Jay Heinrichs defines an idiom in his book Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us about the Art of Persuasion. Heinrichs defines an idiom as, “Inseparable words with a single meaning. Often mistaken for figures in general, the idiom is merely a kind of figure.” [Heinrichs, 299] Idioms combine words that have a meaning of their own. [Heinrichs, 211]
Idioms are a rhetorical tool that are seen, and used, everywhere around us. Many people are probably completely unaware that the rhetorical device in which they are using actually as a name. SUPRISE!! That phrase of words you just used has a name of its own, idiom.
I am going to try and break down the meaning of idiom in a way that is easier to understand. Idiom, simply defined, is a group of words that mean something other than what is literally spoken. For example, “You’re the apple of my eye” doesn’t actually mean you are the apple in someone’s eye. The phrase itself has a different meaning than the words alone, it means that you are really important to the person that stated the phrase.
Idioms are super popular and can be found almost anywhere, but people are still not very sure of what they are doing when they use an idiom. Which begs the question, why are idioms so popular and exactly how do they work in the rhetorical world?
Idioms are important to the rhetorical world because they allow people to say things in a more creative way. For example, saying “Back to the drawing board” is both easier and more creative than “okay, we have to start over.” Idioms work almost as a language of there own. We can speak to each other with phrases that we understand, but if they were broken down wouldn’t mean what they appear as at all. Idioms are also popular because they are fun. Idioms had humor into everyday conversation. It seems more fun to say “Elvis has left the building” than it does to say “The show is over.” Idioms also bring real life situations into conversation without having to tell an entire different story. For example, “Don’t count your chickens before the egg has hatched” means to not count on something that may never happen. However, using the phrase “don’t count your chickens before the egg has hatched” adds a bit of logic to the situation. You know that chicks may die before they hatch, so you wouldn’t want to count the eggs as a “chicken” until they were hatched and walking around. Using an idiom instead of having tell an entire egg hatching story adds logic and it is simply much faster.
Idioms are extremely popular all over the world. In television, in speeches, in everyday conversation. Idioms serve the purpose of creativity, humor, and quick logic. Idioms are a great rhetorical tactic that do there job and get the point across in an amazing way. When it comes to rhetorical devices and decisions, using an idiom should always be a go to.