Variability in Idiom Meanings

In this article, idioms are viewed as a type of set expressions that carry covert meanings and mark them by creating evident contextual inconsistencies when understood literary. We will argue that such parameters as stability of the form (often described as syntactic ‘frozenness’), non-compositionality and loss of meaning among idiom constituents cannot be taken as distinctive characteristics in idiom definition as these criteria may not be applied to specific idiom usages, referred to as ‘idiom transformations’ in this article. We will discuss some of them, namely ‘idiom constituent substitution’, ‘idiom constituent drop’, ‘collocation of two idioms’, ‘rewording of idiom meaning’ which represent regular usage of idioms in the mass media context and should be described and analysed alongside with classical (not transformed) idioms. In most cases transformations are facilitated by the literal meanings of the idiom constituents, therefore the role of the literal meaning of the idiom string should not be underestimated. We proceed from the assumption that any idiom is prone to transformation induced by a voluntary intention of the author.