What Is An Idiom? (Plus Usage Tips & Tricks)

Idioms have existed from before the dawn of the English language. Many cultures around the world have relied on these colloquial sayings to help evoke new emotions and lessons from stories told or works written. Using idioms appropriately is a vital skill for any writer to have, as they can summarize points or feelings concisely and in a familiar way. Using the advantage of familiarity, you can structure your work in a way that the idiom is clearly understood and pulls the reader in due to a more conversational or commonly understood tone. In this blogpost, we discuss what an idiom is, the origin of idioms in language, and explore common examples and usage tips for this type of language construct.  

What is an idiom?  

Language is confusing  — idioms seek to make concepts more understandable by using commonly-understood words in groups, which are commonly known to be “figures of speech.” These words generally are not logically linked to one another. 

 A good example of this is when someone states that “there are always more fish in the sea.” With no context, it can be fairly confusing to hear this if you’re telling someone that you’ve been going through a breakup. This idiom is fairly commonly used to describe the event of you having the ability to fall in love with someone in the wide sea of the world.  

Idioms are powerful tools for connection throughout your writing, and should be used and learned correctly to avoid being difficult to understand or confusing in your usage.  

Where did idioms come from?  

Historians cannot agree on where the use of idioms began in the English language. We do know, however, that the term for these language tools came from late Latin’s “idios” and “idiousthai,” according to Oxford’s Dictionary of Languages. These translations translated to “peculiar phraseology” and “make one’s own.” You are, by using idioms, making your own language based on commonly used alternate phraseology in order to make your point to your audience. This is a very fair name to give this type of English tool!  

Famous examples of idioms  

Authors and poets that are now world-renowned relied often on idioms to offer additional symbolic value and variation to their patterns of phraseology. Shakespeare, Chaucer, and even the Holy Bible have all relied on idioms to further reinforce points to their audience. Most famous examples of this include “the green-eyed monster” when describing jealousy, or “the world is your oyster,” when stating that there is a universe of opportunities available for us to seize.  

Tips for using idioms  

Idioms are powerful when writing books or other content that is meant to be commonly consumed. The difficulty comes when discerning when to use idioms in other types of writing, such as professionally or when speaking to potential clients. Idioms may then confuse your messaging.  

When using your idioms, use commonly understood phrasing from your country or globally. Insert them infrequently, allowing them to shine as clearly as possible in the context of your other text. You may also seek editing assistance to ensure that they are able to be easily read by others in your space.