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!
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.