Rose Senior Member

    Northeast USA
    United States English
    A figure of speech includes figurative language such as metaphor, simile, and symbol.
  4. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    An idiom is can be a "sub-language", a way of speaking, or a phrase in which words do not have their usual meanings. As an example of the latter, a person can be a "runner up" without running and without being or going up, so "runner up" is an idiom.

    A figure of speech can be a metaphor, or similar substitution, saying one thing to represent another, where there is a discernible relationship between the two things. For example, in "you light up my life", we understand "light up" to mean something like but different from the use of electromagnetic radiation, and the relationship between the two can be said with different words with the same implication (e.g. "My life is brighter since you came.").

    Another kind of figure of speech is word play, playing with the sounds or structure of language or calling attention to oddities of language. For example, "Don't call me uncouth. I think of all of us, I must be the most couth" or "That would be quite a stragedy."
  5. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    They are, in most of their meanings, rather different, as Forero has suggested.

    In their closest meaning an idiom is a particular way of saying something, and a figure of speech is a turn of phrase which departs from a straightforward literal statement.

    It's going to be fine tomorrow - in English this would be a way of talking about the weather. (the French literally translated is 'it is going to make beautiful tomorrow'). Learning a language you have to learn the idiomatic way of saying things.

    Figures of speech are particular ways of turning a sentence, in many cases using images, and often aimed at catching a reader's or a listener's attention, or making a sense more vivid. Simile and metaphor are common examples, but there are lists of them, beloved of some English teachers. Here's such a list.
  6. rambler Senior Member

    Tampa, Florida (hurricanes!)
    English Canada (blizzards!)
    Is there overlap between the two? Or is one a subset of the other?
  7. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Difficult question. Figures of speech to be effective have to be idiomatic, but not all idioms are figures of speech. That makes Figures of speech sound like a subset of idioms, which I don't think they are; it's just that anything which is going to be a successful use of the language has to be idiomatic, or to quickly become so, in my view.

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