Guide to Literary Terms

Start Free Trial

What is the meaning of idiom?

The meaning of idiom is a figurative expression, often irregular in style, that is particular to a language or region.

Idiom

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on October 20, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 218

An idiom is a figure of speech that is particular to a given language, may lack standard grammatical structure, and may possess a figurative meaning. Because of their often unique constructions and non-literal meanings, many idioms cannot be translated directly into other languages.

Writing an essay?
Get a custom outline

Our Essay Lab can help you tackle any essay assignment within seconds, whether you’re studying Macbeth or the American Revolution. Try it today!

Start an Essay

Idiom derives from the Greek word idioma, from idiousthai (“to appropriate”). 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Many idioms that are popular today originated from literature. For example, the expression “wear my heart on my sleeve” first appeared in William Shakespeare’s Othello, in a line spoken by Iago in act 1, scene 1:

Homework Help

Latest answer posted November 23, 2009, 4:20 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

For when my outward action doth demonstrate

The native act and figure of my heart

In complement extern, 'tis not long after

But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve

For daws to peck at. I am not what I am.

Iago uses this idiom to tell Roderigo that revealing one’s true motives makes one vulnerable. By exposing his heart, Iago would be putting it in danger of being pecked by “daws,” or jackdaws, an extension of the figure that makes vivid the dangers of such vulnerability. The phrase has become common in English usage to describe the act of being vulnerable, but translated literally into another language it would not necessarily retain that meaning, even if the image itself was understood. 

see: colloquialism, figure of speech

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Previous

Hyperbole

Next

Imagery