What does the word "idiomatic" mean in a phrase like this one:

The word "upsurge" is not idiomatic to describe a student's vast improvement.

Here I am confused by the meanings of the word "idiomatic"

Webster gives two definitions:

1: of, relating to, or conforming to idiom

2: peculiar to a particular group, individual, or style

The first meaning is something that I am more familiar with - it is about some "inner meaning behind the first meanings of words". Like, for example, "That's where the rubber hits the road" is not about the actual rubber and actual road, but rather about the real reason of the problem. So, if I follow the first meaning, than the meaning in the sample sentence would probably mean that the word "upsurge" doesn't have any other possible hidden meanings and, therefore, it's okay to be used in this case (in case of describing a student's improvement).

However, if I follow the second meaning, that would mean that the word "upsurge" is not good for this particular style or situation. And that would be a direct opposite of the first interpretation.

So, which one of these two interpretations is correct?


Edit: This is an 'Is A or B right?' question, where the answer is C.

RHK Webster's gives the appropriate sense:

3: [1b] conforming to the usual manner of expression in a language [ie sounding natural to and often used by proficient native speakers]

  • 1
    You should have followed the link on idiom (the syntactical, grammatical, or structural form peculiar to a language) in the first definition. Commented May 12, 2017 at 6:35
  • @Which link is that? Where is it? Do you mean the Webster link on the word "idiom" (this one: merriam-webster.com/dictionary/idiom)?
    – brilliant
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 6:46
  • 3
    On the contrary: it should not be used because it does not sound natural to a native speaker. Upsurge is "an upward surge in the strength or quantity of something; an increase." Could you apply quantity to "improvement"? Not really. Commented May 12, 2017 at 7:00
  • 2
    @brilliant I think the thing Mari-Lou A was saying was that upsurge would be a very unusual word to find in a school report. In that respect it was not idiomatic. (An idiom is nothing more nor less than an accepted form of language in which people normally speak or write.)
    – WS2
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 7:44
  • 2
    @brilliant I think you can take it that "idiomatic in the context" is a near, though not precise, synonym of "suitable".
    – WS2
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 7:54

1 Answer 1


Upsurge would be a very unusual word to use in a school report. It could be said that in that context it would not be idiomatic.

An idiom is nothing more nor less than an accepted form of language which people normally use.

Idiomatic within context is a near, though not precise synonym of suitable.

  • 4
    Not so much suitable but representative of the usual way of doing things.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 11:22
  • @DanBron That is why I described it as a "near but not precise synonym". The idea of suitable as the same thing as idiomatic within context was not my suggestion, but that of the OP.
    – WS2
    Commented May 13, 2017 at 15:08

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