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Forum » Test category » English language forum » English Lexicology (Г.Б. Антрушина, О.В, Афанасьева, Н.Н. Морозова)
English Lexicology
BakhtiyorDate: Sunday, 2012-06-03, 8:29 AM | Message # 76
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(coll.), not all there (coll.), off one's head (coll.), off one's rocker (coll.), wrong in the upper storey (coll.), having bats in one's belfry (coll.), crazy as a bedbug (coll.), cuckoo (sl.), nutty (sl.), off one's nut (sl.), loony (sl.), a mental case, a mental defective, etc.
A clinic for such patients can also be discreetly referred to as, for instance, an asylum, sanitarium, sanatorium, (mental) institution, and, less discreetly, as a nut house (sl.), booby hatch (sl.), loony bin (sl.), etc.
In the story by Evelyn Waugh "Mr. Loveday's Little Outing" a clinic of this kind, treating only very rich patients, is described as large private grounds suitable for the charge of nervous or difficult cases. This is certainly the peak of euphemistic "delicacy".
The great number of humorous substitutes found in such groups of words prove particularly tempting for writers who use them for comical purposes. The following extracts from a children's book by R. Dahl are, probably, not in the best of taste, but they demonstrate the range of colloquial and slang substitutes for the word mad.
"He's gone off his rocker!" shouted one of the fathers, aghast, and the other parents joined in the chorus of frightened shouting.
"He's crazy!" they shouted.
"He's balmy!"
"He's nutty!"
"He's screwy!"
"He's batty!"
"He's dippy!"
"He's dotty!'*
"He's daffy!"
"He's goofy!"
"He's beany!"
"He's buggy!"
"He's wacky!"
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"He's loony!"
"No, he is not!" said Grandpa Joe.
(From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by R. Dahl)
... "What did I tell you!" — cried Grandma Georgina. "He's round the twist! He's bogged as a beetle! He's dotty as a dingbat! He's got rats in the roof!..."
(Ibid.)
* * *
All the above examples show that euphemisms are substitutes for their synonyms. Their use and very existence are caused either by social conventions or by certain psychological factors. Most of them have stylistic connotations in their semantic structures. One can also assume that there is a special euphemistic connotation that can be singled out in the semantic structure of each such word. Let us point out, too, that euphemistic connotations in formal euphemisms are different in "flavour" from those in slang euphemistic substitutes. In the first case they are solemn and delicately evasive, and in the se-cond rough and somewhat cynical, reflecting an attempt to laugh off an unpleasant fact.
Antonyms
We use the term antonyms to indicate words of the same category of parts of speech which have contrasting meanings, such as hot — cold, light — dark, happiness — sorrow, to accept — to reject, up — down.
If synonyms form whole, often numerous, groups, antonyms are usually believed to appear in pairs. Yet, this is not quite true in reality. For instance, the adjective cold may be said to have warm for its second antonym, and sorrow may be very well contrasted with gaiety.
On the other hand, a polysemantic word may have an antonym (or several antonyms) for each of its mean-
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BakhtiyorDate: Sunday, 2012-06-03, 8:31 AM | Message # 77
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ings. So, the adjective dull has the antonyms interesting, amusing, entertaining for its meaning of "deficient in interest", clever, bright, capable for its meaning of "deficient in intellect", and active for the meaning of "deficient in activity", etc.
Antonymy is not evenly distributed among the categories of parts of speech. Most antonyms are adjectives which is only natural be-cause qualitative characteristics are easily compared and contrasted: high — low, wide — narrow, strong — weak, old — young, friendly — hostile.
Verbs take second place, so far as antonymy is concerned. Yet, verbal pairs of antonyms are fewer in number. Here are some of them: to lose — to find, to live — to die, to open — to close, to weep — to laugh.
Nouns are not rich in antonyms, but even so some examples can be given: friend — enemy, joy — grief, good — evil, heaven — earth, love — hatred.
Antonymic adverbs can be subdivided into two groups: a) adverbs derived from adjectives: warmly — coldly, merrily — sadly, loudly — softly; b) adverbs proper: now — then, here — there, ever — never, up — down, in — out.
* * *
Not so many years ago antonymy was not universally accepted as a linguistic problem, and the opposition within antonymic pairs was regarded as purely logical and finding no reflection in the semantic structures of these words. The contrast between heat and cold or big and small, said most scholars, is the contrast of things opposed by their very nature.
In the previous chapter dealing with synonymy we saw that both the identity and differentiations in words called synonyms can be said to be encoded within their semantic structures. Can the same be said about antonyms? Modern research in the field of antonymy gives a
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positive answer to this question. Nowadays most scholars agree that in the semantic structures of all words, which regularly occur in an-tonymic pairs, a special antonymic connotation can be singled out. We are so used to coming across hot and cold together, in the same contexts, that even when we find hot alone, we cannot help subcon-sciously registering it as not cold, that is, contrast it to its missing antonym. The word possesses its full meaning for us not only due to its direct associations but also because we subconsciously oppose it to its antonym, with which it is regularly used, in this case to hot. Therefore, it is reasonable to suggest that the semantic structure of hot can be said to include the antonymic connotation of "not cold", and the semantic structure of enemy the connotation of "not a friend".
It should be stressed once more that we are speaking only about those antonyms which are characterised by common occurrences, that is, which are regularly used in pairs. When two words frequently occur side by side in numerous contexts, subtle and complex associations between them are not at all unusual. These associations are naturally reflected in the words' semantic structures. Antonymic connotations are a special case of such "reflected associations".
* * *
Together with synonyms, antonyms represent the language's im-portant expressive means. The following quotations show how au-thors use antonyms as a stylistic device of contrast.
How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty1 world. (From Merchant of Venice by W. Shakespeare. Act V, Sc. I)
... But then my soul's imaginary sight Presents thy shad-ow to my sightless view,
1 naughty — wicked, evil (obs.)
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BakhtiyorDate: Sunday, 2012-06-03, 8:32 AM | Message # 78
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Which like a jewel hung in ghastly night, Makes black night beauteous and her old face new. (From Sonnet XXVII by W. Shakespeare)
Welcome joy, and welcome sorrow,
Lethe's weed and Hermes' feather,
Come to-day, and come to-morrow,
I do love you both together!
I love to mark sad faces in fair weather;
And hear a merry laughter amid the thunder;
Fair and foul I love together.
(From A Song of Opposites by J. Keats)
... The writer should seek his reward in the pleasure of his work and in release from the burden of his thought; and indifferent to aught else, care nothing for praise or censure, failure or success.
(From The Moon and Sixpence by W. S. Maugham)
They [the Victorians] were busy erecting, of course; and we have been busy demolishing for so long that now erection seems as ephemeral an activity as bubble-blowing.
(From The French Lieutenant's Woman by J. Fowles);
Exercises
I. Consider your answers to the following.
1. Which word in a synonymic group is considered to
be the dominant synonym? What are its characteristic
features?
2. Can the dominant synonym be substituted for cer
tain other members of a group of synonyms? Is the cri
terion of interchangeabitity applicable in this case?
1 For information on Hyponymy see Supplementary Material, p. 280.
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V.: Do you want me to ride on the wrong side?
P.: You are driving on the wrong side.
V.: But you said that I was driving on the right side.
P.: That is right. You are on the right, and that's wrong.
V.: A strange country! If right is wrong, I'm right when I'm on the wrong side. So why did you stop me?
P.: My dear sir, you must keep to the left. The right side is the left.
V.: It's like a looking-glass! I'll try to remember. Well, I want to go to Bellwood. Will you kindly tell me the way?
P.: Certainly. At the end of this road, turn left.
V.: Now let me think. Turn left! In England left is right, and right is wrong. Am I right?
P.: You'll be right if you turn left. But if you turn right, you'll be wrong.
V.: Thank you. It's as clear as daylight.
(After G. C. Thornley)1
2. Flying instructors say that pilot trainees are divided into opti-mists and pessimists when reporting the amount of fuel during flights. Optimists report that their fuel tank is half full while pessimists say it's half empty. 3. The canvas homes, the caravans, the transportable timber frames — each had its light. Some moving, some still. 4. His words seemed to point out that sad, even, tragic things could never be gay. 5. It was warm in the sun but cool under the shady trees. 6. He is my best friend and he is my bitter enemy. 7. Every man has feminine qualities and every woman has masculine ones. 8. He hated to be exposed to strangers, to be accepted or rejected.
1 The text is borrowed from Look, Laugh and Learn to Speak by I. B. Vasilyeva, I. A. Kitenko, D. V. Menyajlo. L., 1970.
 
BakhtiyorDate: Sunday, 2012-06-03, 8:32 AM | Message # 79
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CHAPTER 12
Phraseology: Word-Groups with Transferred Meanings
Phraseological units, or idioms, as they are called by most west-ern scholars, represent what can probably be described as the most picturesque, colourful and expressive part of the language's vocabu-lary.
If synonyms can be figuratively referred to as the tints and col-ours of the vocabulary, then phraseology is a kind of picture gallery in which are collected vivid and amusing sketches of the nation's customs, traditions and prejudices, recollections of its past history, scraps of folk songs and fairy-tales. Quotations from great poets are preserved here alongside the dubious pearls of philistine wisdom and crude slang witticisms, for phraseology is not only the most colourful but probably the most democratic area of vocabulary and draws its resources mostly from the very depths of popular speech.
And what a variety of odd and grotesque images, figures and per-sonalities one finds in this amazing picture gallery: dark horses, white elephants, bulls in china shops and green-eyed monsters, cats escap-ing from bags or looking at kings, dogs barking up the wrong tree and men either wearing their hearts on their sleeves or having them in their mouths or even in their boots. Sometimes this parade of funny animals and quaint human beings looks more like a hilarious fancy-dress ball than a peaceful picture gallery and it is really a pity that the only interest some scholars seem to take in it is whether the leading component of the idiom is expressed by a verb or a noun.
8. «Лексикология»
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The metaphor fancy-dress ball may seem far-fetched to skeptical minds, and yet it aptly reflects a very important feature of the linguis-tic phenomenon under discussion: most participants of the carnival, if we accept the metaphor, wear masks, are disguised as something or somebody else, or, dropping metaphors, word-groups known as phra-seological units or idioms are characterised by a double sense: the current meanings of constituent words build up a certain picture, but the actual meaning of the whole unit has little or nothing to do with that picture, in itself creating an entirely new image.
So, a dark horse mentioned above is actually not a horse but a person about whom no one knows anything definite, and so one is not sure what can be expected from him. The imagery of a bull in a china shop lies very much on the surface: the idiom describes a clumsy person (cf. with the R. слон в посудной лавке). A white elephant, however, is not even a person but a valuable object which involves great expense or trouble for its owner, out of all proportion to its usefulness or value, and which is also difficult to dispose of. The green-eyed monster is jealousy, the image being drawn from Othello1 . To let the cat out of the bag has actually nothing to do with cats, but means simply "to let some secret become known". In to bark up the wrong tree (Amer.), the current meanings of the constituents create a vivid and amusing picture of a foolish dog sitting under a tree and barking at it while the cat or the squirrel has long since escaped. But the actual meaning of the idiom is "to follow a false scent; to look for somebody or something in a wrong place; to expect from somebody what he is unlikely to do". The idiom is not infrequently used
1 O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock The meat it feeds on ...
(lago's words from Act III, Sc. 3)
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BakhtiyorDate: Sunday, 2012-06-03, 8:32 AM | Message # 80
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in detective stories: The police are barking up the wrong tree as usual (i.e. they suspect somebody who has nothing to do with the crime).
The ambiguousness of these interesting word groups may lead to an amusing misunderstanding, especially for children who are apt to accept words at their face value.
Little Johnnie (crying): Mummy, mummy, my auntie Jane is dead.
Mother: Nonsense, child! She phoned me exactly five minutes ago.
Johnnie: But I heard Mrs. Brown say that her neighbours cut her dead.
(To cut somebody dead means "to rudely ignore somebody; to pretend not to know or recognise him".)
Puns are frequently based on the ambiguousness of idioms:
"Isn't our Kate a marvel! I wish you could have seen her at the Harrisons' party yesterday. If I'd collected the bricks she dropped all over the place, I could build a villa."
(To drop a brick means "to say unintentionally a quite indiscreet or tactless thing that shocks and offends people".)
So, together with synonymy and antonymy, phraseology repre-sents expressive resources of vocabulary-
V. H. Collins writes in his Book of English Idioms: "In standard spoken and written English today idiom is an established and essen-tial element that, used with care, ornaments and enriches the lan-guage." [26]
Used with care is an important warning because speech overload-ed with idioms loses its freshness and originality. Idioms, after all, are ready-made speech units, and their continual repetition sometimes wears them out: they lose their colours and become trite clichés. Such idioms can hardly be said to "ornament" or "enrich the language".
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On the other hand, oral or written speech lacking idioms loses much in expressiveness, colour and emotional force.
In modern linguistics, there is considerable confusion about the terminology associated with these word-groups. Most Russian schol-ars use the term "phraseological unit" ("фразеологическая единица") which was first introduced by Academician V.V.Vinogradov whose contribution to the theory of Russian phrase-ology cannot be overestimated. The term "idiom" widely used by western scholars has comparatively recently found its way into Rus-sian phraseology but is applied mostly to only a certain type of phra-seological unit as it will be clear from further explanations.
There are some other terms denoting more or less the same lin-guistic phenomenon: set-expressions, set-phrases, phrases, fixed word-groups, collocations.
The confusion in the terminology reflects insufficiency of positive or wholly reliable criteria by which phraseological units can be dis-tinguished from "free" word-groups.
It should be pointed out at once that the "freedom" of free word-groups is relative and arbitrary. Nothing is entirely "free" in speech as its linear relationships are governed, restricted and regulated, on the one hand, by requirements of logic and common sense and, on the other, by the rules of grammar and combinability. One can speak of a black-eyed girl but not of a black-eyed table (unless in a piece of modernistic poetry where anything is possible). Also, to say the child was glad is quite correct, but a glad child is wrong because in Mod-ern English glad is attributively used only with a very limited number of nouns (e. g. glad news), and names of persons are not among them.
Free word-groups are so called not because of any absolute free-dom in using them but simply because they are each time built up anew in the speech process where-
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BakhtiyorDate: Sunday, 2012-06-03, 8:33 AM | Message # 81
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as idioms are used as ready-made units with fixed and constant structures.
How to Distinguish Phraseological Units from Free Word-Groups
This is probably the most discussed — and the most controversial — problem in the field of phraseology. The task of distinguishing between free word-groups and phraseological units is further compli-cated by the existence of a great number of marginal cases, the so-called semi-fixed or semi-free word-groups, also called non-phraseological word-groups which share with phraseological units their structural stability but lack their semantic unity and figurative-ness (e. g. to go to school, to go by bus, to commit suicide).
There are two major criteria for distinguishing between phraseo-logical units and free word-groups: semantic and structural.
Compare the following examples:
A. Cambridge don: I'm told they're inviting
more American professors to this university. Isn't it
rather carrying coals to Newcastle?
(To carry coals to Newcastle means "to take something to a place where it is already plentiful and not needed". Cf. with the R. В Тулу со своим самоваром.)
B. This cargo ship is carrying coal to Liverpool.
The first thing that captures the eye is the semantic difference of the two word-groups consisting of the same essential constituents. In the second sentence the free word-group is carrying coal is used in the direct sense, the word coal standing for real hard, black coal and carry for the plain process of taking something from one place to another. The first context quite obviously has nothing to do either with coal or with transporting it, and the meaning of the whole word-group is
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something entirely new and far removed from the current meanings of the constituents.
Academician V. V. Vinogradov spoke of the semantic change in phraseological units as "a meaning resulting from a peculiar chemical combination of words". This seems a very apt comparison because in both cases between which the parallel is drawn an entirely new quality comes into existence.
The semantic shift affecting phraseological units does not consist in a mere change of meanings of each separate constituent part of the unit. The meanings of the constituents merge to produce an entirely new meaning: e. g. to have a bee in one's bonnet means "to have an obsession about something; to be eccentric or even a little mad". The humorous metaphoric comparison with a person who is distracted by a bee continually buzzing under his cap has become erased and half-forgotten, and the speakers using the expression hardly think of bees or bonnets but accept it in its transferred sense: "obsessed, eccentric".
That is what is meant when phraseological units are said to be characterised by semantic unity. In the traditional approach, phraseological units have been defined as word-groups conveying a single concept (whereas in free word-groups each meaningful component stands for a separate concept).
It is this feature that makes phraseological units similar to words: both words and phraseological units possess semantic unity (see In-troduction). Yet, words are also characterised by structural unity which phraseological units very obviously lack being combinations of words.
Most Russian scholars today accept the semantic criterion of distinguishing phraseological units from free word-groups as the major one and base their research work in the field of phraseology on the defini-
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BakhtiyorDate: Sunday, 2012-06-03, 8:34 AM | Message # 82
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tion of a phraseological unit offered by Professor A. V. Koonin, the leading authority on problems of English phraseology in our country:
"A phraseological unit is a stable word-group characterised by a completely or partially transferred meaning." [12]
The definition clearly suggests that the degree of semantic change in a phraseological unit may vary ("completely or partially transferred meaning"). In actual fact the semantic change may affect either the whole word-group or only one of its components. The following phraseological units represent the first case: to skate on thin ice (~ to put oneself in a dangerous position; to take risks); to wear one's heart on one's sleeve1 (~ to expose, so that everyone knows, one's most intimate feelings); to have one's heart in one's boots (~ to be deeply depressed, anxious about something); to have one's heart in one's mouth (~ to be greatly alarmed by what is expected to happen); to have one's heart in the right place (~ to be a good, honest and generous fellow); a crow in borrowed plumes (£ a person pretentiously and unsuitably dressed; cf. with the R. ворона в павлиньих перьях); a wolf in a sheep's clothing2 (~ a dangerous enemy who plausibly poses as a friend).
The second type is represented by phraseological units in which one of the components preserves its current meaning and the other is used in a transferred meaning: to lose (keep) one's temper, to fly into a temper, to fall ill, to fall in love (out of love), to stick to one's word (promise), to arrive at a conclusion, bosom friends, shop talk (also: to talk shop), small talk.
1 The origin of the phrase is in a passage in Othello where
Iago says:
... 'tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve For daws to peck at.
(Act I, Sc. 1)
2 The allusion is to a fable of Aesop.
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Here, though, we are on dangerous ground because the border-line dividing phraseological units with partially changed meanings from the so-called semi-fixed or non-phraseological word-groups (marginal cases) is uncertain and confusing.
The term "idiom", both in this country and abroad, is mostly ap-plied to phraseological units with completely transferred meanings, that is, to the ones in which the meaning of the whole unit does not correspond to the current meanings of the components. There are many scholars who regard idioms as the essence of phraseology and the major focus of interest in phraseology research.
The structural criterion also brings forth pronounced distinctive features characterising phraseological units and contrasting them to free word-groups.
Structural invariability is an essential feature of phraseological units, though, as we shall see, some of them possess it to a lesser de-gree than others. Structural invariability of phraseological units finds expression in a number of restrictions.
First of all, restriction in substitution. As a rule, no word can be substituted for any meaningful component of a phraseological unit without destroying its sense. To carry coals to Manchester makes as little sense as Б Харьков со своим самоваром.
The idiom to give somebody the cold shoulder means "to treat somebody coldly, to ignore or cut him", but a warm shoulder or a cold elbow make no sense at all. The meaning of a bee in smb's bon-net was explained above, but a bee in his hat or cap would sound a silly error in choice of words, one of those absurd slips that people are apt to make when speaking a foreign language.
At the same time, in free word-groups substitution does not pre-sent any dangers and does not lead to any serious consequences. In The cargo ship is carrying coal to Liverpool all the components can be changed:
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BakhtiyorDate: Sunday, 2012-06-03, 8:35 AM | Message # 83
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The ship/vessel/boat carries/transports/takes/brings coal to (any port).
The second type of restriction is the restriction in introducing any additional components into the structure of a phraseological unit.
In a free word-group such changes can be made without affecting the general meaning of the utterance: This big ship is carrying a large cargo of coal to the port of Liverpool.
In the phraseological unit to carry coals to Newcastle no additional components can be introduced. Nor can one speak about the big white elephant (when using the white elephant in its phraseological sense) or about somebody having his heart in his brown boots.
Yet, such restrictions are less regular. In Vanity Fair by W. M. Thackeray the idiom to build a castle in the air is used in this way:
"While dressing for dinner, she built for herself a most magnif-icent castle in the air of which she was the mistress ..."
In fiction such variations of idioms created for stylistic purposes are not a rare thing. In oral speech phraseological units mostly pre-serve their traditional structures and resist the introduction of addi-tional components.
The third type of structural restrictions in phraseological units is grammatical invariability. A typical mistake with students of English is to use the plural form of fault in the phraseological unit to find fault with somebody (e. g. The teacher always found faults with the boy). Though the plural form in this context is logically well-founded, it is a mistake in terms of the grammatical invariability of phraseological units >. A similar typical mistake often occurs in the unit from head to foot (e. g. From head to foot he was immaculately dressed). Students are apt to use the plural form of foot
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in this phrase thus erring once more against the rigidity of structure which is so characteristic of phraseological units.
Yet again, as in the case of restriction in introducing additional components, there are exceptions to the rule, and these are probably even more numerous.
One can build a castle in the air, but also castles. A shameful or dangerous family secret is picturesquely described as a skeleton in the cupboard, the first substantive component being frequently and easily used in the plural form, as in: I'm sure they have skeletons in every cupboard! A black sheep is a disreputable member of a family who, in especially serious cases, may be described as the blackest sheep of the family.
Proverbs
Consider the following examples of proverbs:
We never know the value of water till the well is dry.
You can take the horse to the water, but you cannot make him drink.
Those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.
Even these few examples clearly show that proverbs are different from those phraseological units which have been discussed above. The first distinctive feature that strikes one is the obvious structural dissimilarity. Phraseological units, as we have seen, are a kind of ready-made blocks which fit into the structure of a sentence perform-ing a certain syntactical function, more or less as words do. E. g. George liked her for she never put on airs (predicate). Big bugs like him care nothing about small fry like ourselves, (a) subject, b) prepo-sitional object).
Proverbs, if viewed in their structural aspect, are sentences, and so cannot be used in the way in which phraseological units are used in the above examples.
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BakhtiyorDate: Sunday, 2012-06-03, 8:35 AM | Message # 84
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If one compares proverbs and phraseological units in the semantic aspect, the difference seems to become even more obvious. Proverbs could be best compared with minute fables for, like the latter, they sum up the collective experience of the community. They moralise (Hell is paved with good intentions), give advice (Don't judge a tree by its bark), give warning (If you sing before breakfast, you will cry before night), admonish (Liars should have good memories), criticise (Everyone calls his own geese swans).
No phraseological unit ever does any of these things. They do not stand for whole statements as proverbs do but for a single concept. Their function in speech is purely nominative (i. e. they denote an object, an act, etc.). The function of proverbs in speech, though, is communicative (i. e. they impart certain information).
The question of whether or not proverbs should be regarded as a subtype of phraseological units and studied together with the phrase-ology of a language is a controversial one.
Professor A. V. Koonin includes proverbs in his classification of phraseological units and labels them communicative phraseological units (see Ch. 13). From his point of view, one of the main criteria of a phraseological unit is its stability. If the quotient of phraseological stability in a word-group is not below the minimum, it means that we are dealing with a phraseological unit. The structural type — that is, whether the unit is a combination of words or a sentence — is irrele-vant.
The criterion of nomination and communication cannot be applied here either, says Professor A. V. Koonin, because there are a considerable number of verbal phraseological units which are word-groups (i. e. nominative units) when the verb is used in the Active Voice, and sentences (i. e. communicative units) when the verb is used in the Passive Voice. E. g. to cross (pass)
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the Rubicon — the Rubicon is crossed (passed); to shed crocodile tears — crocodile tears are shed. Hence, if one accepts nomination as a criterion of referring or not referring this or that unit to phraseol-ogy, one is faced with the absurd conclusion that such word-groups, when with verbs in the Active Voice, are phraseological units and belong to the system of the language, and when with verbs in the Pas-sive Voice, are non-phraseological word-groups and do not belong to the system of the language. [12]
It may be added, as one more argument in support of this concept, that there does not seem to exist any rigid or permanent border-line between proverbs and phraseological units as the latter rather frequently originate from the former.
So, the phraseological unit the last straw originated from the proverb The last straw breaks the camel's back, the phraseological unit birds of a feather from the proverb Birds of a feather flock to-gether, the phraseological unit to catch at a straw (straws) from A drowning man catches at straws.
What is more, some of the proverbs are easily transformed into phraseological units. E. g. Don't put all your eggs in one basket > to put all one's eggs in one basket; don't cast pearls before swine > to cast pearls before swine.
Exercises
I. Consider your answers to the following.
1. What do we mean when we say that an idiom has a "double" meaning?
2. Why is it very important to use idioms with care? Should for-eign-language students use them? Give reasons for your answer.
3. The term "phraseological unit" is used by most Russian schol-ars. What other terms are used to de scribe the same word-groups?
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BakhtiyorDate: Sunday, 2012-06-03, 8:36 AM | Message # 85
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4. How can you show that the "freedom" of free word-groups is relative and arbitrary?
5. What are the two major criteria for distinguishing between phraseological units and free word-groups?
6. How would you explain the term "grammatical in variability" of phraseological units?
7. How do proverbs differ from phraseological units?
8. Can proverbs be regarded as a subdivision of phraseological units? Give reasons for your answer.
II., What is the source of the following idioms? If in doubt consult your reference books.
The Trojan horse, Achilles heel, a labour of Hercules, an apple of discord, forbidden fruit, the serpent in the tree, an ugly duckling, the fifth column, to hide one's head in the sand.
III. Substitute phraseological units with the noun "heart"
for the italicised words. What is the difference between the
two sentences?
1. He is not a man who shows his feelings openly. 2. She may seem cold but she has true, kind feelings. 3. I learned that piece of poetry by memory. 4. When I think about my examination tomorrow I feel in despair. 5. When I heard that strange cry in the darkness I was terribly afraid. 6. It was the job I liked very much. 7. I didn't win the prize but I'm not discouraged.
IV. Show that you understand the meaning of the following phraseological units by using each of them in a sentence.
1. Between the devil and the deep sea; 2. to have one's heart in one's boots; 3. to have one's heart in the
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right place; 4. to wear one's heart on one's sleeve; 5. in the blues; 6. once in a blue moon; 7. to swear black is white; 8. out of the blue; 9. to talk till all is blue; 10. to talk oneself blue in the face.
V. Substitute phraseological units incorporating the
names of colours for the italicised words.
1. I'm feeling rather miserable today. 2. He spends all his time on bureaucratic routine. 3. A thing like that happens very rarely. 4. You can talk till you are tired of it but I shan't believe you. 5. The news was a great shock to me. It came quite unexpectedly. 6. I won't be-lieve it unless I see it in writing. 7. You can never believe what he says, he will swear anything if it suits his purpose.
VI. Read the following jokes. Why do little children often misun-derstand phraseological units? Explain how the misunderstanding arises in each case.
1. "Now, my little boys and girls," said the teacher. "I want you to be very still — so still that you can hear a pin drop." For a minute all was still, and then a little boy shrieked out: "Let her drop."
2. "You must be pretty strong," said Willie, aged six to the young widow who had come to call on his mother.
"Strong? What makes you think so?"
"Daddy said you can wrap any man in town around your little finger."
S.Tom: What would you do if you were in my shoes?
Tim: Polish them!
4. Little Girl: Oh, Mr. Sprawler, do put on your skates and show me the funny figures you can make.
Mr. Sprawler: My dear child, I'm only a beginner. I can't make any figures.
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Little Girl: But Mother said you were skating yesterday and cut a ridiculous figure.
VII. Read the following jokes. Explain why the italicised
groups of words are not phraseological units.
Warning
The little boy whose father was absorbed in reading a newspaper on the bench in the city park, exclaimed:
"Daddy, look, a plane!"
His father, still reading the paper, said: "All right, but don't touch it."
Great Discovery
A scientist rushed into the ops room of the space mission control centre: "You know that new gigantic computer which was to be the brain of the project? We have just made a great discovery!"
"What discovery?"
"It doesn't work!"
VIII. Explain whether the semantic changes in the following phraseological units are complete or partial. Paraphrase them.
To wear one's heart on one's sleeve; a wolf in a sheep's clothing; to fly into a temper; to stick to one's word; bosom friend; small talk; to cast pearls before swine; to beat about the bush; to add fuel to the fire; to fall ill; to fall in love; to sail under false colours; to be at sea.
IX. Say what structural variations are possible in the following phraseological units. If in doubt, consult the dictionaries.
To catch at a straw; a big bug; the last drop; to build a castle in the air; to weather the storm; to get the upper hand; to run for one's life; to do wonders; to run a risk; just the other way about.
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CHAPTER 1 3
Phraseology: Principles of Classifica-tion
It would be interesting now to look at phraseological units from a different angle, namely: how are all these treasures of the language approached by the linguistic science? The very miscellaneous nature of these units suggests the first course of action: they must be sorted out and arranged in certain classes which possess identical character-istics.
But which characteristics should be chosen as the main criteria for such a classification system? The structural? The semantic? Those of degree of stability? Of origin?
It should be clear from the previous description that a phraseologi-cal unit is a complex phenomenon with a number of important fea-tures, which can therefore be approached from different points of view. Hence, there exist a considerable number of different classifica-tion systems devised by different scholars and based on different principles.
The traditional and oldest principle for classifying phraseological units is based on their original content and might be alluded to as "thematic" (although the term is not universally accepted). The approach is widely used in numerous English and American guides to idiom, phrase books, etc. On this principle, idioms are classified according to their sources of origin, "source" referring to the particular sphere of human activity, of life of nature, of natural phenomena, etc. So, L. P. Smith gives in his classification groups of idioms used by
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sailors, fishermen, soldiers, hunters and associated with the realia, phenomena and conditions of their occupations. In Smith's classification we also find groups of idioms associated with domestic and wild animals and birds, agriculture and cooking. There are also numerous idioms drawn from sports, arts, etc.
This principle of classification is sometimes called "etymologi-cal". The term does not seem appropriate since we usually mean something different when we speak of the etymology of a word or word-group: whether the word (or word-group) is native or borrowed, and, if the latter, what is the source of borrowing. It is true that Smith makes a special study of idioms borrowed from other languages, but that is only a relatively small part of his classification system. The general principle is not etymological.
Smith points out that word-groups associated with the sea and the life of seamen are especially numerous in English vocabulary. Most of them have long since developed metaphorical meanings which have no longer any association with the sea or sailors. Here are some examples.
To be all at sea — to be unable to understand; to be in a state of ignorance or bewilderment about something (e. g. How can I be a judge in a situation in which I am all at sea? I'm afraid I'm all at sea in this problem). V. H. Collins remarks that the metaphor is that of a boat tossed about, out of control, with its occupants not knowing where they are. [26]
To sink or swim — to fail or succeed (e. g. It is a case of sink or swim. All depends on his own effort.)
In deep water — in trouble or danger.
In low water, on the rocks — in strained financial circumstances.
To be in the same boat with somebody — to be in a situation in which people share the same difficulties and dangers (e. g. I don't like you much, but seeing that we're in the same boat I'll back you all I can). The
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metaphor is that of passengers in the life-boat of a sunken ship.
To sail under false colours — to pretend to be what one is not; sometimes, to pose as a friend and, at the same time, have hostile intentions. The metaphor is that of an enemy ship that approaches its intended prey showing at the mast the flag ("colours") of a pretended friendly nation.
To show one's colours — to betray one's real character or inten-tions. The allusion is, once more, to a ship showing the flag of its country at the mast.
To strike one's colours — to surrender, give in, admit one is beat-en. The metaphor refers to a ship's hauling down its flag (sign of sur-render).
To weather (to ride out) the storm — to overcome difficulties; to have courageously stood against misfortunes.
To bow to the storm — to give in, to acknowledge one's defeat.
Three sheets in(to) the wind (sl.) — very drunk.
Half seas over (sl.) — drunk.
Though, as has been said, direct associations with seafaring in all these idioms have been severed, distant memories of the sea romance and adventure still linger in some of them. The faint sound of the surf can still be heard in such phrases as to ride out the storm or breakers ahead! (= Take care! Danger!). Such idioms as to sail under false colours, to nail one's colours to the mast (~ to be true to one's convictions, to fight for them openly) bring to mind the distant past of pirate brigs, sea battles and great discoveries of new lands.
It is true, though, that a foreigner is more apt to be struck by the colourfulness of the direct meaning of an idiom where a native speaker sees only its transferred meaning, the original associations being almost fully forgotten. And yet, when we Russians use or hear the idiom первая ласточка, doesn't a dim image of the little bird flash before our mind, though, of course, we re-
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ally mean something quite different? When we say на воре и шапка горит, are we entirely free from the picture built up by the direct meanings of the words? If it were really so and all the direct associa-tions of the idioms had been entirely erased, phraseology would not constitute one of the language's main expressive resources. Its expressiveness and wealth of colour largely — if not solely — depend on the ability of an idiom to create two images at once: that of a ship safely coming out of the storm — and that of a man overcoming his troubles and difficulties (to weather/ride out the storm); that of a ship's crew desperately fighting against a pirate brig — and that of a man courageously standing for his views and convictions (to nail one's colours to the mast),
The thematic principle of classifying phraseological units has real merit but it does not take into consideration the linguistic characteris-tic features of the phraseological units.
The considerable contribution made by Russian scholars in phra-seological research cannot be exaggerated. We have already men-tioned the great contribution made by Academician V. V. Vinogradov to this branch of linguistic science.
The classification system of phraseological units devised by this prominent scholar is considered by some linguists of today to be out-dated, and yet its value is beyond doubt because it was the first classification system which was based on the semantic principle. It goes without saying that semantic characteristics are of immense importance in phraseological units. It is also well known that in modern research they are often sadly ignored. That is why any attempt at studying the semantic aspect of phraseological units should be appreciated.
Vinogradov's classification system is founded on the degree of semantic cohesion between the components of a phraseological unit. Units with a partially trans-
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ferred meaning show the weakest cohesion between their compo-nents. The more distant the meaning of a phraseological unit from the current meaning of its constituent parts, the greater is its degree of semantic cohesion. Accordingly, Vinogradov classifies phraseological units into three classes: phraseological combinations, unities and fusions (R. фразеологические сочетания, единства и сращения). [9]
Phraseological combinations are word-groups with a partially changed meaning. They may be said to be clearly motivated, that is, the meaning of the unit can be easily deduced from the meanings of its constituents.
E. g. to be at one's wits' end, to be good at something, to be a good hand at something, to have a bite, to come off a poor second, to come to a sticky end (coll.), to look a sight (coll.), to take something for granted, to stick to one's word, to stick at nothing, gospel truth, bosom friends.
Phraseological unities are word-groups with a completely changed meaning, that is, the meaning of the unit does not correspond to the meanings of its constituent parts. They are motivated units or, putting it another way, the meaning of the whole unit can be deduced from the meanings of the constituent parts; the metaphor, on which the shift of meaning is based, is clear and transparent.
E. g. to stick to one's guns (~ to be true to one's views or convic-tions. The image is that of a gunner or guncrew who do not desert their guns even if a battle seems lost); to sit on the fence (~ in discus-sion, politics, etc. refrain from committing oneself to either side); to catch/clutch at a straw/straws (~ when in extreme danger, avail one-self of even the slightest chance of rescue); to lose one's head (~ to be at a loss what to do; to be out of one's mind); to lose one's heart to smb. (~ to fall in love); to lock the stable door after the horse is stolen (~ to take precautions too late, when
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the mischief is done); to look a gift horse in the mouth (= to examine a present too critically; to find fault with something one gained with-out effort); to ride the high horse (~ to behave in a superior, haughty, overbearing way. The image is that of a person mounted on a horse so high that he looks down on others); the last drop/straw (the final culminating circumstance that makes a situation unendurable); a big bug/pot, sl. (a person of importance); a fish out of water (a person situated uncomfortably outside his usual or proper environment).
Phraseological fusions are word-groups with a completely changed meaning but, in contrast to the unities, they are demotivated, that is, their meaning cannot be deduced from the meanings of the constituent parts; the metaphor, on which the shift of meaning was based, has lost its clarity and is obscure.
E. g. to come a cropper (to come to disaster); neck and crop (en-tirely, altogether, thoroughly, as in: He was thrown out neck and crop. She severed all relations with them neck and crop.); at sixes and sevens (in confusion or in disagreement); to set one's cap at smb. (to try and attract a man; spoken about girls and women. The image, which is now obscure, may have been either that of a child trying to catch a butterfly with his cap or of a girl putting on a pretty cap so as to attract a certain person. In Vanity Fair: "Be careful, Joe, that girl is setting her cap at you."); to leave smb. in the lurch (to abandon a friend when he is in trouble); to show the white feather (to betray one's cowardice. The allusion was originally to cock fighting. A white feather in a cock's plumage denoted a bad fighter); to dance attend-ance on smb. (to try and please or attract smb.; to show exaggerated attention to smb.).
It is obvious that this classification system does not take into ac-count the structural characteristics of phraseological units. On the other hand, the border-line
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separating unities from fusions is vague and even subjective. One and the same phraseological unit may appear motivated to one person (and therefore be labelled as a unity) and demotivated to another (and be regarded as a fusion). The more profound one's command of the language and one's knowledge of its history, the fewer fusions one is likely to discover in it.
The structural principle of classifying phraseological units is based on their ability to perform the same syntactical functions as words. In the traditional structural approach, the following principal groups of phraseological units are distinguishable.
A. Verbal. E. g. to run for one's (dear) life, to get (win) the upper hand, to talk through one's hat, to make a song and dance about something, to sit pretty (Amer. sl.).
B. Substantive. E. g. dog's life, cat-and-dog life, calf love, white lie, tall order, birds of a feather, birds of passage, red tape, brown study.
C. Adjectival. E. g. high and mighty, spick and span, brand new, safe and sound. In this group the so-called comparative word-groups are particularly expressive and sometimes amusing in their unantici-pated and capricious associations: (as) cool as a cucumber, (as) nerv-ous as a cat, (as) weak as a kitten, (as) good as gold (usu. spoken about children), (as) pretty as a picture, as large as life, (as) slippery as an eel, (as) thick as thieves, (as) drunk as an owl (sl.), (as) mad as a hatter/a hare in March.
D. Adverbial. E. g. high and low (as in They searched for him high and low), by hook or by crook (as in She decided that, by hook or by crook, she must marry him), for love or money (as in He came to the conclusion that a really good job couldn't be found for love or money), in cold blood (as in The crime was said to have been commit-ted in cold blood), in the dead of night, between the devil and the deep sea (in a situation in which danger threatens whatever course of action
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one takes), to the bitter end (as in to fight to the bitter end), by a long chalk (as in It is not the same thing, by a long chalk).
E. Interjectional. E. g. my God/ by Jove! by George! goodness gracious! good Heavens! sakes alive! (Amer.)
Professor Smirnitsky offered a classification system for English phraseological units which is interesting as an attempt to combine the structural and the semantic principles [12] Phraseological units in this classification system are grouped according to the number and se-mantic significance of their constituent parts. Accordingly two large groups are established:
A. one-summit units, which have one meaningful constituent (e. g. to give up, to make out, to pull out, to be tired, to be surprised1);
B. two-summit and multi-summit units which have two or more meaningful constituents (e. g. black art, first night, common sense, to fish in troubled waters).
Within each of these large groups the phraseological units are classified according to the category of parts of speech of the summit constituent. So, one-summit units are subdivided into: a) verbal-adverbial units equivalent to verbs in which the semantic and the grammatical centres coincide in the first constituent (e. g. to give up); b) units equivalent to verbs which have their semantic centre in the second constituent and their grammatical centre in the first (e. g. to be tired); c) prepositional-substantive units equivalent either to adverbs or to copulas and having their semantic centre in the substantive constituent and no grammatical centre (e. g. by heart, by means of).
Two-summit and multi-summit phraseological units are classified into: a) attributive-substantive two-summit units equivalent to nouns (e. g. black art),
1 It should be pointed out that most Russian scholars do not regard these as phraseological units; so this is a controversial point.
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b) verbal-substantive two-summit units equivalent to verbs (e. g. to take the floor), c) phraseological repetitions equivalent to adverbs (e. g. now or never); d) adverbial multi-summit units (e. g. every other day).
Professor Smirnitsky also distinguishes proper phraseological units which, in his classification system, are units with non-figurative meanings, and idioms, that is, units with transferred meanings based on a metaphor.
Professor Koonin, the leading Russian authority on English phra-seology, pointed out certain inconsistencies in this classification sys-tem. First of all, the subdivision into phraseological units (as non-idiomatic units) and idioms contradicts the leading criterion of a phraseological unit suggested by Professor Smirnitsky: it should be idiomatic.
Professor Koonin also objects to the inclusion of such word-groups as black art, best man, first night in phraseology (in Professor Smirnitsky's classification system, the two-summit phraseological units) as all these word-groups are not characterised by a transferred meaning. It is also pointed out that verbs with post-positions (e. g. give up) are included in the classification but their status as phraseo-logical units is not supported by any convincing argument.
* * *
The classification system of phraseological units suggested by Professor A. V. Koonin is the latest out-standing achievement in the Russian theory of phraseology. The classification is based on the combined structural-semantic principle and it also considers the quo-tient of stability of phraseological units.
Phraseological units are subdivided into the following four classes according to their function in communication determined by their structural-semantic characteristics.
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