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Recently, I have had a debate with a friend that "brings all the boys to the yard" is an idiom and he refuses to accept it. Since this has been used as a part of a rapper's lyrics, he says this is not an idiom. All in all, is it an idiom and how to find out if some phrases are idioms or not? Is there a specific dictionary or a thesaurus?

The lyrics go like this:

My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard,
And they're like
It's better than yours,
Damn right,
It's better than yours,
I can teach you,
But I have to charge

See full lyrics at AZLyrics.com

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  • According to the Dictionary of English Grammar an idiom is "a string of words having a meaning that is not deducible from the meanings of the individual words." To determine whether "brings all the boys to the yard" is an idiom by this definition we would need to know its context. Can you provide the whole sentence or, optimally, a link to the entire lyrics?
    – Shoe
    Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 6:58
  • @Shoe here is the lyric that has it: "My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard, and their life Is better than yours, damn right is better than yours, I can teach you, but I have to charge.""
    – lonesome
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 11:01
  • The string is grammatical, but 'the boys' and 'the yard' no longer need antecedents (for listeners who have heard it before), so the expression has become idiomatic. It now means that something is 'seductive'.
    – AmI
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 18:25
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    There is no way to prove that a certain sequence of words is not an idiom, since the "audience" for the idiom can be exceedingly small. Some phrases are idioms within a single family or company or social group, in that they call forth a meaning over and above the meanings of the individual words. A phrase does not have to have a "special" meaning to the entire English-speaking population to be an idiom to some population.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 18:28
  • You and your friend should agree on an idiom dictionary. Then, whenever there is a debate, consult the dictionary. Alternatively, look up and agree on a definition of "idiom" . Then use the definition to test whether a particular instance is an idiom.
    – DyingIsFun
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 18:51

2 Answers 2

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Despite the literal nature of the music video, it's not literal. In fact, trying to rationalize a literal explanation is a bit absurd, as you can see here.

In case you're still not convinced it's not literal, read Kelis's response in a recent interview (emphasis mine):

What would go in a Kelis milkshake? Apart from milk, obviously …

I don’t think I’ve ever made a milkshake. I made a smoothie the other day that was really good – protein powder, spinach, orange, and crushed ice with a little bit of honey and coconut water.

However, I wouldn't describe it an idiom. I like how Wikipedia describes it:

According to Kelis, "milkshake" in the song is used as a metaphor for "something that makes women special." The song is noted for its euphemistic chorus and low beat R&B sound.

It doesn't have a concrete meaning, which is typical for many songs.



As for idiom dictionaries, yes, they exist. Wikipedia has a page about it, and you can find a lot by searching.

Wiktionary has a large list of idioms too.

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Google Books Ngram Viewer is a useful tool for this sort of problem. Using "boys to the yard" as a search term, we get:

Search results for "boys to the yard"

As you can see, the number of occurences is miniscule, so it is fairly safe to assume that brings all the boys to the yard is not idiomatic.

Unfortunately, the maximum number of words allowed is five, so we cannot search for the entire phrase.

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    "How to find out if a phrase is an idiom or not?" Use ngram, +1. Why is this DVed? "minuscule", indeed. This is like "off the charts" non-existent.
    – Mazura
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 8:54
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    When you can see square shapes in an ngram, you know something's off.
    – Mazura
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 9:04
  • Note that the x-axis cuts off at the year 2000, so this graph is pretty good evidence that "brings all the boys to the yard" was not idiomatic as of the year 2000, but doesn't shed much light on the question of whether it became idiomatic after appearing in a popular song in 2003. Rerunning the query today shows much higher use, peaking around 2015 just before OP asked the question.
    – G_B
    Commented May 13 at 2:24

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