What is an Idiom?
Simply put, it is an expression that makes no sense when translated literally into another language. In our own language we take these expressions for granted. It may be a no-brainer or a piece of cake for us to understand the meaning in our own language (see what I did there?). But to a non-English speaker, these expressions make no sense.
An idiomatic expression is something as simple as “to be hungry.” In Spanish, French, and Italian you “have hunger.” The verb is different, hence the idiomatic nature. Languages are full of these colloquial idiomatic expressions.
The famous writer George Orwell wrote an essay called “Politics and the English Language” (published here) where he describes his Six Rules for Writing Clear and Tight Prose. One of the rules is to avoid Dying metaphors: essentially clichés, which “have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. These are metaphors, similes, or other figures of speech which you are used to seeing in print. Basically, Orwell warns against using these common Idioms because they make your work lose power. “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse” is so commonly used that we no longer visualize the metaphor, rather it becomes an idiomatic expression that just means “I’m hungry” – so just say that or think of a more original way to express that.
Below find an infographic with over 50 English idioms. These Idioms are important to know, and according to Orwell, equally important to avoid in writing!