Why do idioms exist?

  • Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    That's a bit like why not reducing all the vocabulary to the 65 words called semantic primes? Well, mainly because even if we could express everything with just 65 words by means of literal definitions, it would take us more time than just using a new word. Which is why news words and idioms are invented every year.
     

    Dymn

    Senior Member
    Also fixed expressions seem more autoritative than literally saying what you mean. "Time is important" is just an opinion, "time is money" means your views are supported by popular wisdom.
     

    Roxxxannne

    Senior Member
    American English (New England and NYC)
    Also fixed expressions seem more autoritative than literally saying what you mean. "Time is important" is just an opinion, "time is money" means your views are supported by popular wisdom.
    And 'time is money' expresses something about time that is different from 'time is important.' For one thing, it tells you something about the role of money in the speaker's culture.
     

    Sobakus

    Senior Member
    A fundamental part of human language, and human nature as well, is creativity. Without the capacity to create new meanings no language is possible in our universe. It would only be possible in a static universe where nothing new is created and everything in existence already has a word for it that describes it fully and comprehensively such that nothing can possibly be added.

    Even in such a static unverse, a creativity-free language would be massively inefficient: idioms combine a lot of meaning into a few words, and without them one would have to comprehensively describe the entire network of meanings and associations that underlie them.

    Human creativity also manifsts itself on the receiving end, in the love of interpreting meanings and solving problems. The meaning of idioms isn't fixed hard and fast, but is open to interpretation, so their hearer/reader is involved in a creative process. A language without idioms would require a species that not only has no love for creative interpretation and problem-solving, but a strong aversion, because even with a neutral attitude, idioms would still spontaneously arise for reasons of efficiency and compressing meaning.
     

    Mahaodeh

    Senior Member
    Arabic, PA and IA.
    Also fixed expressions seem more autoritative than literally saying what you mean. "Time is important" is just an opinion, "time is money" means your views are supported by popular wisdom.
    Not to split hairs, but is time is money actually an idiom?

    My understanding is that an idiom is a statement that has a meaning that departs from the literal meaning of the words. So splitting hairs is an idiom because I’m not actually splitting hairs, but there is a meaning understood by using these two words that actually has nothing to do with hair, whether split or not.

    On the other hand time is money is in fact literal since wasting time costs money. Even when money is not used literally and used only as a metaphor for cost, money remains literal. At least I’m unaware of any meaning these three words have that departs significantly from the literal meanings of the individual words.

    I would say that time is money is a proverb.

    Having said that, I believe that what Subakus said applies to proverbs, adages, sayings, metaphors, similes …etc. as well as idioms.
     

    Welsh_Sion

    Senior Member
    Welsh - Northern
    You've already demonstrated that we can't be literal in your opening title.

    'Existing' pre-supposes some living, extant state. And it's difficult to think of something as inanimate as an idiom as 'existing', unless we are thinking non-literally, that is, metaphorically, and comparing their 'existence' to our own of breathing and regular heart beats.

    Idioms 'are' all around us - and in all languages. How bland and boring our own human 'existence' would be if we were always 'literal', even assuming we could be.

    This should lead on to a discussion about the inappropriateness of 'literal', as well, I feel.

    How many of us are literally 'glued to our seats watching this thread develop'? (The latter part of this sentence also to be taken non-literally - threads don't really develop like plants and animals and humans. They're just organic pieces of prose thrown together but those of us having a passion for (learning) languages and about language more generally.
     

    Sobakus

    Senior Member
    On the other hand time is money is in fact literal since wasting time costs money.
    What you write is in fact a perfect example of how ubiquotous idioms and metaphors are, and how invisible to the speakers. “Time is money” is a prototypical example of a metaphor as well as an idiom – it's amply discussed in the literature on conceptual metaphors. “wasting time costs money” is likewise a metaphor. Time is a dimension, like space (distance). You cannot give or take time, touch it or see it. Any manipulations with time that you can conceive of are metaphorical.
    I would say that time is money is a proverb.
    Quoth Wikipedia:
    The difference is that an idiomatic phrase involves figurative language in its components, while in a proverbial phrase the figurative meaning is the extension of its literal meaning. Some experts classify proverbs and proverbial phrases as types of idioms.
     

    Sobakus

    Senior Member
    'Existing' pre-supposes some living, extant state. And it's difficult to think of something as inanimate as an idiom as 'existing', unless we are thinking non-literally, that is, metaphorically, and comparing their 'existence' to our own of breathing and regular heart beats.
    I'm afraid this isn't true – the main meaning of exist has nothing to do with being alive or an organism. It means “to be (there), have being or reality, to be found” and is applied to any features of objective reality, especially those that can be a subject of scientific inquiry, like the Universe, stars, living beings and elementary particles. In contrast to what you describe with “breathing and regular heart beats,” existing is seen as static and an either/or fact, not a dynamic analog process.

    The meaning of exist “to live under difficult conditions” is figurative. The original meaning in Latin is “to come out, stand out, appear”.
     
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    Terio

    Senior Member
    Français (Québec)
    And 'time is money' expresses something about time that is different from 'time is important.' For one thing, it tells you something about the role of money in the speaker's culture.
    From a logical point of view, money is time means exactly the same:Try to convince a businessman or a politician...
     

    Dymn

    Senior Member
    At least I’m unaware of any meaning these three words have that departs significantly from the literal meanings of the individual words.
    Time costs money would be correct, but time is not literally money. Also, I don't know how this expression is used in English, but in Spanish the equivalent means that time is precious, not in an economic sense, for example it's something you could say so that somebody spends more time with their family. Maybe it's because the expression is el tiempo es oro "time is gold", so the usage is obviously metaphoric.
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    means that time is precious, not in an economic sense, for example it's something you could say so that somebody spends more time with their family.
    Well, that's a very Southern European way of seeing things. :D
     

    99bottles

    Senior Member
    Greek
    To prevent me from learning English and writing my books. The universe doesn't want me to succeed in becoming an author.
     

    Roxxxannne

    Senior Member
    American English (New England and NYC)
    To prevent me from learning English and writing my books. The universe doesn't want me to succeed in becoming an author.
    :D
    There are gazillions of Greek idiomatic expressions that make no literal sense whatsoever to an English speaker, e.g. κάνω τη πάπια: literally 'I make/do the duck', which apparently means 'I keep quiet so as to not get in trouble.'
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    :D
    There are gazillions of Greek idiomatic expressions that make no literal sense whatsoever to an English speaker, e.g. κάνω τη πάπια: literally 'I make/do the duck', which apparently means 'I keep quiet so as to not get in trouble.'
    And the funny thing is how they can be false friends too. To 'do the duck' in Catalan (fer l'ànec) means to drown, to die. :p
     
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