An idiom is an expression or phrase whose meaning cannot be understood based on a literal definition of the words. Instead, it refers to a figurative meaning that is known only through common use. In linguistics, idioms are widely assumed to be figures of speech.
Examples of Idiomatic Expressions
- "Bread and Circuses" is a phrase used by Roman writers to deplore the decline in heroism in the Romans after the Roman Republic ceased to exist and the Roman Empire's ascendancy. The phrase is: "Two things only the people anxiously desire--bread and circuses." This was because the Roman government kept their population peaceful by providing free food and presenting huge spectacles at the Colosseum. Bread and circuses has come to mean government policies that short term solutions to public unrest.
- "That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matthew 5:45).
This familiar quote from Our Lord is understood in most of the world exactly backwards!
In the time and the place, (first century Palestine), it was the rain that would have been considered the "blessing", as the desert climate of the area already has plenty of sunshine. More sun than the usual amount was considered a "curse".
- To Bite the bullet is to adjust to unpleasant circumstances: "The extreme drought is forcing everyone to bite the bullet and use less water." Historically, before anesthesia, surgeons operating on the wounded gave them a bullet to bite to help withstand the pain. Thus, idiomatically, when one bites the bullet they are preparing themselves to courageously suffer.
- Death and taxes in the United States, is cultural shorthand for two certainties in life. The phrase is "In this world nothing is certain by death and taxes." The saying comes from Benjamin Franklin.
- Handbags at 5 yards is an expression to mean a small amount of pushing and shoving that does not amount to much. It is used particularly in relation to sport, especially rugby union.