English is my second language, and recently I have noticed, from reading many articles on the New York Times and other websites, that writers tend to use and reuse specific phrases such as

  • “like a sponge”
  • “Slippery Slope”
  • “Shed light on”
  • Etc….

In some cases, they are used as a simile. As a non-native English speaker, these phrases help me understand better what the author is trying to convey.

My question today, do these phrases have a “common” name? I would like to incorporate these phrases into my own writing and I would like to learn more about them. Is there any specific book on such phrases?

  • 3
    The blanket term is "figurative language," also called "figures of speech." Though English is rife with it, figurative language is by no means unique to English.
    – pyobum
    Dec 31, 2016 at 10:54
  • 2
    Another blanket term is cliché (ODO), and generally they are not something to copy.
    – Andrew Leach
    Dec 31, 2016 at 13:09
  • 1
    Strictly speaking, a cliché is a deprecated phrase, and it may be deprecated because it's too common, or because it's considered vulgar by some (but not by all, or it wouldn't be used), or for any number of other reasons. So if you have been noticing the most frequent ones, then probably you're distinguishing the clichés and can tag them as things not to write. As for where they come from, they're Metaphors and they're part of normal language use. Dec 31, 2016 at 13:46
  • 1
    I think you mean 'shed light on'. Dec 31, 2016 at 17:28
  • @KateBunting Yes. Sorry for the grammar mistake. I edited the post.
    – Andy
    Jan 2, 2017 at 0:25

1 Answer 1


These are idioms, or idiomatic expressions.

id·i·om ˈidēəm/ noun 1. a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words (e.g., rain cats and dogs, see the light ).

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