Analysis of Idiomatic Expressions Used in the Novel "The Monogram Murders" by Agatha Christie

Diploma Thesis, 2016

29 Pages, Grade: 5.00



1 Chapter one – Idioms in the English language
1.1 Idioms and Metaphors
1.2 Idioms and Clichés
1.3 Idioms and Proverbs
1.4 Idioms and Fixed Expressions
1.5 Alteration and Grammatical Rules
1.5.1 Conventional Phrases
1.5.2 Alternation of Word Order
1.5.3 Figurativeness
1.6 Phrasal Verbs
1.6.1 Addition; Deletion; Subsitution; Modification; Comparative; Passive
1.7 Transparent – Opaque Idioms
1.7.1 Transparent Idioms
1.7.2 Semi – transparent Idioms
1.7.3 Semi – Opaque Idioms
1.7.4 Opaque Idioms
1.8 Informal Idioms
1.9 Formal Idioms
1.10 Verbal Idioms
1.11 Idiomatic Pairs
1. 11 .1 Pairs of adjectives
1.11.2 Pairs of nouns
1. 11 .3 Pairs of adverbs
1. 11 .4 Pairs of verbs
1. 11 .5 Identical Pairs
1.12 Idioms used in special fields
1. 12 .1 Banking
1.12.2 Business
1. 12 .3 Buying and selling
1. 12 .5 Politics and Law
1. 12 .6 Telephoning
1.12.7 Travel
1.12.8 Health, illness, death
1.13 Idioms containing specila keywords
1. 13 .1 Animals
1. 13 .2 Clothes
1. 13 .3 Time
1.14 Idioms with Comparisons
1.15 Pure Idioms
1.16 Semi - Idioms
1.17 Literal Idioms
1.18 Interpersonal Idioms
1.19 Relational Idioms
1.20 Idioms of Encoding (Identifiable)
1.21 Idioms of Decoding (Non-Identifiable)

2 Chapter two – Analysis on the Idiomatic Expressions
2.1 Research method
2.2 Idiomatic expressions used in the book “The Monogram Murders”
2.3 Phrasal Verbs
2.4 Phrasal – Prepositional Verbs
2.5 Prepositional Phrase
2.6 Idioms with Verbs as Keywords
2.7 Idioms with Nouns as Keywords
2.8 Idioms with Adjectives as Keywords
2.9 Idiomatic Pairs

3 Chapter three – Summarized idioms and compounds
3.1 Idioms from Chapter one of Agatha Christie`s novel, The Monogram murders, Idioms meanings
3.2 Compounds from Chapter one of Agatha Christie`s novel, The Monogram murders




Knowing many languages is just like having many keys to a lock, says the great Voltaire. Learning a new language, as well as studying music requires some effort, which in turn are greatly rewarded. Learning foreign language is huge work. Vocabulary is never formed by itself from nothing. However, language is a composite and extremely changeable system that could also be used in order to transmit complex information about cultural norms, values, traditions and rules of behavior. Therefore, foreign language competencies enable deeper penetration into other cultures and lifestyles by expanding our horizons, promoting intercultural dialogue and helping us overcome personal and national restrictions. Merely the same is the function of the idioms themselves. In brief, the literal meaning refers to the same direct reference of words or sentences, or objects; at the same time the figurative sense is often used for making a description with a special effect. Moreover, as a consequence of all of the above mentioned, I must state that the meaning of the individual expressions has nothing to do with the meaning of their individual parts and it should be regarded as a whole. Nevertheless, such meaning characterizes notions such as metaphors, similes, proverbs, idioms and often grammatical facts.

The question posed in this thesis concerns the usage of idioms in the everyday language, as well as in the book “The Monogram Murders”. This paper, therefore, argues that in the non-literal language, some differences are obvious, and thus we can recognize an idiom quite easily. However, there are differences and divisibilities in the idioms themselves - some of them bear the meaning of their compounds while others are simply composed of words that cannot be used with their literal meaning, especially in the context of the idiom itself.

The language as a system of communication has both literal and often figurative meanings. However, in the historical grammaticism such a meaning was often used in order to give notions like metaphors, similes, proverbs and idioms. Most of them often carry a metaphorical sense that makes their comprehension difficult, as in fact their meaning cannot be inferred/guessed from the meaning of their constituent parts.

Taking all of the abovementioned into account, in the present thesis I will present the results of the research I have made based on the idiomatic usage in the novel of Agatha Christie “The Monogram Murders”. Due to the extensive length of my research, I will focus on the idioms that have made their impression on me and on their translation into Bulgarian.

The aim of this graduate thesis is to evaluate and describe the idiomatic expressions used in the novel “The Monogram Murders” by Agatha Christie. That kind of analysis is particularly interesting as it concerns the work of art of а famous writer that from а semantic point of view describes the ideas composing the whole book.

Having in mind all of the above mentioned, I must define the following tasks:

- Undertake a critical review of relevant literature on idioms and idiomacy in the English language;
- Identify issues relating to the type of idioms used in the novel;
- Explore the basic traits of the latter;
- Make recommendations to enhance the potential of idiomatic usage in the novel “The Monogram Murders” by Agatha Christie.

The research involved two main phases. Phase one is exploratory and involved the development of the literature on the subject. Phase two is explanatory and involved discourse analysis through different pairs of idioms, different meanings and as whole different theories on the usage of idioms.


"Life handed him a lemon, As Life sometimes will do. His friends looked on in pity, Assuming he was through. They came upon him later, Reclining in the shade In calm contentment, drinking A glass of lemonade."

Flynn, Clarence Edwin (November 1940),

The Rotarian, 57 (5), The Rotarian, p. 62

1.1 Idioms and Metaphors

First, the relation between the idioms and metaphors both of which constitute one great part of the everyday language must be discussed. Often, as Claudia Leah states “most of them have been recognized as rhetorical devices that make a comparison between two seemingly different objects”. According to King, the metaphors themselves “are describing something by using an analogy with something different”. 1 If for example, we say “the words are as clear as crystal/ clear crystal” we most probably express the idea that the words have the same clarity as crystals; or in fact, the same degree of clarity. Other examples are: New ideas blossomed in her mind / His temper boiled over. / Inner peace is a stairway to heaven / His advice is a valuable guiding light. / The wind in the trees is the voice of the spirits - are all metaphors.

Adding to the above, King (2000:216) regards the fact that the metaphors are beautiful expressions, a fact that is due mostly to their ability to explain complex and vague expressions that in turn make them sound more understandable and clear. Recent literature, in the face of Maalej (2005), suggests that idioms as well as metaphors share some common features, most of which cannot be understood literally. Actually, most of the idioms and metaphors are culturally specific aspects of a given language, so in fact, there is a correspondence between the target and source language as a result of the culturally- specific metaphors and states. As such we need to have in mind the idea of their transcendence and idiomacy.

Regarding the idea of phraseology we often use culturally-specific metaphors. Even, the so-called native language idioms and set phrases most often merge together as they often express ethnic concepts pertaining to the world view of speakers, to their national character, as well as to their traditional social relations embodying at this way the national dispositions and spiritual values of the people. Actually, all these are metaphorically presented indirectly and figuratively, which is the way the culture-specific metaphors produce idioms that have no corresponding counterparts in other language.2

1.2 Idioms and Clichés

If a comparison between the idioms and the clichés must be made, we need to state the fact that one very interesting aspect of them has been performed in the language. According to Nattinger and De Carrico (1992:32), the idioms are “complex bits of frozen syntax, the meanings of which are simply the sum of their individual parts”.3 However, most often we have that only kind of prefabricated speech as well as many kinds of formulaic fixed phrases.

This resulted in the fact that the clichés also resemble idioms as their patterns are also being relatively frozen and often they have the extended stretches of language. However, there is no doubt about the fact, that in the clichés we have made the distinctions with idioms obvious, easily understandable and often having individual content. Something more, in opposition to all of these, the idioms are often being learnt as a single unit, without considering the individual meanings of their parts.

1.3 Idioms and Proverbs

Similarly to idioms, the proverbs “have special, fixed, unchanged phrases with special, fixed, unchanged meanings.”4 Proverbs often differ from idioms in the way they display most naturally shared cultural wisdom. As a consequence, they are easily understandable and often the first part of them expresses the whole meaning. For instance, “'do not count your chickens before they have hatched” would be translated in Bulgarian as “не слагай тигана преди да си хванал рибата“. What is more, even proverbs should and may be considered as culturally-specific because of their bounding to culture and because of the fact that many proverbs have equivalents in different languages. For example, the expression “out of sight, out of mind” should sound in Bulgarian as “Далеч от очите, далеч от сърцето“.

1.4 Idioms and Fixed Expressions

In the area of idioms we have the so-called fixed expressions that we most often compare and contrast with the idioms themselves; however, all these are distinguished from the idioms and they have almost transparent meanings. Regarding, the idiom as a matter of fact, we can easily infer its meaning from the meaning of its constituents – very different from the meaning of idioms such as pull a fast one, or fill the bill , where the meaning of the whole expression is different from the meaning of its parts.

However, having in mind the idea of clarity, we need to take into account the fact that some fixed expressions such as “ladies and gentlemen” allow little or no variation in form at all. That kind of expressions closely resemble idioms, but they are often distinguished from them in their transparent meanings.

However, fixed expressions bring up in the mind of the reader all the aspects of the experience associated with the different contexts. That kind of characteristics seems to be the cause of the widespread use of fixed and semi-fixed expressions in the language.5 Despite of the fact that they have many features in common, the idioms have their own characteristics.

1.5 Alterations of grammatical rules

The idiom is a lexical unit in which the exact and whole meaning of the expression is not apparent from the meanings of its components. In most of the cases, the idiomatic expression is not grammatical; it is mostly established, accepted and used by native speakers of the language in its fixed structure and meaning.

E.g. It's ages since we met (singular with a plural noun )

According to Bell (1991), there are certain essential features that help with the idioms’ recognition. Some of these are:

- Conventional Phrases. Having in mind the idea of idioms, we need to consider the fact that they are special expressions almost known and often agreed by all the members of a particular type of community.

E.g. How are you doing? (Expression used to ask someone about his health).

Once in a blue moon (rarely, infrequently).

- Alteration of word order. Usually, the English idioms do not respect the established by the syntax word order. It may be well ahead of time (normal word order). It may well be ahead of time (probably).

- Figurativeness. As a matter of fact the basic characteristics of the idiomatic expressions are the idea that most of them are often used figuratively. Moreover, the surface structure of the idiom has a little role in understanding the meaning of the whole expression. Examples are: “to bury the hatchet', meaning to become friendly again after a disagreement, the meanings of the words 'to bury' and. 'the hatchet' are different from the meaning of the whole expression.

1.6 Phrasal Verbs

As a matter of fact, the phrasal verbs used as idioms are one of the most common types of idioms in the English language. Most of them carry idiomatic meanings that often cannot be inferred from the form, unless we already know the phrase.

E.g. After war began, the two countries broke off diplomatic relations (discontinue).

Most automobile companies bring out new modals each year (to show or introduce).

According to Baker ( 1992) a learner or a student might identify some or more of the grammatical and syntactical restrictions of the idioms, because of the fact that the meaning would often be changed:

- For instance, the addition of a single word to the idiomatic expression may alter its meaning, or in some cases often remove its idiomatic sense. If we add an adverb to the adjective red in red herring, the result will be as follows:

(*very red herring) affects the figurativeness of its meaning completely.

- the idea of the deletion of an adjective such as ”sweet”, or an article from a certain expression, have a sweet tooth, or spill the beans changes their meaning significantly. For example, (have a tooth) and (spill beans) bears no idiomatic sense at all.

- regarding the idea of the substitution we must state the fact that the idioms accept no replacement of words, even if those words are synonyms.

Having in mind, the idea of long and short, we often relate them to the basic facts of a certain situation. The adjective “long”, for example, cannot be substituted by another adjective, like “tall”, despite of the fact that they all have the same meaning.

- The idea of modification is also relevant; it defines any change in the grammatical structure of an idiom that leads to the destruction of the idiom meaning. The expression, stock and barrel lock is idiomatic no more because of the altered order of the items in the expression lock, stock and barrel completely.

- Often the idea of the comparison means adding “-er” to the adjective that in turn changes the conventional sense of the idiom, having the meaning of “to be in trouble”.

- Regarding the idiom (spill the beans) in its passive form, we have the notion that the beans were spilled and the meaning was different from the active one.

However, these restrictions affect the degree of the idiomacy of the lexical items, and often remove the degree of their figurativeness. Often, that kind of characteristics makes idioms rigid structures, almost impossible for decoding. As a matter of fact, the idioms may become vital elements in the acquisition of proficiency in a foreign language and they most often will be subject of continuous interest.


1 King, G. Good Grammar. Glasgow: Harper Collins Publishers, 2000. Print;

2 Nattinger, J.R. & De Carrico, J.S. Lexical Phrases and Language Teaching. Oxford: OUP, 1992/2009. Print;

3 Nattinger, J.R. & De Carrico, J.S. Lexical Phrases and Language Teaching. Oxford: OUP, 1992/2009. Print;

4 Ghazala, H. Translation as Problems and Solutions. (4th ed.). Syria: Dar El-Kalem El-Arabi, 1995. Print;

5 Bell, R.T. Translation and translating: theory and practice. London: Longman Group, 1991. Print;

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Analysis of Idiomatic Expressions Used in the Novel "The Monogram Murders" by Agatha Christie
New Bulgarian University
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Silvia Stamenova (Author), 2016, Analysis of Idiomatic Expressions Used in the Novel "The Monogram Murders" by Agatha Christie, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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