No 1 (2011): Icons and Iconography
Social Sciences

Language at Its Word: A Lexical Analysis of Idiomatic Speech

Carol C. M. Toris
  • idioms,
  • figures of speech,
  • embodied cognition
How to Cite
Toris, C. (1). Language at Its Word: A Lexical Analysis of Idiomatic Speech. Jefferson Journal of Science and Culture, (1). Retrieved from


Why do people use idioms, especially given one common assumption that, in order to understand an idiomatic phrase, we must first consider and reject its literal meaning? And why would such figures of speech, presumably requiring extra cognitive effort, be so common? A corpus of speech from physician training groups was analyzed for its use of various figures of speech. Thee idioms observed in this natural language sample were noted both for their frequency and for the type of lexical items that appeared in over three-quarters of the idiomatic phrases observed; namely, words that referred to the senses (seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and olfaction) and space. Based upon the lexical analysis of these naturally occurring idioms, the theory of embodied cognition is offered as one explanation for why speakers might tend to employ certain conventionalized phrases and why they might be so common in the language. One suggestion for future research is to confirm the speech processing relevance of identified lexical categories in idiomatic phrases by observing the performance of accompanying iconic gestures during speech.


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