Idioms of <fear>: An onomasiological approach

Seminar Paper, 2010

15 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1 Introduction – definition of “idiom” and problem description

2 Idioms of <fear>: An onomasiological approach
2.1 Idioms and Motivation
2.1.1 Predictability and Motivation of meaning
2.1.2 Idiom and Metaphor
2.1.3 Definition of the emotion fear and difference between FEAR and ANXIETY
2.2 Kinds of Motivation of idioms of <fear>
2.2.1 Metaphorical Motivation
2.2.2 Metonymical Motivation

3 Conclusion

4 Bibliography

1 Introduction – definition of “idiom” and problem description

By definition, “idioms are not expected to behave linguistically as phrases but as long words” (Moreno 2007:177) and are not awaited to allow internal transformation. Idioms appear as isolated lexical units. They are linguistic expressions and involve metaphors, metonymies, pairs of words, idioms with it, similes, sayings, phrasal verbs, grammatical idioms and they “are assumed to be a matter of language alone” (Kövecses 2002:199).

According to the Oxford Dictionary of Idioms (ODI), the English word idiom derives from the Greek word idios meaning “private, peculiar to oneself”. An idiom “is a form of expression or a phrase peculiar to a language and approved by the usage of that language, and it often has a signification other than its grammatical or logical one” (ODI 1999). These expressions have become rigid within the language. They are used in a fixed way without reference to the literal meaning of their component words.

The common phenomenon that the meaning of an expression is difficult or even impossible to deduce from the meaning of the components it is composed of is called Idiomaticity (Fiedler 2007:22). The meaning of the components is difficult to derive because of the arbitrariness in form and meaning. However, if idioms were arbitrary, they would not be motivated. The aim of this term paper is to observe the motivation of idioms of <fear> and thereby determine that idioms are not arbitrary. Therefore, chapter 2.1 presents an overview of idioms and motivation, especially metaphorically motivated expressions (chapter 2.1.2). Prediction and motivation will be distinguished in chapter 2.1.1. The emotion <fear> and the difference between this term and the related word <anxiety> will be described in chapter 2.1.3 to simplify the importance of distinguishing the different meanings of terms of <fear>. Eventually, the onomasiological approach will be discussed in chapter 2.2. Therefore, I will give examples of idioms of <fear> and <anxiety> in English as well as in German and observe their kinds of motivation. According to Kövecses (2002:202), the motivation of idioms arises from metaphor, metonymy and conventional knowledge. This sentence shall present my hypothesis for this term paper.

Summarizing, an idiom “is defined as a complex lexical item which is longer than a word form but shorter than a sentence and which has a meaning that cannot be derived from the knowledge of its component parts” (Gramley/Pätzold 2004:55).

2 Idioms of <fear>: an onomasiological approach

2.1 Idioms and Motivation

A lot of linguists describe idioms as a single lexical item, but this view neglects the significant connection between the components. Thus, idioms are “a metaphorically motivated compound unit established as a fixed expression” (Hirotoshi:35). Concerning the definition of idioms it seems that the question of motivation is no object. However, idioms are systematically related and “many, or perhaps most, idioms are products of our conceptual system and not simply a matter of language” (Kövecses 2002:201), because it is not possible to characterize the syntactic properties and meanings of idioms one by one (ebd.200). Lakoff (1987:380f.) states that idioms are the product of encyclopaedic knowledge imbedded in our conceptual system; as a consequence, “idioms are not an arbitrarily combined string of words” (Hirotoshi:35). Hence, the meanings of idioms are motivated and not arbitrary, so the question of motivation should be posed.

Idioms are conceptual motivated because their meaning seems natural to us “because […] metaphor, metonymy, or conventional knowledge links the non-idiomatic meaning of the constituent words to the idiomatic meaning of these words taken together” (Kövecses 2010:324).

2.1.1 Predictability and Motivation of meaning

According to Gibbs and Nayak (1989:104), the key to predictability is “the addressers’ assumption regarding the ways in which the meanings of the components within an idiom contribute to the overall idiomatic sense” (Horitoshi:43). It is necessary to distinguish the weak notion motivation from the strong notion prediction. A motivated meaning of an idiom does not imply predictability. For example, the idiom kick the bucket means to die, but the components kick, the, bucket cannot be associated with the overall meaning to die. According to Horitoshi (44), bucket does not represent a pail because the term is derived from the old French buquet, which means “a long bar that is used to suspend game while hunting”. Probably, “the scene of animals hung head downward from a bar” (ebd.44) is imaged to the domain of DEATH. The idiom kick the bucket itself cannot evoke the death domain; hence, it cannot be semantically analyzed. The context is important to understand the idiom. In the case of kick the bucket it is complicated “to predict the relationship between the components and its figurative meaning” (ebd.44), because we are not normally invested with the necessary etymological knowledge.

2.1.2 Idiom and Metaphor

Conceptual metaphors and symbolisation can create an idiomatic expression. Conceptual metaphors arise from the comparison of abstract concepts to more concrete ones (Hirotoshi:36). To explain conceptual metaphors it is beneficial to use an example. The concept of to spill the beans is “from within to without”, because both the original scene and the extended figurative sense have this concept in common (ebd.37). Similar idioms which are motivated by the same concept are for example let the cat out of the bag, or come out of the closet. This indicates that these idioms are on a conceptual level with to spill the beans. According to Horitoshi (37),”conceptual metaphors established at a primitive level are the foundations of various idiomatic expressions”.

Another way to explain conceptual metaphors is the concept of anger from Lakoff (1987:381; Kövecses 2002:205). In his opinion, the following concepts demonstrate the metaphorical comprehension of <anger>: MIND IS A CONTAINER and ANGER IS A HOT FLUID IN A CONTAINER. Conceptual metaphors act as motivations for idiomatic expressions, states Hirotoshi (38). They are important for the addresser as well as for the addressee to represent almost the same images and meanings. Thus, conceptual metaphors are the basis for the interpretation of idioms (ebd.38). Summarized, “when one conceptual domain is understood in terms of another conceptual domain, we have a conceptual metaphor” (Kövecses 2010:324). Between the domains exists a systematic mapping.

To seize on the example to spill the beans, I want to explain the way of symbolization. The mentioned example evokes the image of pulses in a container being dispersed (Taylor 2002:543). Actually, the beans are meant to be confidentiality and spilling them out of the container is referred to the exposure of a secret. Obviously, “the idioms in this category are effectively motivated by the original scene” (Hirotoshi:36). Figurative expressions are formed by metaphorical mapping from the source domain, in other words, an original scene to the target domain.

Another mechanism that creates idiomatic expressions is metonymy. If a word is substituted for another expression with which it is closely associated, we speak about metonymy. “The sorts of associative relation which support metonymy are varied” (Fiedler 2007:191). Examples are: PART for WHOLE (I saw familiar faces), CONTAINER for CONTAINED ENTITY (He drank the whole bottle), or INSTITUTION for PEOPLE (The college was upset). The idea of conceptual metonymy is also important for this term paper. I would like to explain this term with the words of Kövecses (2010:324):


Excerpt out of 15 pages


Idioms of <fear>: An onomasiological approach
University of Erfurt
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
462 KB
Quote paper
Sarah Nitschke (Author), 2010, Idioms of <fear>: An onomasiological approach, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Idioms of <fear>: An onomasiological approach

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free