Printable Version
Pronunciation: id-ee-êm Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A trope, figure of speech, an expression that cannot be analyzed word for word, but must be understood as a whole, as 'fly off the handle'. 2. A dialect, a way of talking, the vocabulary of a particular region, period, school of thought, as 'the jazz idiom' or 'the impressionist idiom'.

Notes: I have used this word on numerous occasions in the Good Words. We even created a game, "Idioms & Adages", but I've never written up this word. The adjective is idiomatic(al), the adverb idiomatically, and the stuff idioms are made of is idiomaticity.

In Play: Idioms are the last thing we master when learning a second language; in fact, most speakers never gain a native mastery of them: "Igor spoke perfect English, but the Russian spy was caught because he used so few idioms in his speech." The other sense of this Good Word is simply "a way of talking": "Why are combat soldiers called, in the political idiom of today, 'boots on the ground'?"

Word History: English borrowed this word, as usual, from French idiome with the same meaning. The French word is the remains of Latin idioma, taken directly from Greek idioma "peculiarity, characteristic"; Latin narrowed the meaning to refer only to language. The Greek noun was based on the adjective idios "own, peculiar", also the basis of English idiot. Greek converted its word from Proto-Indo-European swed-yo "own, personal", which emerged in Sanskrit as svami "one's own master", origin of English swami. It also turned up in almost all Slavic languages as svoj "one's own". (Let's all now thank William Hupy for suggesting today's unfortunately hitherto overlooked word—each in his or her own idiom.)

Dr. Goodword,

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