This page provides detailed information (their correct usage, definitions, usage examples and audio pronunciations) on a range of English idioms and phrases that are currently in popular usage. It also explains the difference between: adages, aphorisms, clichés, slogans, truisms and witticisms etc. Scroll them all: phrases & idioms. Or view them individually:
Some clarity on terminology
It is common to find different words in English that have similar meanings; ‘phrases’ and ‘idioms’ are no exception…
An adage is an aphorism (see below) that has that has gained credit through long use.
— Where there’s smoke, there’s fire
— Out of sight out of mind.
An aphorism is a tersely and memorably phrased statement of a truth or opinion. It comes from the Greek aphorismos; to delimit, define]. — “He’s a fool who cannot conceal his wisdom.”
An overly commonplace, banal or trite saying, expression or idea. Sometimes the terms stereotype or platitude are used as a synonym. Clichés can be defined as preconceived twists, hackneyed and worn out by too frequent use of images, modes of expression, speech and thought patterns. These are often used thoughtlessly and without individual conviction. — “Time heals all wounds” (which ain’t actually true — Ms Black).
a formal pronouncement from an authoritative source. — “The dicta of High Court Judges”
A concise, clever, often paradoxical statement, thought or observation; sometimes expressed as a short, witty poem, e.g.:
“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.”
A descriptive term (= word or phrase) used to characterize a person or thing, that has become popular is commonly understood. — “The Great Emancipator.”
The term in the narrower sense means oral lore of a group of people. In the broader sense folklore describes the totality of ” demotic” traditions. It often has religious or mythical elements. [From Old English – folk = “people” and lore = “tradition” or “knowledge”]. So, folklore literally means “knowledge of the people” or “tradition of the people”. It is similar to: myth, (urban) legend, (tall) tale.
A pithy saying that expresses a general truth, fundamental principle or an instruction in a compact form (usually taken from ancient literature or poems); an aphorism. [Greek: from gignoskein, to know] This is a clever example: — “Moderation is the best thing” (Cleobulus of Lindos; c. 600 BC).
An expression that is peculiar to itself grammatically or cannot be understood from the individual meanings of the words. Quite a few idioms are language specific, and thus difficult to translate. — “A cold day in Hell.”
A figure of speech (or any rhetorical device) in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect, mostly beyond credibility. [Greek huperbol, exaggeration, from: huper (= beyond) and ballein (= to throw)]. Such linguistic measures are often used in informal chatter: — “I could sleep for a year” — “This book weighs a ton.”
Originated in the Vedic tradition of India; a mantra is now a religious or mystical sound, syllable or poetic phrase used in prayers and during meditation. This is an example of a faith-based chant (or mantra!) Haro Hara [huh’-roh huh’-ruh] — bestows knowledge of intuitive truth.
Compared with its approximate synonyms: saying, adage, saw, motto, epigram, proverb, aphorism, the term maxim stresses the succinct formulation of a fundamental principle, general truth, or rule of conduct. [Latin: maximus, “greatest”, via the expression maxima propositio, “greatest premise”.] — “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”
While both metaphors and similes (see below) are used to make comparisons, the difference between similes and metaphors comes down to a word. Similes use the words “like,” “or” and “as” to compare things — “Life is like a box of chocolates.” In contrast, metaphors directly state a comparison: “Love is a battlefield.”
A brief statement used to express a principle, a motivation, a goal, or an ideal. — “Be Prepared.”
A paradox is a statement that seemingly or actually contains an irresolvable contradiction. Thus it contradicts itself and yet might be true.
— “All Englishmen are liars” (said an Englishman to a Kuwaiti student).
Pearl of wisdom
A wise saying or piece of advice. — “The nation’s media were assembled to hear his pearls of wisdom” (!! May well be being used in an ironic way).
A simple and short saying, widely known, often metaphorical, which expresses a basic truth or practical precept, based on common sense or cultural experience. — “Honesty is the best policy.”
This is a form of word play that exploits multiple meanings of words (or of similar-sounding words) for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect. — “A fool with a tool is still a fool.”
A clever or witty observation or remark, with a tendency to descend into sarcasm, or otherwise is short of point. [Latin: quippe = “indeed” – meaning: smart remark] — “Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.”
his is a repetition — literally taken over from another text or speech and explicitly attributed by a citation. Quotes, whose original context is lost and can no longer be reconstructed, are named fragments. Here’s a quote from Abraham Lincoln:
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
A short well-known expression; a pithy remark of wisdom and truth or a general advice. — “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
A figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, used to make a description more emphatic or vivid (e.g., “As brave as a lion”). While both similes and metaphors (see above) are used to make comparisons, the difference between similes and metaphors comes down to a word. Similes use the words “like,” “or” and “as” to compare things — “Life is like a box of chocolates.” In contrast, metaphors directly state a comparison: “Love is a battlefield.”
This is a memorable motto or phrase used as a repetitive expression of an idea or purpose. Also called tagline or one liner. — “Make learning fun.”
a statement that is obviously true and says nothing new or interesting. — “The truism that you get what you pay for.”
Witty remarks can be intentionally cruel and are more ingenious than funny. Here’s a funny example:
Lady Astor said to Churchill, “If you were my husband, I’d poison your tea,” Churchill replied “Madam, if you were my wife, I’d drink it!”
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“If you love somebody, let them go, if they don’t return, they were never yours.”
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“Lovers do not finally meet somewhere. They are in each other all along.”
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A short excerpt from the book: “I was dead, deader than dead because, I was still alive.”
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