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02/01/2014 14:13 - Xem: 7662

Bài tập cuối môn semantics (Colorful English Idioms and Proverbs)

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I. Introduction

For thousands of years philosophers have pondered the meaning of meaning, yet speakers of a language can easily understand what is said to them and can produce trings of words that are meaningful  to other speakers. We use language to convey information to others (My new bike is pink), ask question (Who left the party early?), give commands (stop lying!). and express wishes (May there be peace on earth). All of this knowledge about the meaning extends to an unlimited set of sentences, just like your syntactic knowledge, and is part of the grammar of the language. The job of the linguistist is to reveal and make explicit this knowledge about the meaning that every speaker has.

The study of the linguistics meaning of morphemes, words, phrases, and sentences is called semantics. Subfields of semantics are lexical semantics, which is concerned with the meanings of words, and the meaning relationships among words; and phrasal or sentential semantics, which is concerned with the meaning of syntactic units larger tha words. The study of how context affect meaning-for example, how the sentence It’s cold in here comes to be interpreted as “close the window” in certain situations – is called pragmatics (An introduction to language, 8th edition)

In this final assignment, I talk about one subfield of semantics; it is the use of colors in featuring English idioms and sayings. A list of idioms about colors will be followed with lots of sentences as examples. In addition to this, to make the assignment more interesting and easy to follow, I will also list here some English songs that use idiomatic colorful sentences. The use of idioms in teaching English may help the teaching hours be more interesting and practical. Definitions and illustrative sentences orally, followed by the paraphrases of the illustrative sentences will be made as well.

II. The study

Knowing a language includes knowing the morphemes, simple words, compound words, and their meaning. In addition, it means knowing fixed phrases, consisting of more than one word, with meaning that cannot be inferred from the meaning of the individual words. Here is where the Principle of Compositionality is superseded by expressions that act very much like individual morphemes in that they are not decompossable, but have fixed meaning that must be learned. The usual semantics rules for combining meaning do not apply. All languages contain many such expressions, called idioms or idiomatic phrases.

          Most native English speakers use idioms, especially when they talk to one another, and, consequently, idioms form a very important part of Engish. They are used to give life and richness to the language by enabling it to absorb new concepts which need to be expressed linguistically in a new way. Idioms take existing words, combine them in a new sense, and bring forth new expression.

          For both teachers of English and foreign students, the learning of idioms is an important aspect of the mastery of English. And, although learning the idioms by rote may be one important goal, learning to use idiomatic expressions correctly is even more important! The more idioms that a nonnative speaker of English can use in the right context in conversation with native speakers, the more easily will he able to establish a communicative relationship, thus opening the doors to friendly feelings on the part of both native and nonnative speakers.

It should bear in mind that idioms are not only colloquial expressions, as many people believe, they can appear in formal style and in slang, in poetry or in the language Shakespeare and the Bible.

Idioms sometimes have been fixed by long usage

e.g. “to buy a pig in a poke” means to buy something which one has not inspected previously and which is worthless than one paid for it. The word “poke” is an old word meaning “sack”. This word only appears in present day English with this meaning in this idiom. So the idiom has continued to be used long after the individual word.

          There are many different sources of idioms. It the source of an idiom is known, it is sometimes easier to imagine its meaning. Many idiomatic phrases come from the everyday life of Englishmen, from home life:

e.g. “to be born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth”

“to hit the nail on head”

Many have to do with cooking and food

e.g. “to eat humble pie”

“Out of the frying pan into the fire”

“to be in the soup”

Agriculture life has given risw to

e.g. “to go to seed”

“to put one’s hand to the plough”

Nautical life and military life are the source of

e.g. “when one’s ship comes home”

“to be in the same boat as somebody”

“to fight a losing (winning) battle”

Many idioms includes part of the body, animals

e.g. “to have a bone to pick with somebody”

“to make an ass of oneself”

Idioms take many different forms or structures. A large number of idioms consist of some combination of noun + adjectve

e.g. cold war, French leave, forty winks

Idiomatic expressions also span sentences of various structural types

Break the bank

Fill the bill

Make somebody’s day

Jump the gun

Spare the rod and spoil the child

And English idioms come in a great deal of COLORS. English is a colorful language - that is to say, Color features in many English proverbs and sayings . As human beings, we have a very developed visual sense, and this is reflected in our language. The following list of colors used in English will  bring us a little bit more knowledge of semantics through their fingurative meaning.

About Red

Seeing Red - being furious (it originates from the fact that bulls get angry and charge when they see anything red).
A red letter day - a special or lucky day
To get the red light to be told to stop 
A red herring something irrelevant 
Red tape - official bureacracy or formality (so-called because lawyers and Government offiicials tie their documents together with red tape)
To be caught red-handed - to be caught in the act 
There were some red faces - there were some embarrassed people
Red sky at night, shepherds' delight, red sky in the morning, shepherds' warning:  a proverb, meaning If you see a red sky at night, the weather will be good next day, but a red sky in the morning foretells bad weather



About Yellow and Green

He is yellow - he is a coward
He is green with envy -he is envious or jealous
The green-eyed dragon means jealousy (so you might say "he is suffering from the green eyed dragon")
To get the green light - to get the go-ahead (this comes from traffic lights)
He is green - he is a novice i.e. doesn't quite know what he is doing
To go green - to become ecologically aware (green issues are issues relating to conservation and saving the planet)
Be careful therefore, because if you say someone is green, it could mean either jealous or uninitiated, or ecologigally aware, depending on the context.

About Pink and Purple

In the pink - in flourishing good health or in a good situation
Your pinky - your little finger
Pink - relating to homosexuals as in "the pink economy" (deriving from being half-way between red and white)
Seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses - seeing things in an unrealistically benign way
To be purple with rage - To be very angry


About Black

To have a black eye - to have a bruised eye
A black maria - a police van
A black look - a look of displeasure
A black mark - a bad mark
A black sheep - a disgrace to the family
Black arts - witchcraft
To black something out - to erase something from your mind, or to redact something from a document
To have a face as black as thunder - to look very angry
To have a black secret - to have a foul or evil secret
To be in someone's black books - to be in disgrace
To be in the black - to be in credit i.e. to have assets
To blackball someone - to exclude someone from an organization
To blacklist someone - to stop someone from getting a job
To be in a black mood - to be in a bad mood, or be depressed


About White and Grey

A grey area - an unclear or doubtful situation
A greybeard - an old man
To have it in black and white - to have something very definite (often meaning something written down)
To be whiter than white - to be especially honest and upright
So close you can see the whites of his eyes - very close indeed
Pearly whites - teeth
A white lie - a small lie to avoid problems, or a well-meaning lie to avoid upsetting someone
A government white paper - a final government policy paper 
A white elephant - something which is useless
A white feather - a symbol of cowardice 

About Brown

To be browned off - to be fed up or annoyed
To brown nose someone - to suck up to someone (i.e. to be sycophantic in order to obtain a favour or advantage) - this is a bit rude and should not be used in front of people who are easily shocked
To be in a brown study - to be absent-minded or depressed

About Blue

Feeling blue - feeling miserable
Blue eyed boy (or girl) - someone who can do no wrong (i.e. they look like an angel)
Blue sky thinking - open-minded thinking
Once in a blue moon - something which happens very rarely
He is between the devil and the deep blue sea - he has two unpleasant alternatives
A blue movie - a movie showing explicit sexual content

About Gold

All that glistens is not gold - you can't judge something or someone just by appearances
All he touches turns to gold - he is very successful in all he does
He has the golden touch - he has the knack of doing something well
The golden age - the best age e.g. the golden age of innocence
To worship the golden calf - to worship money i.e. to believe money is the most important thing in life
The golden rule - the important or invariable rule
As good as gold - very good behaviour
He is gold - he is wonderful (or kind, helpful and so forth)

About Silver

Silver tongued - to speak persuasively
Cross his palm with silver - pay him money (often used in the sense of paying a bribe)
Every cloud has a silver lining - there is always a prospect that some good will come out of a bad situation
Look for the silver lining - Look for the good
To be born with a silver spoon in his mouth - to be born wealthy or lucky

The colors are not only used in utterances to express one’s idea, but also they are used in songs to make them easy to remember.

E.g. “I was the black sheep of the family” (Season in the Sun- Human Nature)

“You took me right out of the blue” (Out of the Blue- Michael Learns To Rock)

“Tonight is so cold inside my room, I close my eyes and feeling blue” (Tonight so cold- Gina T)

“Color of the night” (Lauren Christy)

 “Color of the wind” (Vanessa William)

Due to the use of color words, these songs, and many other song used that way, which are beautiful in words and rhythm become more and more memorable in our mind. The listeners or hearers not ony understand the literal meaning of words, sentences, they also get the fingurative meaning through these songs. Semantics do good that way.

III. Conclusion

So far we have discussed about the use of colors in idioms and saying in English. Due to the limitation of the assignment, ideas and analysis can hardly be enough. A little understanding of the use of semantics through the use of color in idioms and proverbs will help the learners have better knowledge when learning the meaning of words. Using idioms and proverbs in teaching English will make the lesson interesting and memorable. Teachers of English can aslo give paraphrase orally and ask students to give illustrative sentence. Give students an opportunity to compose original sentences using the functional activity for oral practice.




- V.Fromkin, R. Rodman, N. Hyams, An Introduction to Language, 8th edition

- Dean Curry, Illustrated American Idiom

- Firstnew Publishing house, the best song book of all time-2003

- Internet Source,


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