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This text-based course is a transcript of the seminar, Break a Leg: Idiom Use and Comprehension” presented by Cecil Cyrul Spector.
>> Amy: Good afternoon, everybody, or good morning, depending where you are. I would like to welcome you to today's expert seminar titled “Break a Leg: Idiom Use and Comprehension” by Cecile Cyrul Spector. Cecile has worked as a speech‑language pathologist for 35 years and received B.A. and Master's degree from Brooklyn College and her Ph.D. from New York University. Cecile has worked in a variety of settings including public schools, private practice and several universities. She was director of the Speech and Language Department of Long Island University on the Orangeburg Campus. She has made numerous research presentations and given workshops focusing on various aspects of humor, ambiguity, figurative language and inferencing, and phonological awareness. She has written several books and journal articles on this subject matter as well. Welcome, Cecile, thank you for joining us today. (applause)
>> Cecile: Thank you so much, Amy, for the lovely introduction, and I'm delighted to be here with everybody. If you want to learn all about idioms, their use and comprehension, then you are in the right place.
Groups of Words that Have a Figurative Sense
There are several groups of words that have a figurative sense. The first obviously is idioms, and an example would be “on the spur of the moment.” Other groups of words that have a figurative sense would be metaphors, similes and proverbs. We are going to be spending time talking about proverbs; quite an interesting area.
What is an idiom? Well, it is a set phrase of two or more words that means something different from the literal meaning of the individual words.
Metaphors and Similes
When I hear the word metaphor, I think of an old joke I use when I was discussing humor:
What is a metaphor?
A place where cows go to eat grass.
Okay. That is a very silly joke. [Laughter] Let's get back on track here.
A metaphor is a word or a phrase used in place of another to suggest a likeness between two different things or ideas. It does not contain the words “like” or “as.” For example, “Her voice was cotton candy.”
There are similes, which are very much like metaphors but are a comparison of two different things or ideas that usually contain the words “like” or “as.”
Now, in spontaneous conversations, idioms are used quite frequently, proverbs are used occasionally, but similes and metaphors are used only rarely. You know, we have idioms that are so commonplace that we do not even realize that they are idioms; for example, “coffee break” or “lady's room” or “penny pincher.”
Proverbs are a type of idiomatic expression and are used to teach a moral or give advice; for example, “look before you leap” or “don't put all of your eggs in one basket.” We all know other proverbs, such as “a stitch in time saves nine,” “birds of a feather flock together,” “actions speak louder than words,” and so on. Let's continue here.