id·​i·​om | \ ˈi-dē-əm How to pronounce idiom (audio) \
plural idioms

Definition of idiom

1 : an expression in the usage of a language that is peculiar to itself either in having a meaning that cannot be derived from the conjoined meanings of its elements (such as up in the air for "undecided") or in its grammatically atypical use of words (such as give way)
2a : the language peculiar to a people or to a district, community, or class : dialect
b : the syntactical, grammatical, or structural form peculiar to a language
3 : a style or form of artistic expression that is characteristic of an individual, a period or movement, or a medium or instrument the modern jazz idiom broadly : manner, style a new culinary idiom

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Synonyms for idiom


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The Makeup of Idioms

If you had never heard someone say "We're on the same page," would you have understood that they weren't talking about a book? And the first time someone said he'd "ride shotgun", did you wonder where the gun was? A modern English-speaker knows thousands of idioms, and uses many every day. Idioms can be completely ordinary ("first off", "the other day", "make a point of", "What's up?") or more colorful ("asleep at the wheel", "bite the bullet", "knuckle sandwich"). A particular type of idiom, called a phrasal verb, consists of a verb followed by an adverb or preposition (or sometimes both); in make over, make out, and make up, for instance, notice how the meanings have nothing to do with the usual meanings of over, out, and up.

Examples of idiom in a Sentence

She is a populist in politics, as she repeatedly makes clear for no very clear reason. Yet the idiom of the populace is not popular with her. — P. J. O'Rourke, New York Times Book Review, 9 Oct. 2005 And the prospect of recovering a nearly lost language, the idiom and scrappy slang of the postwar period … — Don DeLillo, New York Times Magazine, 7 Sept. 1997 We need to explicate the ways in which specific themes, fears, forms of consciousness, and class relationships are embedded in the use of Africanist idiom — Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark, 1992 The expression “give way,” meaning “retreat,” is an idiom. rock and roll and other musical idioms a feature of modern jazz idiom
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Recent Examples on the Web Another fruit idiom was produced when the Psalms were first translated into English. Melissa Mohr, The Christian Science Monitor, "The psalm says ‘apple,’ but it was ‘pupil’ of the eye," 25 June 2020 Various jazz languages have emerged since Parker’s death, yet his idiom flourishes at the heart of the best of them. Howard Reich,, "Charlie Parker at 100: Like Mozart, he transformed an art form and his music has never stopped," 10 Aug. 2020 As a black artist who worked in a knowingly modernist idiom and had married a Nordic woman, Johnson saw the writing on the wall. Sebastian Smee, Washington Post, "After race riots in Harlem, William Johnson painted the pain," 1 July 2020 Other etymologists link the idiom instead to the U.S. Navy. Melissa Mohr, The Christian Science Monitor, "The odd origins of some familiar idioms," 18 June 2020 We are connected through idiom, humor, and sensibility. Emily Bernard, The New Yorker, "The Purpose of a House," 25 June 2020 When the idiom first appeared in 1836, however, its meaning was clear. Melissa Mohr, The Christian Science Monitor, "The odd origins of some familiar idioms," 18 June 2020 Choose a play on words or an idiom related to the room's function for a floor that displays wit and charm to anyone who enters. Laura Lambert, Better Homes & Gardens, "These Floor Tile Phrases Will Make You Smile Every Time You Walk into the Room," 17 June 2020 Philologists like to point out that Dante invented many words and idioms current in today’s Italian, or more often borrowed them from Latin or Old French. Dan Hofstadter, WSJ, "‘Dante’s Bones’ Review: Tales of the Tomb Raiders," 29 May 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'idiom.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of idiom

1575, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

History and Etymology for idiom

Middle French & Late Latin; Middle French idiome, from Late Latin idioma individual peculiarity of language, from Greek idiōmat-, idiōma, from idiousthai to appropriate, from idios

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Time Traveler for idiom

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The first known use of idiom was in 1575

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Last Updated

8 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Idiom.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Oct. 2020.

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More Definitions for idiom


How to pronounce idiom (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of idiom

: an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but that has a separate meaning of its own
: a form of a language that is spoken in a particular area and that uses some of its own words, grammar, and pronunciations
: a style or form of expression that is characteristic of a particular person, type of art, etc.


id·​i·​om | \ ˈi-dē-əm How to pronounce idiom (audio) \

Kids Definition of idiom

: an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but must be learned as a whole The expression “give up,” meaning “surrender,” is an idiom.

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