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Lexicology. An introduction Word formation Multi-word units in English Word meaning. Sense relations between words Sources of the English vocabulary Lexical strata in present-day English


Lexicology = a branch of linguistics, the science of words; the part of linguistics dealing with the vocabulary of a language and the properties of words as the main units of language. (Bejan 1981) an area of language study concerned with the nature, meaning, history and use of words and word elements and often also with the critical description of lexicography (Mc Arthur 1992) the study of lexis, understood as the stock of words in a given language, i.e. its vocabulary or lexicon (Amvela 2007)


Word = a minimum free form (Bloomfield 1926), i.e. the smallest meaningful linguistic unit that can be used independently to convey meaning A) orthographic words = the strings of letters (and orthographic signs) occurring between two blank spaces in written language Not always reliable definition see clitic groups (host word + clitic): mother s, Jane s, I ll, they d, aren t, etc. B) Phonological words = words in speech Less easy to recognize than written words C) Words as vocabulary items Words as lexemes = the abstract entities, with different variants, that are found in dictionaries; Words as word-forms = the actual variants of the lexeme eg. Ring: ring, rang, rung, rings, ringing Good: Child: D) Grammatical words = lexical items with a particular meaning and certain morphological and syntactic characteristics The same word-form of a lexeme may be used as different grammatical words = syncretism eg. She paid the telephone bill yesterday. / She has paid the telephone bill. I saw a sheep and a deer. / She saw two sheep and two deer. Grammatical words are characterized by mobility and by stability or internal cohesion




The word redifined: The term word denotes the basic unit of a given language resulting from the association of a particular meaning with a particular group of sounds [and letters] capable of a particular grammatical employment (Bejan 1981)



Waiter, do you serve shrimps? We serve anyone, sir. We don t mind what size you are!


A) Morpheme = the smallest unit that has meaning and serves a grammatical function in a language. Morphemes are the atoms with which words are built (Katamba 2005: 29) B) Allomorphs = the variants of a morpheme that are used to form new words - eg. im-, in-, il-, ir- are variants of the same morpheme, employed on phonetic principles, according to the starting sound of the element to which they are added: im-possible, in-cautious, il-literate, ir-responsible; (e)s, the marker of the regular plural of nouns, is also determined by phonological factors so that it may be realized under the form of one of the following allomorphs: /s/ in hats, /z/ in games and /iz/ in oranges. - The morphemes that constitute the core for the formation of new words are less sensitive to the phonetic environment and more so to the grammatical context in which they occur: the allomorphs drove and driven correspond, respectively, to the past simple and the past perfect of the morpheme drive. Free morpheme = morpheme that can appear independently in an utterance and has a meaning of its own: drive, sing, loving, beautifully Bound morpheme = morpheme that cannot be used independently and does not have a notional or full meaning, but a functional or derivative one: pre-, im-, -er, -ly

C) Root = the necessary and sufficient structural constituent for a word to exist, the part common to all the words in a word family: care in the words careful, careless, carelessness, caring Free roots = roots equivalent to a word whose meaning they carry into all the new words they help to form: civil in civility, region in regional or person in personify Bound roots = roots that cannot be used independently: sanct in sanctify, tox in toxic or loc in local

D) Affix = bound morpheme that is added to the root Prefix = affix added before the root Suffix = affix added after the root Infix = affix added within the root Derivational affix = affix that helps to form new words: ful in beautiful , un- in unimportant Inflectional affix = affix that helps to build new grammatical forms of the same basic word, according to the syntactic environment in which this word is used: s in writes helps to form the present tense form of the verb to write , when it is the predicate of a third person singular subject; -ed in loved is used for the formation of the past and past participle of to love , while er in cleverer is added to change the positive degree of the adjective clever into its comparative of superiority

E) Stem = the part of the word to which an affix is added in order to form a new word: in the word carelessness, care is the root, -less and ness are affixes, and careless is the stem. Simple stem = a stem that coincides with the root of the new word: small in smaller Derived stem = a stem which contains other elements as well, affixes or other simple stems in combination with which a compound word is formed:. im-probable in improbability or air-condition in air-conditioning).


The most productive means by which new words are brought into being in a language are:

derivation compounding conversion

Derivation = the process of forming new words in a language by means of adding prefixes and/or suffixes to roots or stems. A) Prefixation = the process by which prefixes are added to roots in order to form new words Prefixes have a functional meaning = they do not change the grammatical class of the root to which they are added, but change its meaning. Therefore, prefixes are classified according to the meaning they convey, as follows:


i) negative prefixes, by far the largest group of prefixes in English, express various shades of negative meaning:

de-/dis- ( not , the contrary of ): depress, disapprove, dishonour; in-/im-/ir-/il- (allomorphs of the same bound morpheme that are employed according to the initial sound of the root or stem to which they are added not , the contrary of ): insane, impossible, irrelevant, illiterate; non- ( not ): non-stop, non-resident, nonsense, nonconformist. The basic word stock of English includes a number of quite old words built with the prefix non-, in which the prefix is not identifiable in full: nowhere, nothing, never, nobody, neither, nor, etc. mis ( bad(ly) , wrong(ly) ): mislead, mistrust, misfortune, misunderstanding;

un- ( the opposite of , not ): unfair, unwise, unexpected, unbalanced; mal- ( bad(ly) , wrong(ly) ): malfunctioning, malformation, malpractice.

ii)) reversative and privative prefixes:

un- ( to deprive of

to reverse the action , to release from ): unveil, unlock, unleash;

de-/dis- ( to reverse the action , to get rid of , to deprive of ): defrost, decentralize, deforestation, disconnect, discoloured iii) prefixes of degree and size:

arch- ( supreme , chief , most important ): archenemy, archbishop; hyper- ( extra ): hypersensitive, hypertension, hyperinflation; mini- ( little , small ): miniskirt, minicomputer, mini-vacation; over- ( too much ): overreact, overdone, overdressed, overconfident; out- ( more , better , faster , longer ): outnumber, outstanding, outrun, outlive; super- ( above , more than , better , bigger ): supernatural, superhuman, superman, supermarket; sub- ( less than ): subhuman, substandard, subnormal; under- ( too little ): underdeveloped, underestimate, undercharge; ultra- ( beyond , extremely ): ultrasonic, ultraviolet, ultra-revolutionary.

iv) prefixes of attitude:

co- ( accompanying , with , together ): cooperation, coordination, co-author, co-produce; pro- ( for , on the side of ): pro-democratic, pro-European; anti- ( against ): antiwar, antifreeze, anticlimax, anti-imperialist; counter- ( against , in opposition ): counteract, counter-productive, counterblast v) prefixes of time and order: ante- ( before ): antenatal, anteroom, antediluvian, antepenultimate; fore- ( before ): forearm, forehead, foretell, fore-mentioned; pre- ( before ): prehistoric, preheat, precondition, pre-election; ex- ( former ): ex-wife, ex-president, ex-friend; post- ( after ): post-war, post-date, post-position;

vi) prefixes of space, direction and location (the majority of these prefixes originate in prepositions and adverbs of place that still function as such in English):

in- ( going in , being in ): influx, income, intake, inmate, out- ( going out , being out ): outflow, output, outdoors; up- ( in an ascending direction ): uphill, uptown, upstairs; down- ( in a descending direction ): downhill, downstairs, downfall; super- ( over , above ): superstructure, superellevation; sub- ( under ): subway, suborbital, subsoil; inter- ( between , among ): international, interface, interactive; trans- ( across , into another place ): transatlantic, transmigration, transcontinental. vii) the iterative prefix re- ( one more time , again ): reread, rebuild, redecorate, reconsider.


English prefixes have the following main origins: i) Germanic:

be-: besprinkle, bewilderment, become; for-: forbid, forbear; mis-: mislead, misinterpret, miscalculate; out-: outlive, outgrow, outstanding; over-: overeat, overloaded, overhear; un-: unfriendly, uncommon, unbelievable; up-: upright, upshot, uptake; with-: withstand, withdraw, withhold;

ii) Latin:

bi-: bimonthly, bifocal, bidirectional; de-: decompose, deconstruct, declutch; dis-: disagree, disadvantage, discontinue; em-/en-: empower, enslave; inter-: interlocutor, intergalactic, intercontinental; non-: non-success, non-resistant, non-payment; pre-: prerequisite, prepaid, preadmission; pro-: pro-ally, pro-British; super-: superman, superfrequency, superheated; trans-: transformer, transmutation, transpose iii) Greek:

a-/an-: anomalous, analphabet; anti-: antibody, antithesis, anticlerical; hyper-: hypercritical, hypermetrical.


According to their productivity, English prefixes may be classified into: i) productive prefixes (involved into the process of new words creation at the present stage in the development of English):

re-: retake, rethink, rewind, review; un-: unbelievable, unnecessary, undo; non-: non-verbal, non-stop; de-: deconstruct, denominalization, defrost; dis-: disengage, dismiss, disconnect; out-: outome, outright, outstanding; re-: reconstruct, refine, re-establish; mis-: misunderstanding, misfire, mislaid.

ii) semi-productive prefixes (at present, relatively inactive in the formation of new words in English):

co-: co-author, co-editor, cooperation; counter-: counteractive, counteract, counterattack; sub-: subway, submarine, sublet; up-: upward, update, upload; vice-: vice-president, vice-rector; iii) unproductive prefixes (at present, no longer used in the process of forming new words in English, though they might have been productive at earlier stages of the evolution of the language):

be-: beloved, becalm, besprinkle; with-: withholder, withdraw, withstand. Classification of English prefixes according to the phonological changes they trigger:

i) non-neutral = prefixes that cause phonological changes in the roots they are added to ii) neutral = prefixes that do not cause phonological changes in the roots they are added to (most of the English prefixes)


B) Suffixation = the process of adding suffixes to roots or stems in order to form new words Unlike prefixes, suffixes change the morphological class of the roots or stems to which they are added. Therefore, their classification is not made according to semantic criteria, but according to morphological ones, as follows: nominal suffixes nouns may be formed from other nouns, from adjectives or verbs:

a1) suffixes denoting the doer of the action:  -er (generally, it forms names of occupations from the corresponding verbs): driver, teacher, singer, advisor;  -ster: gangster;  -eer/-ier: profiteer, pamphleteer, gondolier;  -ist: typist, artist;  -ent/-ant: student, attendant a2) feminine suffixes (in English gender morphological markers are quite rare; however, there are cases when the feminine is formed from the masculine of nouns by means of suffixes):  -ette: usherette;  -ess: lioness, duchess, actress;  -ix: aviatrix;  -euse: chauffeuse.

a3) suffixes denoting nationality:  -an/-ian: Korean, Hungarian, Estonian;  - ard: Spaniard.  -ese: Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese

a4) diminutive suffixes:


-ette: kitchinette; -let: booklet; -y/-ie: daddy, auntie

a5) abstract noun-forming suffixes:


-ing: breaking, reading, asking; -age: coverage, mileage, tonnage; -ance/-ence: appearance, assistance, experience; -ism/-icism: criticism, Catholicism, post-modernism, deconstructivism; -hood: boyhood, neighbourhood, childhood; -dom: freedom, martyrdom; -ment: nourishment; -ness/-ess: happiness, tenderness, prowess; -ty: certainty, honesty; -ship: kinship, friendship, leadership

adjectival suffixes adjectives may be formed from other adjectives, from nouns or from verbs:


-ish: tallish, foolish, greenish, Turkish; -y/ly: cloudy, silky, manly, brotherly, womanly; -less: sugarless, harmless, flawless; -ful: joyful, useful, delightful, eventful; -ed: wooded, pointed, horned; -able/-ible: readable, understandable, adaptable, accessible; -ive: progressive, possessive, aggressive; -some: handsome, cumbersome, tiresome; -er, -est (for the formation of the comparative of superiority and the superlative degrees of comparison)

verbal suffixes verbs are formed mainly from nouns and adjectives. In modern English, the number of verb-forming suffixes is rather reduced; however, those that are still in use today are highly productive and therefore, extremely frequent:

-ise/-ize: utilize, fertilize, Latinize, organize; -ify: intensify, simplify, diversify -en: brighten, enlighten, deepen, widen.

adverbial suffixes adjectives mostly:


derived adverbs are formed by adding suffixes to nouns and

ly (added to most of the adjectives): happily, strangely, badly, beautifully; -wise: likewise, clockwise, crabwise; -ward/-wards: northward(s), westward(s), backward(s), foreward(s).

numeral suffixes:

-teen (it generates the cardinal numerals between 13 and 19): thirteen, fifteen, eighteen, nineteen; -ty (it is used to form the cardinal numeral designating multiples of 10): thirty, forty, sixty, ninety; -th (it is the suffix forming ordinal numbers others than one, two, three and those that have these in their structure; it may be appended either to simple numerals, to already derived ones or to compound ones): fourth, sixth, twentieth, fiftieth, twenty-fourth, eighty-seventh.


English suffixes are of the following main origins: Germanic:


-er: Londoner, worker, poker; -art: drunkard, braggart; -hood: boyhood, brotherhood; -ing: learning, reading, interesting; -man: gentleman, townsman; -ness: hardness, cleverness; -ship: friendship, authorship; -ed: wooded, added; -some: handsome, twosome; -ward: backward, foreward; -wise: likewise, clockwise; -en: darken, deepen, whiten; -ish: selfish, reddish, boyish; -y: dirty, silky, hairy; -ly: manly, slowly, hardly; -th: tenth, growth.

Romance (Latin, French and Italian):


-ette: kitchinette, usherette, novelette; -or: actor, inspector; -ee: employee, payee, trainee; -ess: lioness, actress, hostess; -age: marriage, breakage; -al: arrival, betrayal, dismissal; -ance/ence: assistance, resistance, dependence; -ery/ry: flattery, bakery, dentistry; -ment: acknowledgement, movement, amazement; -ant/ent: claimant, correspondent; -fy/ify: signify; -ize/ise: modernize, organize, moralize; Greek: -ist: modernist, classicist; -ism: communism, colloquialism, organism



Like prefixes, suffixes may be grouped, according to their ability to create new words at the present stage in the development of English into:

productive suffixes (which are, at present, active in terms of new words formation): -able: profitable, regrettable, understandable; -ed: loved, grouped, played; -ing: interesting, clearing, meaning; -less: sugarless, harmless, speechless; -ness: calmness, brightness, happiness; -y: edgy, bloody, cloudy; -ly: scarcely, evenly, likely; -ish: selfish, childish, Turkish. semi-productive suffixes (at present, less active in the process of word formation): -dom: kingdom, freedom, boredom; -ful: spoonful, mouthful, hurtful; -hood: boyhood, childhood; -ee: employee, trainee, payee; -ship: kinship, relationship; c) unproductive suffixes (at present, no longer used to form new words): -ance: deliverance, acceptance; -age: coinage; -ment: movement, development; -some: handsome, gruesome; -th: tenth, eleventh.




Compounding = the process of coining new words by grammatically and semantically combining two or more roots or stems

a) Orthographic characteristic of compounds: Compounds may be spelt:


- solid (in one word): bullfighter, theatergoer, colorblind, whetstone, etc. - hyphenated (in words separated by a hyphen): self-determination, heart-breaking, man-made, high-born, easy-going, grass-green, etc. - in completely separate words: tea bag, nail brush, oil well, price cut

b) Phonological characteristics of compounds:

 Most compounds have one main stress and lack juncture (the break between words): bluebell, blackbird vs. blue bell, black bird  Compounding is driven by phonological factors in the case of reduplicatives (words created on the basis of reduplication = the repetition of the base of a word in part or in full): pooh-pooh, goody-goody, roly-poly, wishy-washy, flip-flop, sing-song, harum-scarum, bow-wow.

C) Morphological characteristics of compounds: Compounds may be classified according to the morphological class to which they belong. Basically, all morphological classes in English have compound members:

1) compound nouns:


noun + noun: baby carriage, bachelor flat, backpack, city-dweller, bullfrog, swordfish verbal noun + noun: meeting place, writing desk, fishing rod noun + verbal noun: air-conditioning, sleepwalking adjective + noun: blackbird, highlands, bluebell, blotting paper, boarding card, built environment, wrought iron pronoun + noun: she-wolf, he-doctor verb + noun: pickpocket, dare-devil noun + verb: sunset, rainfall, body-building, bird-watching adverb + noun: after-thought, back-talk, down-grade, yes-man, outer space; adverb + verb: upkeep, upstart; verb + adverb: cut-back, turn-round; preposition + noun: afternoon, underworld;

2) compound adjectives:


adjective + adjective: metallic-green, bitter-sweet; noun + adjective: duty-free, sea-sick, earth-bound, self-educated, self-sustained, self-made, self-controlled adjective + noun + -ed: light-hearted, hot-blooded, evil-minded; noun + verb (participle): ocean-going, love-struck, storm-beaten; noun + noun + -ed: lion-hearted, honey-mouthed; adverb + verb (participle): ill-behaved, well-meant, everlasting; adverb + adjective: evergreen;

3) compound verbs:

noun + verb: hen-peck, baby-sit, house-keep; adjective + verb: white-wash, dry-clean, sweet-talk; verb + verb: dive-bomb, drop-kick, blast-freeze; adverb + verb: overhear, underestimate, down-grade

4) compound adverbs:

adverb + adverb: throughout, hereabout(s); adverb + noun: uphill, downhill, outdoor; adverb + preposition: wherefrom, thereby, hereby

5) compound numerals:


all cardinal numerals between round figures, starting with twenty-one: thirtyfour, forty-nine, eighty-seven; cardinal numerals from 100 upward (+ the conjunction and ): one hundred and twenty-one, nine hundred and fifty-eight, ten thousand three hundred and forty fractions: 2/3=two thirds, 6/8=six eights decimal numerals: 4 2/3=four-and-two-thirds, 5 1/3=five and one third.

6) compound pronouns are built on various patterns:  possessive adjective + the noun self: myself, yourself, ourselves;  personal pronoun in the accusative + the noun self: himself, herself, themselves;  the predeterminers some-, any-, no-, or the adjective every + the nouns body, thing: nothing, anybody, something, everybody;  the relative-interrogative words who, what, when, which, where + the adverb ever: whoever, whatever, whenever, etc. 7) Compound prepositions (one or several prepositions built around a noun, an adverb, a verb, another preposition):  in the middle of, in spite of, underneath, close to, faraway from, previous to, as concerns, due to, owing to, but for, onto, as to

8) compound conjunctions (grouped around a noun, an adverb, an adjective, a verb, a preposition): for the reason that, for fear that, as well as, never again, long before, seeing that, supposing that. 9) compound interjections:


- reduplicatives: blah-blah, pooh-pooh, puff-puff, hushhush; - ablaut combinations: ticktack; - onomatopoeia: cook-a-doodle-doo, gobbledygook

d) Syntactic characteristics of compounds

word order in compounds is sometimes ungrammatical: noun + adjective (home-sick, sea-sick, weather-sensitive), object + verb (knee-jerk) compounds are non-interruptible, i.e. one cannot add extra words in between the elements of the compound without affecting its structure the elements of a compound cannot be modified independently hot air-sick and air very-sick are ungrammatical; it is the compound as a whole that is modified by other words: seriously air-sick the constituents of a compound cannot be inflected each in its turn: ashes-trays, textsbooks are ungrammatical; the whole compound is inflected according to the morphological class to which it belongs: ash-trays, textbooks

e) semantic compounds



compounds with an idiomatic meaning: turnkey, turncoat = exocentric compounds compounds with a compositional meaning: armchair = endocentric compounds compounds in between these two categories: bulldog, dustbin, blackboard


Conversion = the process of forming new words by means of transferring them from one morphological class to another, without any changes, either in their form or in their pronunciation. 1) nouns obtained by conversion:

nouns converted from adjectives: the good, the bad, the young, the beautiful, the ugly, the English, the Romanian, an alarmist, an anarchist, an acid, an adhesive, etc. nouns converted from verbs: an abstract, a drive, an ache, an alert, an advocate, an ally, a hunt, a jump, falling, driving, swimming, a castaway, a catch, a cover, a lift, wish, doubt, envy, turn, rise, etc. nouns converted from adverbs, prepositions and interjections: front, back, behind, ups and downs, ins and outs, altogether (to be in the altogether), pros and cons, a bang, a screech, the Hm HM, etc.


2) Adjectives obtained by conversion - anything that fulfils an attributive and/or a predicative function is an adjective in English:

nouns: girl friend, technology boom, family duties, song bird; pronouns: she-wolf, he-doctor, this cat, those boys, which car, whatever answer, she herself; numerals: three books, the second answer, nine point seven percent; adverbs: the front door, the room upstairs, the furniture outdoors, yearly event, monthly seminar, daily routine; phrases and idiomatic expressions: a do-it-yourself manual, a cut-and-dried speech, a butter-wouldn t-melt-in-his-mouth attitude.

3) Verbs obtained by conversion

verbs obtained from nouns: to rain, to snow, to point, to spot, to drop, to corner, to bottle, to catalogue, to mail, to ship, to coat, to wrap; verbs obtained from adjectives: to calm, to dirty, to dry, to wet, to clean; verbs obtained from adverbs, conjunctions and interjections: to forward, to chirp, to meow.



Clipping Clipping compounds, blends or portmanteau words are lexical items that have come into being by combining two other words of which at least one is fragmentary: Eurasian, paratroops, telescreen, motel, brunch, Bollywood. Contraction When words are shortened to just a part of them, they are said to be contracted: bus, plane, phone, ma am, oer, exam, fab, gas.


Back-formation (regressive or back derivation) = a process based on the analogy between words that contain affixes and words that have component parts homonymous to affixes. These parts are removed in order to restore (or back-form) what is believed to have been the original : baby-sit, peddle, edit, pup, force-land, sleepwalk, housekeep, etc. Deflection = the process resulting in the formation of new words by means of changing a sound in the root of certain words: drink drank drunk, bit bite, ride rode, fall fell, bleed blood, sing song, believe, belief, etc. Change of accent = the mechanism by which, in a pair of a noun and its homograph verb, the two elements come to differ from one another by distinctive accent: ttribute a ttribute, torment tor ment, mport im port, permit per mit, etc.

Abbreviation = the reduction of a word to several letters or the reduction of a group of words designating a notion to the initials of these words: brolly (umbrella), hanky (handkerchief), nighty (nightgown), p.j s (pyjamas), NATO, UNESCO, HTML, MP, Mt., St., etc. Alphanumerics = combinations of letters and numbers: CUL8R, BU, 4U, etc. Eponyms = common words formed from proper names: hermetic (Hermes), erotic (Eros), begonia (Michel Begon), dhalia (Anders Dahl), chesterfield (Earl of Chesterfield), volt (Al. Volta), watt (J. Watt), raglan (Baron Raglan), gorgonzola, camembert, cheddar, chablis, burgundy, alsacian, dalmatian, etc.



Collocations = combinations of two (or more) lexemes that sound natural to a native speaker: blond hair, green grass, to set a record, to exaggerate greatly, etc. If we take into consideration the grammatical class of the words that make up the collocation, the following patterns are possible:

Adjective + noun: eternal glory, inflated ambition Verb + noun: to cover a distance, to strike gold, to set a record Noun + verb: an engine functions/runs/works, an eagle screams Verb + adverb: to fight bravely/heroically, to gain easily/rapidly Noun + (preposition) + noun: railway accident, a row of desks, a spark of hope, a ray of sun

The two elements of a collocation are:


The node = the lexeme under discussion The collocate(s) = the lexeme(s) that occur together with the node

 Collocations may be classified according to the range of the node as follows:

 Fixed/unique/frozen collocations = a node has only one collocate: auburn
hair  Restricted collocations = a node has a limited number of collocates: to need desperately/sorely/badly  Unrestricted/multiple collocations = a node has an unlimited number of collocates: an anxious/close/curios/grim/disapproving/meaningful look

 Collocations have an additive meaning, while idiomatic expressions have a holistic meaning

Phrasal verbs (a verb, usually of Germanic origin + a preposition or an adverb): to take in, to take up, to give up, to set up, to get up, to get in, to get along, to come to, to come out, to come up, etc. Clichs = routine linguistic forms ranging from a combination of two words to a whole sentence: the apple of discord, fantastic bargain, real progress, to drown one s sorrow in drink, the light at the end of the tunnel Binominals and trinominals = combinations of two and three words belonging to the same grammatical class, linked by a form word, which always occur in the same set order: husband and wife, bed and breakfast, ham and eggs, fish and chips, here and there, head over heels, now or never, hide and seek, bell, book and candle, ready, willing and able, lock, stock and barrel, etc. Pragmatic idioms = set expressions used in particular social settings: Happy birthday, Nice to meet you, Can I help you? Black or white? Single or return?, Dear Sir, Yours truly, etc. Proverbs


Idioms = groups of words expressing a sense unit: to show the white feather, to see how the wind blows, to turn over a new leaf, to smell a rat Characteristics of idioms A) semantic charcateristics


Idioms are characterized by idiomaticity, i.e. their meaning is not the sum of the meanings of their component elements: red tape vs. red ribbon; to cut a poor figure vs. to cut bread

 B) functional characteristics
 Idioms are characterized by semantic and grammatical inseparability: the old man kicked the bucket (died) vs. the cow kicked the bucket (touched the bucket with its leg)

C) contextual characteristics

Idioms are usually non-variable, i.e. their structure cannot be changed without affecting their meaning: tighten one s belt/*girdle, see red/*orange In some idioms, lexical substitution is possible but it is very limited: to have the true/right ring, burn one s bridges/boats Some verb idioms allow for variation in tense, while some noun idioms allow for variation in number: kicked the bucket, smelled a rat, red herrings Some idioms may tolerate additions that normally reinforce their meaning and do not simply elaborate on the expression: Kipling took the art world bull by the horns, He suggested, with his tongue only partly in his cheek that In some idioms, permutations are possible the most frequent of these is change of word order by passivization: hundreds of crocodile tears were shed (to shed tears)

D) stylistic characteristics
Numerous idioms are based on figures of speech: a) Metaphorical idioms: a wolf in a sheep s clothing, a white elephant, a cold fish, to have a heavy heart b) Idioms based on simile: to fit like a glove, to drink like a fish, as fresh as a daisy, as old as the hills, as poor as a church mouse c) Idioms based on metonymy and synecdoche: to go under the knife, to have an itchy palm, to have one foot in the grave d) Idioms based on euphemisms: to be knocked up, six feet under, in one s birthday suit e) Idioms based on hyperbole: dressed to kill, on cloud number nine, to pay an arm and a leg, to make a mountain out of a molehill f) Idioms based on alliteration: to buy a pig in a poke, to leave in the lurch


A) according to the type of elements they contain:


variable non-variable idioms

B) according to their meaning:


idioms with a direct meaning (to make money, to throw money away) idioms with a figurative meaning (to break the silence, to put a spoke in somebody s wheel, not to know chalk from cheese)

C) according to their grammatical function:


nominal (the apple of one s eye, a bed of thorns, a lion s share, the man in the street, a snake in the grass, a swan song, the gift of gab) adjectival (high and mighty, as cold as ice, cut and dried, null and void), verbal (to lose heart, to turn one s coat, to play the second fiddle, to make a clean breast of something, to stack the deck/cards) adverbial (in the long run, off and on, at length).

D) according to the semantic relationship existing between them:

synonymic idioms (babes and sucklings a green/fresh/raw hand spring chicken; to sleep like a log to sleep the sleep of the just; to kick the bucket to buy a pine condo to pop up daffodils to go the way of all flesh to pay one s debt to nature) antonymic idioms (as sober as a judge as drunk as a lord; a heart of gold a heart of stone), polysemantic idioms (to go west = 1. to die, 2. to be ruined, 3. to go to a new place to start a better life)


belong or to what they are connected to: sea life (to fish in troubled waters, to drink like a fish, to be in the same boat with somebody) trades (to have too many irons in the fire, to be between hammer and anvil, to bring grist to the mill, in full blast) sports (to hit below the belt, to keep the ball rolling) medicine (to swallow the pill, to take the temperature of, what the doctor ordered, a fly in the ointment, a bitter pill to swallow) parts of the body (to cry one s eyes out, in the twinkling of an eye, to feed one s face, to have egg on one s face, to keep one s nose to the grindstone, to put someone s nose out of joint, to get/have the upper hand)

E) according to the domain of human activity to which they

F) idioms may also be classified into groups denoting the same concept:

the idea of uncertainty: a leap in the dark, a needle in a haystack, to buy a pig in a poke the idea of economy: to cut one s coat according to one s cloth, to make both ends meet, to save for a rainy day anger: to feel one s blood boiling, to burn with anger/rage, to feel as one would burst, to fly off the handle, to lose one s cool, to tear strips off somebody, to fight tooth and nail, to go for somebody hammer and tongs, to bite somebody s head off, to chew somebody up, to see red


Synonyms are words belonging to the same morphological class which have the same core meaning, though they may differ in shades of meaning, connotation, distribution, collocation and idiomatic use.  Synonyms may be arranged in synonymic series containing two or more elements. In such series, one of the terms acquires a dominant position, being the most general among the others and the most frequently used in the language = synonymic dominant (the head in dictionaries): to leave to depart to clear out to retire  Simple words may establish correlative synonymic relationships with collocations, phrases or idioms as in the pairs to win to gain the upper hand, to decide to make up one s mind, to hesitate to be in two minds, to swing the lead to exaggerate, neck and crop entirely, to laugh to give a laugh, to prefer to show preference, to go after to follow, to go on to continue, to give in to surrender  correlative synonymic relations are also met in the case of some special stylistic synonyms, in which the name of a writer, inventor, etc. is replaced by a descriptive phrase, as in Chaucer the father of English literature or Shakespeare the sweet swan of Avon

Correlative synonymic relations may also be recognized in certain phrases that are made up of two synonyms linked by the copulative conjunction and : with might and main, lord and master, stress and strain, each and every, liberty and freedom, really and truly, last will and testament, exiled and banished. A synonym is employed as an explanation or clarification of the meaning of another word. The relationship between the two words is frequently signaled by something like that is to say, or a particular variety of or : He was cashiered, that is to say, dismissed.; This is an ounce, or snow leopard. Polysemantic words have different synonymic series for each of their senses. For example, ill in the sense of not in full physical or mental health is synonymous with ailing, indisposed, sick, unwell. If it means bad , possible synonyms for it are evil, wicked, wrong.


a) strict/perfect/absolute synonyms. Two lexical units would be perfect synonyms (i.e. would have identical meanings) if and only if all their contextual relations were identical

Absolute synonymy is practically impossible, since no two words are perfectly interchangeable in all their contexts of use. In the same context, one word sounds more normal than its presupposed perfect synonym: Tell Mummy when Playschool begins and she ll watch it with you. (+) Tell Mummy when Playschool commences and she ll watch it with you. (-) Arthur is always chewing gum. (+) Arthur is always munching gum. (-) I don t just hate him, I loathe him. (+) I don t just loathe him, I hate him. (-) That is a scandalous waste of money. (+) That is an outrageous waste of money. (-)

the economy of language would not tolerate (except, perhaps, for a very limited period of time) the existence of two lexical items with exactly the same meaning. historical argument against perfect synonymy - if absolute synonyms do occur at a certain moment in the development of a language, usually, one of the items falls into obsolescence and is, ultimately, no longer used, it remains to be used in particular dialects or stylistic varieties only or it begins to be employed in contexts from which the other is excluded. Conclusion: When we speak of synonymy, we mean varying degrees of loose synonymy, where we identify not only a significant overlap in meaning between two words, but also some contexts at least where they cannot substitute for each other.


Loose synonymy is illustrated by at least two types of synonyms, ideographic and stylistic. b) ideographic synonyms. This class comprises synonyms which share the core meaning but differ in shades of meaning in that certain notes characteristic of the notion, phenomenon, object denoted by these words are accented. They may also differ in connotation, collocation patterns and idiomatic use. In the pair of synonyms to love to adore, to love is rather neutral, while to adore bears connotations of worship or passion. Crowd refers to a disorganized group of people, while its synonym, mob refers to the same group, but connotes the idea of riotous intentions as well. c) stylistic synonyms. The category of stylistic synonyms includes words having the same notional components of meaning, but differing in their stylistic reference or degree of formality.  Formal vs. informal: archer toxophilite, argument disputation, beauty pulchritude, cross traverse, die decease, give up renounce, letter missive, praise eulogy, warning caveat, western occidental.  Standard vs. slang: astonished gobsmacked, crash prang, destroy zap, drunk, sloshed, face phizog, heart ticker, insane, barmy, money rhino, spondulix, prison clink, steal nick.  Technical vs. non-technical: incision cut, lesion wound  Neutral vs. poetic: happiness bliss, merry jocund,  Speech vs. writing: you re you are

A particular stylistic synonymic relationship is established between a taboo word and its corresponding euphemistic words or expressions. A euphemism is a mild, indirect or less offensive word or expression substituted when the speaker/writer fears that more direct wording might be harsh, unpleasantly direct or offensive (when resorted to by officials such as members of the Parliament, officers, lawyers, etc., the use of euphemisms is known as doublespeak ):

to die - to breathe one s last (breath, gasp), to depart this life, to pay one s debt to nature, to go to one s last home, to go the way of all flesh, to kick the bucket, to hop the twig, to join the majority, to be no more, to buy a pine condo, to cross the river to reach the eternal reward, to go to the other side a stupid person - has a couple of eggs shy of a dozen, a few beers short of a sixpack, a few clowns short of a circus, a few bricks short of a wall, a kangaroo loose in the paddock, s/he is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, not the brightest light in the harbour/on the Christmas tree, not tied too tight to the pier, knitting with only one needle, not firing on all cylinders, s/he is as useful as a wooden frying pan, as a screen door on a submarine or as tits on a bull, s/he is a person whose elevator stuck between floors, who got into the gene pool when the lifeguard wasn t watching, who fell out of the family tree or who goes fishing in Nebraska

Dysphemism = coarser and more direct words and phrases that are used to replace both more refined and quite common lexical items, for humorous or deliberately offensive purposes. The relationship between the euphemism and the common word designating its referent may be considered stylistic synonymy as well.

bean counter = accountant, grease monkey = mechanic, sawbones = surgeon, quack = doctor, brain bucket = motorcycle helmet, Jesus juice = wine, muffin top = flesh that erupts over the sides of low-rider tight jeans, dead tree edition = the paper edition of an online magazine


The rich synonymy in English is due to the fact that it has borrowed an impressive number of words from other languages.

Double and triple scales of synonymy French pork beef veal corpse spirit amity aid vessel universe chamber finish request reply purchase

Native  swine  ox  calf  body  ghost  friendship  help  ship  world  room  end  ask  answer  buy


Native player wire bodily heartly brotherly learned happy hard Native strength time forerunner bond outstanding end ask French power age herald bail glorious finish question

Latin/Greek actor telegram corporeal cordial fraternal erudite fortunate solid Latin energy epoch precursor security splendid conclude interrogate


Besides borrowings, another source of synonymy in English, seen from a diachronic perspective, is represented by archaisms. Many of these are at present used only in dialectal speech, having been replaced in the common language by various synonyms. king-stool has been substituted for throne, book-hoard for library, leechcraft and leechdom for medicine, seamer for tailor, to betake for to deliver for to occupy. Geographical and stylistic varieties of English are a rich source of synonymy. Thus, charm , chest and church in standard British English may be paired with glamour , kist and kirk in Scottish English, to add to the examples of ideographic synonyms already given. The British words autumn , tin , lorry , insect , sweet and maize as synonyms of the American words fall , can , truck , bug , candy and corn respectively may enlarge the same category as may Cockney words and phrases such as trap , chap or ill speed together with their standard English synonyms sailor , friend and bad luck . Euphemisms are another important source of synonymy as in the pairs of words: illiterate uneducated , chaotic unformed , sterile unfruitful , short vertically challenged , etc. The belonging of words to various styles in the language may lead to synonymy as well. For instance, lazy is the standard neutral word for which the colloquial lazybones may be substituted, trousers is neutral, while its synonym pants is colloquial, evening , morning , valley and sorrowful are neutral, while their synonyms eve , morn , vale and doleful are poetic, heart attack and headache belong to the everyday language, while their synonyms myocardial infarct and cephalalgia are medical technical terms.


Antonymy is the sense relation holding between words belonging to the same morphological class and having opposite meanings. Characteristics of antonyms  Antonymy is possible only if the words entering this semantic relationship share a common component of their senses. Thus, old and young share the component age , long and short share the component length , while deep and shallow both refer to depth.

Antonyms are found in certain typical configurations in English:

A and B: Young and old were present at the meeting , a matter of life and death , the long and the short of it ; A or B: wanted dead or alive , We ll see if she was right or wrong , Good or bad, I ll take it ; neither A nor B: neither friend nor foe , A not B: He was alive, not dead as they thought , X is A and Y is B: Youth is wild and age is tame (Shakespeare)


Another context in which antonyms are typically employed is when reference is made to a change of state as in The exhibition opens at nine and closes at noon or The poet was born in 1924 and died in 1991 .

Polysemantic words have different antonyms, for each of their senses. Thus, if even refers to numbers and means devisible by two , its antonym is odd ; if it refers to character or mood and means calm , its antonym is agitated ; for its meaning dull , it enters an antonymic relationship with interesting , while sharp may be considered its antonym when it means unable to cut . On the other hand, ploysemantic words may have a number of antonyms for some of their meanings and none for others. Thus, criticism in the meaning of blame has the antonyms praise , approval , while in the meaning of writing critical essays it has no opposite meaning correspondent. Antonyms appear in a great number of idioms ( to make neither head nor tail of something , to see something in black and white ) and proverbs ( What soberness conceals, drunkness reveals , What is done cannot be undone , A small leak will sink a great ship , You can t teach an old dog new tricks , One man s loss is another man s gain ), as well as in several figures of speech extensively used in literature (oxymoron, irony, antithesis, etc.): Youth, which is forgiven everything, forgives itself nothing; age, which forgives itself everything, is forgiven nothing.


If we refer to the type of oppositeness of meaning, we may speak about three major classes of antonyms: gradable antonyms, ungradable or contradictory antonyms and converses.

A) gradable antonyms: beautiful ugly , small big , rich poor , wide narrow , fast slow , increase decrease . As their name suggests, the semantic relationship between gradable antonyms is not of the either or type, but rather of the more less type. They represent the end-points of a continuum or a scale. The more less relationship is made obvious by a number of characteristic features of gradable antonyms. They allow comparison: My dress is longer than yours , The tree is less tall than the building . Gradable antonymic adjectives may be modified by intensifying adverbs: very good , extremely bad , extraordinarily beautiful . In a pair of gradable antonyms, one of the terms is unmarked, while the other one is marked. The unmarked member is the one that is normally expected as in How old are you? or How long is the way to the museum? . When this is used, the speaker/writer does not prejudge anything whereas, when the marked member is used, certain presuppositions hold. If the two previous questions had been How young are you? and How short is the way to the museum? , the implications had been that the person asked about his/her age was young and the way to the museum was short.

B) ungradable or contradictory antonyms: asleep awake , dead alive , on off , permit forbid , remember forget , win lose , shut open , true false . Unlike in the case of gradable antonyms, the semantic relationship between the two members of an ungradable antonymic pair is of the either or type, i.e. the assertion of one member always implies the negation of the other, with no options in between (in the case of adjectives, this is proven by the fact that they do not allow degrees of comparison). Thus, an animate being may be described as either dead or alive , but not as some degree of these or as being more one than the other. If certain behaviour is permitted , then it is not forbidden ; if one lost a contest, then one has not won it; if a switch is off , then it is not on . C) converse antonyms: above below , before after , behind in front of , buy sell , give receive , husband wife , parent child , speak listen . The meanings of the two antonyms are like the two sides of the same coin, one member of the pair expresses the converse meaning of the other. Buy and sell describe the same transaction, the difference lying in the vantage point from which it is viewed. If the transaction is seen from the point of view of the person who gives up the goods in exchange for money, we speak about selling , if it is seen from the point of view of the person who receives the goods upon paying a sum of money for them, we speak about buying .

If we take into consideration the form of the antonyms, we may speak about root and affixal antonyms.

A) root or radical antonyms are different lexical units with opposite meanings: warm cold , kind cruel , open shut . B) affixal antonyms are words having the same root, the relation of oppositeness of meaning between them being established by means of negative (and positive) affixes which are added to the common root: careful careless , important unimportant , to believe to disbelieve , to entangle to disentangle .


Hyponymy and meronymy are based on hierarchical relationships (they are the consequence of the fact that some words have a more general meaning than others). Hyponymy = a relationship of inclusion of the kind of type: dog spaniel, cocker, German shepard, puddel, etc; vehicle car, truck, lorry, bus, bike, motorbike, etc.

The more general term = the superordinate; The subordinate terms = the hyponyms.

Meronymy = a relationship of inclusion of the part of type: plant leaf, bud, petal, stem, root; day dawn, morning, noon, afternoon, evening, etc.

The more general term = the superordinate; The subordinate terms = the meronyms.


Homonymy = a relation of lexical ambiguity between words having different meanings; it is a situation where one orthographic or spoken form represents more than one vocabulary item . Types of homonyms If their pronunciation and spelling are taken into consideration, homonyms may be one of the following:


a) perfect homonyms or homonyms proper. These are words identical in both spelling and pronunciation: light (adjective) light (noun) . b) homophones. These are words that have the same pronunciation, but differ in spelling: air heir , I eye , buy bye - by c) homographs. These are words that have the same spelling, but differ in pronunciation: wound [wu:nd] wound [waund] , bow [bxu] bow [bau] , lead [led] lead [li:d] .

Homonyms are a rich source of humour. They are as well a source of confusion for users of English who do not master the language and, sometimes, even for proficient speakers of it:

Why did the teacher wear sunglasses? Her students were too bright. Waiter, will the pancakes be long? No, sir, round. A family of three tomatoes was walking downtown one day when the little baby tomato started lagging behind. The big father tomato walks back to the baby tomato, stomps on her, squashing her into a red paste, and says Ketchup! Drunk Gets Nine Months in Violin Case

According to the type of meaning that helps to differentiate words that have the same sound and/or form, homonyms may be grouped in three categories:

a) lexical homonyms are homonyms which belong to the same grammatical class and have different lexical meanings: the noun seal meaning a kind of sea animal and the noun seal meaning the special mark put on documents to prove that they are authentic. b) lexical-grammatical homonyms are homonyms which belong to different grammatical classes and have different lexical meanings: the noun bear referring to a particular kind of large wild animal with thick fur and the verb bear meaning inability to accept or to do something. c) grammatical homonyms are homonyms which differ in grammatical meaning only: that as a demonstrative noun and that as a demonstrative adjective, played as the past tense of the verb to play and played as the past participle of the same verb.


Causes of semantic change

A) Extra-linguistic causes of semantic change are determined by the close connection between language and the evolution of human society. Being the most dynamic and flexible part of a language, vocabulary reacts to almost every change in the outer reality it helps to picture. Thus, torch was used in Middle English (ME) to designate a piece of cloth damped in oil, lit and held in hand in order to make light . With the advance of technology, the word has come to also refer to the small electric lamp that runs on batteries and serves the same purpose in modern times. The noun mill was initially used for a building with machinery for grinding corn . Industrial developments influenced its meaning and extended the reference of the word to factory - any kind of building with equipment for manufacturing processes (we now have saw / cotton / silk / paper mills). The evolution of culture and society - when academy was borrowed in the 15th century, it was used as the name of a garden near Athens, where Plato used to teach. Two centuries later, it referred to the school system of Plato, while, beginning with the end of the 17th century, it has been used to designate an institution for the promotion of art or science. Social causes such as the need for specialized terms in each branch of science that deals with specific phenomena and concepts. The word cell, whose general meaning is compartment , has come to mean the space between the ribs of a vaulted roof in architecture, the space between the nerves of the wings of insects in entomology and a vessel containing one pair of plates immersed in fluid to form a battery in electricity. The need of expressiveness, taboo and euphemisms in language - one way of achieving expressive effects in everyday language is through the use of slang words. In slang, everyday words and phrases acquire new meanings. Thus, baby is used for girl or sweetheart , the bread basket is the stomach , to lamp means to hit , a bag is an ugly woman or an objectionable unpleasant person , to rabbit is used for to talk unceasingly , gear refers to illicit drugs and choice is used as an adjective meaning best, excellent .

B) Linguistic causes of semantic change

Ellipsis consists of the omission of one part of a phrase. Quite frequently, the remaining part takes on the meaning of the whole: sale, obtained by ellipsis from cut-price sale, has come to be used with the meaning of the initial phrase an event or period of time during which a shop reduces the prices of some of its goods . Analogy occurs when one member of a synonymic series acquires a new meaning and this new meaning is extended to the other elements in the series as well. In the synonymic series to catch to grasp to get, the first verb acquired the meaning to understand , which was later transferred to the verbs to grasp and to get. The discrimination of synonyms is the result of the evolution of the meanings of certain synonyms. In OE, land meant both solid part of the earth s surface and territory of a nation . Later on, in ME, the word country was borrowed from French and it became a synonym of land. In short time, however, country restricted its meaning to territory of a nation , while land remained to be used in everyday language for solid part of the earth s surface (when land is used to refer to an area with recognized political borders, it bears connotations of mystery, emotion or obsolescence). Borrowings from other languages may also lead to semantic changes. Deer used to mean animal up to ME, when, under the pressure of the borrowed words beast, creature, animal, it restricted its meaning to a large brown wild animal with long thin legs .


A) Extension or widening of meaning is the process by which the sense(s) of a word is / are enlarged or enriched. The word journal originally meant, a daily record of transactions or events . Through extension of meaning, at present, it means both a daily newspaper and any periodical publication containing news in any particular sphere . The early meaning of butler, a male servant in charge of the wine cellar was later extended to a male servant in charge of the household . Extension of meaning may sometimes involve the evolution of a word from concrete to abstract. Branch, for example, was used with the meaning a portion or limb of a tree or other plant . From this initial meaning, several abstract meanings have evolved and are recognized today: one of the portions into which a family or race is divided , a component portion of an organization or system , a part of a particular area of study or knowledge .

B) Narrowing or restriction of meaning is the process opposite to extension. By it, a word with a wider meaning acquires a narrower meaning that comes to be applied to some of its previous referents only. Very frequently, narrowing goes hand in hand with specialization of meaning. Mare, for example, meant horse up the moment in the evolution of English when its meaning was restricted to the female horse only. Likewise, any kind of dog was considered a hound. Nowadays, hound is used as such only poetically or archaically, its specialized meaning in the common language being dog used by hunters for chasing the game . Fowl is another example of narrowing of meaning. It was used to refer to any kind of bird, while now, it is only the domestic birds that are called fowls. Specialization of meaning, accompanying narrowing, is very clear in the case of trade names that originated in common nouns: Sunbeam, Thunderbird, Caterpillar.

C) Degradation of meaning or pejorative development is the process by which a neutral word either loses its original meaning completely and acquires a new, derogatory one, or it preserves it and develops a new pejorative meaning in addition. The former case may be illustrated by means of the word quarrel, which meant complaint . By a first semantic change, as Hulban (1975: 120) indicates, it came to mean a ground or occasion of complaint against a person, leading to hostile feelings . The meaning of the word degraded even further from this and reached the point of a violent contention or altercation between persons, a rapture of friendly relations . Knave underwent the same process. It initially meant boy and later lost this meaning in favour of dishonest man . The word suburban is illustrative of the latter case. From the initial meaning, of or belonging to the suburbs of the town , a new derogatory one evolved, the former still being preserved. Today, suburban is used not only for what is not in the city , but also for typical of the attitudes and way of life of people who live in the suburbs, which some people consider rather boring, conservative, involving inferior manners and narrower views . Analogy plays an important role in the process of degradation of meaning. This is very obvious in the following examples of zoosemy, metaphors that implicitly compare humans with animals. Thus, besides the animal itself, a sheep is a poor-spirited, stupid or timid person . A fox is a cunning person, a monkey or an ape is one that plays the ape, an imitator, a mimic .

D) Elevation of meaning is the reverse of degradation, implying the process by which a newly evolved meaning of a word acquires a higher status as compared to the initial one. Fame, for example, originally meant rumour , but later on, it became celebrity, good reputation . Bard was initially a term of contempt, designating a ministrel-poet. Later, when ministrels started to be idealized, the word referring to them suffered an elevation of meaning, quite obvious in Shakespeare himself having been called The Bard .


Many of the cases of extension and narrowing of meaning mentioned in the previous sections are based on transfer of meaning. There are two main types of such transfer, according to the kind of association that they presuppose. Associations based on similarity lead to metaphor, while those based on contiguity, i.e., on the condition of being in contact, in proximity, in a broad sense, lead to metonymy. Unlike extension, narrowing, elevation and degradation, transfer of meaning is not a gradual process, but rather the result of a sudden change from one field to another, on a particular occasion of use (both metaphors and metonymies may be onetime only creations in language).


The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of things in terms of another (Lakoff, Johnson 1980: 5). In other words, metaphor involves an implicit comparison of two entities, based on an alleged resemblance between them. This implicit comparison is contained in the meaning of a word or phrase that has come to be different from its original meaning. Types of metaphor: A) live metaphors - conscious creations used by writers as stylistic devices B) linguistic metaphors  standardized lexical metaphors in whose case the idea of similarity is lost. They are usually considered dead metaphors and include examples such as daisy, whose origin is the OE daeges aege ( the day s eye ) and wind, coming from the OE windes aege ( the wind s eye ).  degrading or fading metaphors in whose case the idea of similarity is still evident. Such metaphors may rely on: similarity of shape: the head of the pin, the mouth of the river, the foot of the hill, ball-point-pen; similarity of position: head-word, headstone; similarity of colour: red-admiral, blue-bell, blue-wing; similarity of destination or purpose: blood bank, data bank; space and duration in time: long run, long-lived, shortcircuit, shortcoming, short-dated; physical sensations: cold war, warm congratulations, sweet dreams, bitter remark; Ulmann (1970) offers another classification of degrading linguistic metaphors. According to him, they may be grouped into: anthropomorphic metaphors, involving the transfer of meaning from the human body and its parts to inanimate objects: the mouth of the river, the lungs of the town, the heart of the matter; animal metaphors: dog s tail (a plant), cat-o -the-nine-tails. People can also be called foxes, lions, doves, donkeys, etc; metaphors that translate abstract experiences into concrete terms: to throw light on, to enlighten, brilliant idea; synaesthetic metaphors, involving the transposition from one sense to another: cold voice, loud colours, piercing sounds.





Metonymy consists of the use of the name of one thing for that of something else, with which it is usually associated. This association is not a mental process that links two independent entities, like in the case of metaphor, but one that brings together entities which are in a certain proximity or contact. According to the type of relationship established between the two elements in a metonymy, the following types of associations are possible:

the use of the symbol for the thing symbolized: From the cradle to the grave, one has always something new to learn, The Crown visited the soldiers on the battle field; the use of the material an object is made of for the object itself: iron, glass; the use of the holder for the thing held: The gallery applauded, He is fond of the bottle, You should save your pocket if you want to buy a new computer; the use of the maker s name for the object made: I like the Rembrand on that wall, Put that Dickens away and listen to me, I hate reading Heidegger, He bought a Ford; the use of the place name where the object is or was originally made for the object itself: At dinner, they served the soup in their best china; the use of the instrument for the agent: They answered the door / phone, The sax has the flu today, The gun he hired wanted 50 grants; the use of the concrete for the abstract and of the abstract for the concrete: They dedicated their pens to a just cause, He is of noble blood; The leadership took action against thefts; the use of the name of an organization or an institution for the people who make a decision or work there: Exxon has raised its prices again, The Senate thinks abortion is immoral; the use of the place name where an event was recorded for the event itself: Do you remember the Alamo?, Pearl Harbour still has an effect on America s foreign policy; the use of a place name where an institution is located for the institution itself: The White House voted against entering war, Wall Street has been in panic these days; the reference to the behaviour of a person experiencing a particular emotion for the emotion itself: She gave him a tongue-lashing, I really chewed him out good; the use of the part for the whole (also called synecdoche) and of the whole for the part: They hired ten new hands, We don t accept longhairs here, She is wearing a fine fox.