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An idioms and formulaic language quiz

By Audrey Ingerson


On this day in 1928, sliced bread was sold for the first time by the Chillicothe Baking Company of Chillicothe, Missouri. Ever since then, sliced bread has been held up as the ideal — at least in idiomatic expressions. Ever heard of “the greatest thing since sliced bread”? In honor of that fateful day, we’ve compiled a quiz to test your knowledge of some of the most common (and not so common) idioms that have found their way into daily conversation.

But first, what is an idiom? To paraphrase from Oxford Dictionaries Online, it is a common phrase that is understood as something different than the sum of its individual words. Through repeated usage, the meaning of an idiom becomes standardized within a larger audience, making it useful in conversation to quickly and succinctly communicate a sentiment. Take, “it’s raining cats and dogs,” for instance. This is a clichéd example that refers to heavy rain and not animals falling from the sky.

Though many people are quick to disparage idioms as stale, static components of language, Raymond W. Gibbs offers an alternative view in the Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics. In “Idioms and Formulaic Language,” he argues that one’s language fluency is dependent on mastering such formulaic language. He asserts, “Idiomatic/proverbial phrases are not (emphasis added) mere linguistic ornaments, intended to dress up a person’s speech style, but are an integral part of the language that eases social interaction, enhances textual coherence, and, quite importantly, reflect fundamental patterns of human thought.”

With that in mind, and without further ado, a quiz. Break a leg!

Your Score:  

Your Ranking:  

Native of Southern California, Audrey Ingerson is a marketing intern at Oxford University Press and a rising senior at Amherst College. In addition to swimming and pursuing a double English/Psychology major, she fills her time with an unhealthy addiction to crafting and desserts.

Oxford Handbooks Online brings together the world’s leading scholars to write review essays that evaluate the current thinking on a field or topic, and make an original argument about the future direction of the debate. The Oxford Handbooks are one of the most successful and cited series within scholarly publishing, containing in-depth, high-level articles by scholars at the top of their field and for the first time, the entire collection of work across 14 subject areas is available online.

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Recent Comments

  1. Annie Morgan

    “Your Score: 8 / 8
    Your Ranking: Hit a home run
    Is your score the greatest thing since sliced bread?”

    Not in the least – I, as a speaker of Canadian English, would have been mortified had I not answered all eight correctly.

  2. Lore

    6/8 Better than I thought I’d do. Fun grammar refresh. One a day would be great.

  3. Harlan Collins

    It’s also a lot of fun comparing idioms across languages, since different cultures use varying references to impart the same meaning. http://www.idiomizer.com compares 40+ languages,
    for those who are so inclined.

  4. Paul T. Hopper

    Word omitted; should read “flash in the pan.”

  5. Mark Bowlin

    I was told by no less than the captain of HMS Victory that a square meal originally referred to the square wooden plates used by the Royal Navy back in the day, and that the phrase “the cat’s out of the bag” referred to the cat o’nine tails (a whip) being pulled out of the bosun’s bag.

  6. Juergen Lorenz

    I dropped the ball on the Square Meal’s etymology. Nice test, keep ‘em coming, please.

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