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An idiom (Latin: idioma, “special property”, f. Greek: ἰδίωμα — idiōma, “special feature, special phrasing”, f. Greek: ἴδιος — idios, “one’s own”) is an expression, word, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is comprehended in regard to a common use of that expression that is separate from the literal meaning or definition of the words of which it is made.[1] There are estimated to be at least 25,000 idiomatic expressions in the English language.[2]

In linguistics, idioms are usually presumed to be figures of speech contradicting the principle of compositionality; yet the matter remains debated. John Saeed defines an “idiom” as words collocated that became affixed to each other until metamorphosing into a fossilised term.[3] This collocation — words commonly used in a group — redefines each component word in the word-group and becomes an idiomatic expression. The words develop a specialized meaning as an entity, as an idiom. Moreover, an idiom is an expression, word, or phrase whose sense means something different from what the words literally imply. When a speaker uses an idiom, the listener might mistake its actual meaning, if he or she has not heard this figure of speech before.[4] Idioms usually do not translate well; in some cases, when an idiom is translated into another language, either its meaning is changed or it is meaningless.



In the English expression to kick the bucket, a listener knowing only the meanings of kick and bucket would be unable to deduce the expression's true meaning: to die. Although this idiomatic phrase can, in fact, actually refer to kicking a bucket, native speakers of English rarely use it so. Cases like this are "opaque idioms."

Literal translation (word-by-word) of opaque idioms will not convey the same meaning in other languages – an analogous expression in Polish is kopnąć w kalendarz (“to kick the calendar”), with “calendar” detached from its usual meaning, just like “bucket” in the English phrase. In Bulgarian the closest analogous phrase is da ritnesh kambanata ("да ритнеш камбаната", “to kick the bell”); in Dutch, het loodje leggen (“to lay the piece of lead”); in Finnish, heittää lusikka nurkkaan (“to throw the spoon into the corner”); in German, den Löffel abgeben (“to give the spoon away”) or, closer to the English idiom, im [contraction of in dem] Eimer sein ("to be gone into the (waste)bucket"); in Latvian, nolikt karoti (“to put the spoon down”); in Portuguese, bater as botas (“to beat the boots”); in Danish, at stille træskoene ("to take off the clogs"); in Swedish, trilla av pinnen ("to fall off the stick"); and in Greek, τινάζω τα πέταλα ("to shake the horse-shoes"). In Brazil, the expression “to kick the bucket” (chutar o balde) has a completely different meaning (to give up something complicated, as a bucket kicked makes too much noise, demonstrating impatience).

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