Could anyone point me to research papers discussing idioms with similar meaning? Are there any algorithms on how to search for a similar idiom?

For example, these idioms are somewhat similar - they all claim that people can't change themselves:

Leopard can't change its spots

This idiom means that people cannot change basic aspects of their character, especially negative ones.

In your blood

A trait or liking that is deeply ingrained in someone's personality and unlikely to change is in their blood.

What can you expect from a hog but a grunt?

This means that you can't expect people to behave in a way that is not in their character- a 'hog' is a 'pig', so an unrefined person can't be expected to behave in a refined way.

  • Check out Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors We Live By. All of these are metaphors; many if not most idioms have metaphors behind/beneath/powering them. May 17, 2015 at 3:11
  • These are aphorisms: a pithy observation that contains a general truth.
    – Barmar
    May 17, 2015 at 5:17
  • Thanks! Is there any source where you can input a "general truth" and get bunch of idioms/metaphors/aphorisms supporting this truth? This would be very handy..
    – msh
    May 18, 2015 at 3:20
  • The study of proverbs is called paremiology. Though I haven't heard of an online webapp that does what you suggest, it sounds like it might be possible with current ontology development. Without such a convenient app built for you, asking one by one on ELU is probably the best bet given that there are a number of translation/meaning requests here for proverbs.
    – Mitch
    May 19, 2015 at 1:58
  • 1
    I would argue that your above three examples are not that close in meaning.
    – Hot Licks
    May 19, 2015 at 2:23

2 Answers 2


This is not necessarily an algorithm, but a way of looking for idioms which have similar meaning would be to visit idiom dictionaries like TheFreeDictionary, Idioms4You, and IdiomCorner. The latter 2 have neat tagging systems which will help you navigate through the database so you can search for similar idioms.

  • Thanks! Yes, these dictionaries give you a way to search idioms by keyword.
    – msh
    May 20, 2015 at 16:44

You need Barron's Educational Series, available from your favourite online monster book store. Such titles as "Spanish and English Idioms". I have the Franch one as well. Don't know how big the series is. http://www.amazon.com/German-Idioms-Barrons-Series/dp/0764143832/ref=pd_sim_14_6?ie=UTF8&refRID=0ZYZN2BSYD5FHAXAAVJR


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