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 '16 at 10:54
  • 2
    Another blanket term is cliché (ODO), and generally they are not something to copy. – Andrew Leach Dec 31 '16 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. – John Lawler Dec 31 '16 at 13:46
  • 1
    I think you mean 'shed light on'. – Kate Bunting Dec 31 '16 at 17:28
  • @KateBunting Yes. Sorry for the grammar mistake. I edited the post. – Andy Jan 2 '17 at 0:25

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 ).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.