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 Though shot in the most classic of idioms, the film commands attention with its mesmerizing performances and lively cross-cutting between key moments in the hero’s life. Deborah Young, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Charlatan': Film Review | Berlin 2020," 27 Feb. 2020 To the contrary, as the recent pro-democracy protests show, India’s Muslims are introducing a new vernacular idiom of secularism through civic symbols while sometimes innovatively merging them with religious motifs. Sharik Laliwala, Quartz India, "Facing bias, India’s Muslims are rallying behind its secular constitution, not radical Islam," 20 Feb. 2020 Of the various idioms meant to explain away all manner of toddler outbursts, these are the milder examples. Washington Post, "We call them ‘terrible twos’ (and worse), but toddlers are just learning how to be people," 10 Dec. 2019 These expressions are idioms, meant to be interpreted figuratively. Laura Mallonee, Wired, "Can You Spot the Idioms in These Photographs?," 2 Mar. 2020 Campbell sees such questions as inextricably linked to Bearden’s role as a leader in the civil rights movement, and to his ability to find a unique visual idiom that could also communicate and be part of politics. Sarah Elizabeth Lewis, The New York Review of Books, "Romare Bearden: Assembling America," 28 Jan. 2020 Just a few idioms belittle height, such as having your head in the clouds or looking down your nose. Grant Segall, cleveland, "Essay: The Long and the Short of It -- Altitutde and Attitude," 3 Jan. 2020 More Stories By stating—with blank as a kind of rhetorical fig leaf—that Schiff couldn’t carry Pompeo’s jockstrap, Trump was using a long-standing idiom, popular especially among athletes and sportswriters, to say that Schiff is Pompeo’s inferior. Ben Zimmer, The Atlantic, "Why Trump Wouldn’t Say ‘Jockstrap’," 3 Oct. 2019 Soon after, Makhathini met his mentor, the late Bheki Mseleku — one of South Africa’s most revered jazz pianists — who interpreted Tyner’s influence in an African idiom that Makhathini now continues. Nadia Neophytou, Billboard, "Meet Blue Note Records' First South African Signee," 31 Jan. 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

Time Traveler

The first known use of idiom was in 1575

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Last Updated

22 Mar 2020

Cite this Entry

“Idiom.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Apr. 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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More from Merriam-Webster on idiom

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for idiom

Spanish Central: Translation of idiom

Nglish: Translation of idiom for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of idiom for Arabic Speakers

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