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Masaryk University

Faculty of Arts

Department of English
and American Studies

English Language and Literature

Petr Mak

Comparison of British and American


Idioms with Equivalent Meaning
B.A. Major Thesis

Supervisor: PhDr. Jarmila Fictumov

2006
I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently,
using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography.

..
Petr Mak

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Acknowledgement
I would like to thank my supervisor, PhDr. Jarmila Fictumov, for her kind help and valuable
advice.

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Table of Contents
INTRODUCTION...................................................................................................................... 5

1 IDIOMS................................................................................................................................... 6
1.1 Definition of an Idiom...................................................................................................... 6
1.2 Description of Selected sample ....................................................................................... 7

2 SELECTED IDIOMS BRITISH AND AMERICAN ENGLISH ........................................ 8


2.1 Relationship between British and American English...................................................... 8
2.2 Differences between British and American English ....................................................... 9
2.2.1 Differences at the Level of Spelling........................................................................ 10
2.2.2 Differences at the Level of Vocabulary .................................................................. 13
2.2.3 Differences at the Level of Grammar ..................................................................... 18
2.2.4 Other Differences .................................................................................................... 20

3 SELECTED IDIOMS CORPUS ........................................................................................ 21


3.1 Reasons for Using a Corpus ........................................................................................... 21
3.2 Corpora In General vs. Selected Corpus ........................................................................ 21
3.3 Corpus Search ................................................................................................................ 24
3.3.1 Procedure................................................................................................................. 24
3.3.2 Findings................................................................................................................... 24
3.3.3 Comments and charts .............................................................................................. 29
3.3.4 Tables of Most Frequent Idioms ............................................................................. 32

CONCLUSION ........................................................................................................................ 37

BIBLIOGRAPHY .................................................................................................................... 38

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INTRODUCTION

The main aim of this thesis is to examine pairs of British and American idioms which
have equivalent meaning but differ slightly in form. It is often the case that the information
available in a dictionary becomes obsolete and given the great influence of American English
on British English, it appears fairly understandable to presume that the labels British and
American English at entries for idioms in a dictionary do not correspond with the situation in
a corpus and that idioms labelled American English may appear in a purely British corpus
with the same or even higher frequency than those labelled British English.
The text of the thesis is divided into three main chapters. Chapter 1 called Idioms
should serve as a brief introduction combining the general information about idioms by means
of definition with specific information on the selected sample of idioms under examination.
Salient facts about the primary source are imparted and selection criteria established.
Chapter 2 is then already focused on the selected sample of idioms and the perspective
British versus American English is adopted. First the vague terms British and American
English are explained succintly with a particular emphasis on the relationship between them.
Then the focus shifts towards differences traditionally seen between British and American
English and on the basis of three plus one additional levels of differences the selected sample
of idioms is divided into distinct parts.
Chapter 3 uses the results of Chapter 2 and moves them from an isolated environment
into corpus. The reasons for the use of corpus are stated and the selected corpus is described
and contrasted with corpora in general. The procedure is introduced and findings displayed in
a table which is accompanied by comments and charts to see to what degree the hypothesis
was proved. The final part of Chapter 3 is then dedicated to tables of most common pairs of
idioms.

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1 IDIOMS
Spoilt for choice that is a web page of a British catering company of the same name.
Regardless of the level of the service they provide, it would be no mistake to maintain that
their name may be easily recalled. This is due to the inescapable fact that idioms are very
often used as a very powerful weapon by various companies to attract the potential customer
for their product.
Idioms are a natural part of each language, it is possible to see them all around us
(WARREN 1994: A3) and even though many students view them with the trepidation of a
man approaching a well-planted minefield (COWIE 1990: x), they deserve full attention.
In this rather short chapter, a concise definition of an idiom will be provided and then
the sample of idioms which were selected for this thesis will be introduced.

1.1 DEFINITION OF AN IDIOM

As the word idiom appears in the actual title of this thesis, it is absolutely essential to
define its meaning. Various definitions are given in various materials, ranging from grammar
books and manuals on stylistics to dictionaries of idioms. Several examples of all these were
studied intensively and if one definition should be chosen for all, then it is convenient to state
that two central features identify an idiom. The meaning of the idiomatic expression cannot
be deduced by examining the meanings of the constituent lexemes. And the expression is
fixed, both grammatically [] and lexically (CRYSTAL 1995: 163).
Although at least one of the features or, at best, both of them will be mentioned in any
material touching upon idioms, it is necessary to say that these features should not be taken
for granted.
It does not hold true that speakers are not normally creative in their daily uses of
language and that certain fixed linguistic structures, idioms in particular, cannot be unfixed
(CARTER 1997: 162). Also, degree of compositionality varies greatly among idioms
(GLUCKSBERG 2001: 69).

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1.2 DESCRIPTION OF SELECTED SAMPLE OF IDIOMS

It seems virtually unthinkable that the amalgam of expressions which fall under the
umbrella term idioms could be treated in much detail as a whole. On the contrary, it proves
enormously useful to focus on a rather small group selected in accordance with certain
stringent rules.
The cardinal rule imposed in this thesis is that a single monolingual dictionary is used
as an authoritative primary source. This contributes to the fact that the idioms under study
form a coherent, precisely delimited whole.
After due consideration, the Cambridge International Dictionary of Idioms was
selected for one principal reason. It has an overwhelming advantage over other dictionaries of
idioms in that, as the title suggests, it attempts to present the material in an international way.
This heavily implies that the labels indicating regional variation are not restricted to British or
American English only. With Australian English also included, there is a high probability that
the three Englishes will be dealt with quite equally.
From around 7,000 idioms contained in the dictionary, a more manageable number
was chosen under the following conditions:

 The idioms must come in pairs at a single dictionary entry, being thus equivalent in
meaning but different in form.
 One component of the pair must be labelled British or British & Australian and the
other must be labelled American or American & Australian to adequately represent the
opposite poles of British and American English.
 The pairs of idioms labelled old-fashioned must not be included.

In this way, the total of 142 pairs of idioms, such as be minting it vs. be minting
money, to cut a long story short vs. to make a long story short, etc., were extracted. Those
were then subjected to intense scrutiny.

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2 SELECTED IDIOMS BRITISH AND AMERICAN
ENGLISH

2.1 RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN BRITISH AND AMERICAN ENGLISH

Before examining the essential differences existing between British and American
English and exploring the way in which they are directly or indirectly reflected in the pairs of
idioms in question, it appears perfectly reasonable to ask what the terms British and American
English signify.
One crucial dimension which presents itself is the geographical distribution. In this
case, however, according to Arnold (1986: 240), American English cannot be called a
dialect, for unlike the various dialects of English, it has a literary normalized form called
Standard American (ARNOLD 1986: 240). Therefore, a more appropriate term should be
used and that is variant or variety (ARNOLD 1986: 240).
As long as a diachronic perspective is adopted, then it is crystal clear that American
English came into existence much later than British English. In fact, it was the actual British
English that was transplanted to the New World and that later underwent a gradual
transformation process under the immensely profound influence of the new environment.
The prior existence of British English seems to have had a tremendous impact on the
way the British and American English were viewed. British English served as a touchstone
and even nowadays remains fairly dominant, particularly in the ESL classes throughout the
world, considering the disproportionate number of course books and materials from the
United Kingdom.
Yet another fact can be mentioned to specify the nature of the relationship between
British and American English and that is the term Americanism, coined by John Witherspoon.
According to The Oxford Companion to the English Language, it refers primarily to English
words and phrases that acquired a new sense (bluff, corn, lumber) or entered the language
(OK, racoon, squash) in what is now the US, but also to features of pronunciation, grammar,
and sentence structure (McARTHUR 1992: 47).
If checking the frequency of the word Americanism on the Internet using a Google
search, the total number of results shown on the statistics bar is approximately 6,840,000,
while for the word Briticism, the search engine retrieves somewhere around 27,800 results.

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Whatever may be stated to hold true for British and American English and the
influence those two variants have upon each other, one fact cannot be disputed. The approach,
which is habitually used, is fairly orthodox in that it views English as consisting of two
standards, which are formally separated by an unbridgeable gulf.
In reality, the gulf between the eastern and western shores of the Atlantic Ocean is not
so yawning in terms of language. Quirk (1985: 20) in his A Comprehensive Grammar of the
English Language speaks about the paramount influence of mass communication and goes on
to stress that the pop music culture, in particular, uses a mid-Atlantic dialect that levels
differences even in pronunciation.
This argument appears to be strongly supported by the fact that even though
Americans and Britons are said to be divided by a common language, standardness is
something they largely share with each other and with other varieties worldwide.
(McARTHUR 2002: 247)
The information mentioned above aptly illustrates the two important facets of the
linguistic relationship between British and American English, namely the similarity on a
general basis and the divergence on closer inspection when juxtaposed. Despite being
somewhat contradictory, those two facets go hand in hand with each other. In this chapter, the
focus is on the divergence, that is the differences.

2.2 DIFFERENCES BETWEEN BRITISH AND AMERICAN ENGLISH

If learners of English were approached with the question whether British and
American English are the same, it is extremely probable that the answer no would far
outweigh the answer yes. This is mainly due to the fact that almost every English textbook
or course book touches upon the lexical differences, providing examples of pairs of lexemes
which are used to denote the same items in the extra-linguistic reality, for instance lorry
versus truck or flat versus apartment. However, it is necessary to remark that this is where
the, say, systematic introduction of the differences between the two varieties of English
language often ends.
From the linguistic point of view, there of course exists more than just one group of
differences. Sections dealing with this area of study in various reference books show no
apparent discrepancy in saying that the differences between British and American English can
be conveniently divided into four general levels:

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 the level of pronunciation
 the level of spelling
 the level of vocabulary
 the level of grammar

The following pages will be thus devoted to examining those levels separately,
repeating an established pattern. A brief overview of the most essential differences at a
particular level is presented first. Then follows a table showing the pairs of idioms, which
differ in aspects that may be classified as belonging to that particular level. It should be
strongly emphasized that these tables are by no means exhaustive and the final decision about
what to include under the heading of each level is likely to slightly vary. The pairs of idioms
(after further grouping) are listed alphabetically. In conclusion, there is a discussion of to
what extent the general differences are reflected in the selected pairs of idioms and whether or
not to formulate new kinds of differences.
As the central focus of this thesis is on written rather than spoken language, the
differences at the level of pronunciation are altogether omitted. Instead, a new category was
created and that is the category called Other differences, for there seem to be pairs of idioms
with differences which were not treated at any of the other levels.

2.2.1 DIFFERENCES AT THE LEVEL OF SPELLING

Although it may be said that spelling or orthography is from most viewpoints the
least important type of linguistic organization (QUIRK 1985: 18), the spelling differences
between British and American English paradoxically serve as emblems or shibboleths of
linguistic nationalism (McARTHUR 1992: 42).
McArthur speaks about two important ways of classifying the spelling differences. For
the purposes of this thesis only one of them will be introduced and that is the distinct division
into systemic or non-systemic differences (McARTHUR 1992: 42).
McArthur offers the following definition: If a difference is systemic, it affects large
classes of words; if non-systemic, it affects only one word or a small group of words
(McARTHUR 1992: 42). To put it in another way, the difference between favour and favor is
systemic, for the identical spelling is used not only in the derived words such as

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favourite/favorite, favourable/favorable, favoured/favored and favouritism/favoritism, but it
can be also used as a model for other words which contain the cluster our in their internal
makeup, for instance the word valour. In comparison with non-systemic differences, which
are in most cases applicable to one lexical unit, e.g. axe/ax, the systemic differences are
productive (CRYSTAL 1995: 307).
The list shown below comprises all the principle systemic differences according to
McArthur, that is nine groups. Each of the group would, of course, require a more detailed
characterization, but as a brief introduction here, it may be regarded as quite sufficient to
reduce the McArthurs presentation of systemic differences to the name of the group and a
few representative examples. When endorsing a very generalized view, it is also possible to
assert that, as far as the examples are considered, the alternatives stated first are British as are
the spellings including the letters in round brackets (with the exception of number 5).

1. The colo(u)r group: arbo(u)r, armo(u)r, endeavo(u)r, favo(u)r, flavo(u)r, hono(u)r,


humo(u)r, labo(u)r, odo(u)r, rigo(u)r, savo(u)r, tumo(u)r, valo(u)r, vigo(u)r.
2. The centre/center group: centre/center, fibre/fiber, goitre/goiter, litre/liter,
meagre/meager, mitre/miter, sabre/saber, sombre/somber, spectre/specter,
theatre/theater.
3. The (o)estrogen group: am(o)eba, diarrh(o)ea, hom(o)eopathy, (o)esophagus,
(o)estrogen, (o)estrous.
4. The (a)esthete group: (a)eon, arch(a)eology, gyn(a)ecology, (a)esthetics, an(a)emia,
encyclop(a)edia, h(a)emophilia, h(a)emorrhage, medi(a)eval, pal(a)eontology.
5. The instil(l) group: distil(l), enrol(l), fulfil(l), instil(l).
6. The final l(l) group: travelled traveled, traveller traveler.
7. The ize and ise group: civilise/civilize, organise/organize, civilisation/civilization.
8. The lyse and lyze group: analyse/analyze, paralyse/paralyze.
9. The og(ue) group: catalog(ue), dialog(ue), monolog(ue), pedagog(ue), prolog(ue).

The names and examples were all taken from McArthur (1992: 42-44).

From the examples mentioned above, it may be inferred that AmE spellings tend to
be shorter than BrE spellings (McARTHUR 1992: 44). Also, it is particularly relevant to say
that in terms of the pairs of idioms selected for this thesis, some groups of systemic
differences are obviously reflected in preference to others.

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Here follows a table with three groups of spelling differences:

Group British English American English


a chink in sb's armour a chink in sb's armor
a knight in shining armour a knight in shining armor
be on your best behaviour be on your best behaviour
be off-colour be off-color
off-colour off-color
see the colour of sb's money see the color of sb's money
rose-coloured glasses/spectacles rose-colored glasses
come through/pass with flying colours come through/pass with flying colors
nail your colours to the mast nail your colors to the mast
sail under false colours sail under false colors
see sb in their true colours see sb in their true colors
see sb's true colours see sb's true colors
show sb in their true colours show sb in their true colors
1 show your true colours show your true colors
a favourite son a favorite son
the flavour of the month the flavor of the month
a glamour girl/puss a glamor girl/puss
be/feel honour-bound be/feel honor-bound
do the honours do the honors
gallows humour gallows humor
schoolboy humour schoolboy humor
a labour of love a labor of love
be cast in a different mould be cast in a different mold
be cast in the same mould be cast in the same mold
break the mould break the mold
They broke the mould when they made sb/sth. They broke the mold when they made sb/sth.
Discretion is the better part of valour. Discretion is the better part of valor.
2 be/take centre stage be/take centre stage
be given the axe be given the ax
get the axe get the ax
have an axe to grind have an ax to grind
be burnt to a crisp be burned to a crisp
a grey area a gray area
3 grey matter gray matter
a kerb-crawler a curb-crawler
kerb-crawling curb-crawling
be a licence to print money be a license to print money
practise what you preach practice what you preach
be spoilt for choice be spoiled for choice

Groups 1 and 2 consist of systemic differences, those of the colo(u)r and the
centre/center groups respectively. Group 3 is then made up of non-systemic differences, out
of which the differences between be burnt to a crisp versus be burned to a crisp and be spoilt
for choice versus be spoiled for choice could be dealt with at the level of grammatical
differences, as they both represent the opposite poles of regularity and irregularity of verbs,
namely the past participles. Given the information in the table, these also appear to be the
only pairs of idioms under study, where American spelling is longer than British spelling.

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2.2.2 DIFFERENCES AT THE LEVEL OF VOCABULARY

As the author of The English Word has it, British and American English differ in
pronunciation, some minor features of grammar, but chiefly in vocabulary (ARNOLD 1986:
241). If one proceeds on the assumption that the lexical differences really occupy a pre-
eminent position, then this should presuppose the existence of a detailed classification system.
There do exist systemic differences which are due to two factors: source and subject
(McARTHUR 1992: 46), but to find traces of any categorization at least roughly similar to
that of the spelling differences seems to be an impossible task. Strange as it may sound,
materials almost invariably contain mere lists of pairs of lexemes.
It seems therefore inevitable that only such pairs of lexemes, e.g. lorry versus truck,
should be taken into consideration here, as those, if the constituents of an idiom, mirror the
actual differences between British and American English with respect to vocabulary.
However, the approach that was chosen appears to contradict this in that it views the
difference between chew the fat and chew the rag as lexical, for whichever direction British to
American or American to British is taken, the change that occurs, is undoubtedly a change of
lexical item, i.e. either fat for rag or rag for fat. The difference between those two equivalent
idioms is lexical, even though the words chew, the, fat and rag are widely used in both British
and American English.
Adopting that particular approach, there are two basic processes taking place, namely
substitution (groups 1 to 5) and addition (group 6). Substitution is defined here as replacing a
part of word, the whole word or even a couple of words with a part of word, the whole word
or a couple of words. Addition, in the context of this thesis, is used to address the situation
when the difference lies in the fact that to a shared set of words another word or words have
been added.

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Here follow six tables, each for one group of differences in vocabulary:

Group British English American English


a smart-arse a smart-ass
a tight-arse a tight-ass
bore the arse off sb bore the ass off sb
can't tell your arse from your elbow can't tell your ass from your elbow
get off your arse get off your ass
get your arse in gear get your ass in gear
Kiss my arse! Kiss my ass!
Move/shift your arse! Move/shift your ass!
My arse! My ass!
not know your arse from your elbow not know your ass from your elbow
1 Shove/Stick sth up your arse! Shove/Stick sth up your ass!
sit on your arse sit on your ass
talk out of/through your arse talk out of/through your ass
a kick up the arse/backside a kick in the butt/pants
be a pain in the arse/backside be a pain in the ass/butt
work your arse/backside off work your ass/butt off
be tight-arsed be tight-assed
half-arsed half-assed
rat-arsed rat-assed
bums on seats fannies in the seats
a mummy's/mother's boy a mama's boy
put/throw a spanner in the works put/throw a (monkey) wrench in the works

Group 1 encompasses all pairs of idioms which directly reflect the lexical differences
between British and American English, with spanner versus wrench reflected in one example
and arse versus ass in the remaining pairs of idioms. The words bum and mummy are both
labelled as predominantly British (bum mainly UK informal; mummy UK) in the
Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, as opposed to fanny and mama which are
labelled as predominantly American (fanny, meaning the body part a person sits on US
old-fashioned informal; mama UK old use or US informal). Although the labels attached
are not, to a certain extent, unambiguous, the idioms composed of these words were also
included.

Group British English American English


a cross (sb has) to bear a cross (sb has) to carry
a skeleton in the/your cupboard a skeleton in the/your closet
do the rounds make the rounds
2
one of the lads one of the boys
shut up shop close up shop
do a roaring trade do a roaring business

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Group 2 is based on the concept of synonymy. To precisely determine whether two
words are synonymous or not, it may be necessary to consult a dictionary. The words printed
in bold are synonyms according to online English Synonym Dictionary.

Group British English American English


to cut a long story short to make a long story short
ham-fisted ham-handed
like gold dust like gold
3 be coining it be coining money
be minting it be minting money
run out of steam run out of gas
More power to your elbow! More power to you!

Group 3 consists of pairs of idioms, one of which contains a word, whose meaning
could be accurately described as more specific. This, firstly, applies to the cases, where a
noun is substituted by a pronoun be coining it versus be coining money and be minting it
versus be minting money. In both of the two examples, the noun money is much more specific
than the personal pronoun it, as the latter may refer anaphorically to virtually any entity in the
neuter.
Secondly, there are obvious examples of relationship between more specific and less
specific words that belong to the same parts of speech: the verb cut in to cut a long story short
describes the way in which is the long story shortened more vividly and supplies far more
details than the verb make in the very same place. Similarly, fist is more specific than hand,
for its referent in the extra-linguistic reality is not only a body part as such, but a body part
whose components, here the fingers and the thumb, are put in a certain position. The
connection between gas and steam is almost alike with steam being a special kind of hot gas
which is produced during the process of boiling water.
Thirdly, mention must be made of the idioms like gold dust versus like gold and More
power to your elbow! versus More power to you!, in both of which the variant in British
English is more specific in that gold dust excludes other possible forms of gold, such as gold
nugget or gold ingot and in a similar fashion, your elbow excludes all the other body parts that
you is divided into.

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Group British English American English Hypernym
a Bible-basher a Bible-thumper a person who hits sb
the boot is on the other foot the shoe is on the other foot Footwear
Pride comes before a fall. Pride goes before a fall. a verb of motion
be in the driving seat be in the driver's seat used by a driver
one of the five parts a hand
green-fingered green-thumbed
ends with
one of the five parts a hand
4 have green fingers have green thumbs
ends with
have the brass (neck) have the brass (balls) a body part
an object used for writing on
a pen pusher a pencil pusher
paper
take sth with a pinch of salt take sth with a grain of salt an amount of salt
the pink pound the pink dollar national currency
blow your own trumpet blow/toot your own horn a musical instrument

Group 4 more or less employs the concept of hyponymy in the highlighted words. As
Hladk (1998: 27) puts it: Hyponymy does not operate systematically outside the systems of
scientific taxonomy because there are many gaps, asymmetries and indeterminacies in the
natural languages. When ruminating on the quotation, one inescapable fact seems to come to
the surface, that is the fact that calling two words, which are not technical terms, hyponyms
may promote a vigorous debate, for the distinguishing between words that are hyponyms and
words that are not so interrelated is to a certain degree at the discretion of each individual,
even though it surely draws upon common knowledge.
The wording more or less employs the concept of hyponymy chosen in the first
sentence below the table showing the idioms of Group 4 was aimed to make clear that the
words in bold are not supposed to be hyponyms to all intents and purposes, but rather that
each pair of the words can be covered by what could be called a hypernym. In all but one of
the cases, the hypernym takes form of a couple of words and is stated in the table.

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Group British English American English
be left holding the baby be left holding the bag
I wouldn't touch sb/sth with a ten-foot
I wouldn't touch sb/sth with a barge pole. pole.
swear blind swear up and down
Joe Bloggs Joe Blow
blow a raspberry give a raspberry
a blue-eyed boy a fair-haired boy
king of the castle king of the hill
as straight as a die as straight as a pin
march to a different drummer march to a different tune
chew the fat chew the rag
get into your stride hit your stride
5
like the cat that got the cream like the cat that ate the canary
sb's pet hate sb's pet peeve
hum and haw hem and haw
kick up a stink make/raise a stink
be as happy as larry/a sandboy be as happy as a clam
the lie of the land the lay of the land
be easy meat be an easy mark
off the peg off the hook
send sb on a guilt trip lay/put a guilt trip on sb
from/since the year dot from the year one
sleeping partner silent partner
wash your dirty laundry/linen in public air your dirty laundry/linen in public

Group 5 is the last of the groups dealing with substitution. It lists all the remaining
pairs of idioms which were not treated in the previous four groups of lexical differences.
From the inspection of the words in bold in individual pairs, it can be discerned that an
overwhelming majority of them are the same parts of speech and between some of them a
possible connection can even be traced, such as drummer and tune in the idioms march to a
different drummer and march to a different tune, respectively, both carry a meaning
associated with music. Also, like cat that got the cream and like cat that ate the canary both
depict the situation of an animal, probably a pet, which gets hold of gourmet food.
Generally speaking, some of the substituted words, despite not being British and
American variants, synonyms, hyponyms or pairs of general versus more specific words, they
still bear a certain similarity.

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Group British English American English
a know-all a know-it-all
be all fingers and thumbs be all thumbs
die a death die a natural death
know sth backwards know sth backwards and forwards
6
leave well alone leave well enough alone
left, right and centre left and right / right and left
no ifs and buts no ifs, ands or buts
won't say boo to a goose won't say boo

The very last group of differences at the level of vocabulary is Group 6 and unlike the
previous groups it illustrates the process of addition rather than substitution.

2.2.3 DIFFERENCES AT THE LEVEL OF GRAMMAR

As was shown above, the differences between British and American English at the
level of spelling and vocabulary assume considerable importance. Even though it has already
been mentioned, it is worth stressing that, strange as it may seem, there are relatively few
grammatical differences between educated BrE and AmE (CRYSTAL 1995: 311). To put it
differently, it could be justifiably claimed that grammar is the area of the underlying
similarity (GREENBAUM 1985: 180).
If the assumption is accepted that vocabulary, as against syntax, is a set of single, say,
unrelated units and syntax is a process of combining these units into a certain whole, in which
the rules of normative grammar become apparent, then the words of Hudson that vocabulary
is a marker of divisions in society (qtd. in GREENBAUM 1985: 180) whereas syntax is the
marker of cohesion in society (qtd. in GREENBAUM 1985: 180) seem to illustrate the point
further in a more general way.
Where the differences between British and American grammar do exist, they appear to
be more often than not concentrated around one particular lexical category, i.e. verbs.

1. Shall and will


2. Should and would

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3. Can and may
4. Must and have (got) to
5. Lets not Dont lets Lets dont
6. Subjunctives
7. Perfectives
8. Time expressions
9. Some differences in the use of prepositions

The differences were all taken from McArthur (1992: 44-45). These do not correspond with
the differences found in the selected sample of idioms.

Group No. British English American English


be well in be in well
1
pastures new new pastures

Group 1 differs in word order.

Group No. British English American English


a home from home a home away from home
as best you can as best as you can
at a pinch in a pinch
at the double on the double
be cooking on gas be cooking with gas
2
be fresh from swh be fresh out of swh
give sb a new lease of life give sb a new lease on life
go with a bang go over with a bang
like death (warmed up) like death (warmed over)
try sth for size try sth on for size

Group 2 differs in prepositions, conjunctions and adverbial particles.

Group No. British English American English


be at a loose end be at loose ends
even stevens even steven
3
kids' stuff kid stuff
on second thoughts on second thought

Group 3 differs in plural versus singular.

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Group No. British English American English
4 in the light of in light of

Group 4 differs in articles.

2.2.4 OTHER DIFFERENCES

No. British English American English


1 a dark horse dark-horse
2 a down and out a down-and-outer
3 a rough diamond a diamond in the rough
4 arty-farty artsy-fartsy
5 highly-strung high-strung
6 like a headless chicken like a chicken with its head cut off
7 Prevention is better than cure. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
8 You live and learn. Live and learn.

20
3 SELECTED IDIOMS CORPUS

3.1 REASONS FOR USING A CORPUS

A dictionary such as Cambridge International Dictionary of Idioms used as a source


could well be assigned the attributes authoritative, informed, reliable or reputable. But what
seems particularly noteworthy is the fact that despite possessing those attributes, generally
associated with the books published by Oxford University Press or Cambridge University
Press, it is still a dictionary and as such retains one characteristic and somewhat negative
feature, common to other printed dictionaries.
That feature was put into words as early as the eighteenth century by Doctor Johnson:
no dictionary of a living tongue can ever be perfect, since while it is hastening to publication,
some words are budding, and some falling away (qtd. in TOTTIE 2002: 94)
In conformity with Doctor Johnsons idea, it is almost invariably the case that due to
the long-termed process of compilation of a dictionary, it no longer reflects the current state
of knowledge or language (BOWKER 2002: 15).
When it comes to the current state, or to be more precise, the current frequency of
certain chunks of language, it proves invaluable to consult an up-to-date corpus.

3.2 CORPORA IN GENERAL VS. SELECTED CORPUS


A corpus can be defined in various ways, as exemplified by the diverse range of
definitions provided by Sinclair, Francis, and McEnery and Wilson, each of which touches
upon slightly different aspects of a corpus, laying down some additional criteria for it, but all
making use of the term collection, or collection of texts.
To illuminate the nature of a corpus as used nowadays, the idea of a collection of texts
is apt to represent a fundamental starting point. It is logically necessary to supplement it with
further characteristics. These characteristics are as follows (BOWKER 2002: 9):

 authentic
 electronic
 large
 specific criteria

21
Although all of those characteristics are worthy of closer attention, a passing remark
will be made here about the last of them, for it is not an adjective which may occur in
predicative position to describe the noun corpus and might therefore require a clearer
explanation.
Specific criteria should be understood as the fact that a corpus is not simply a random
collection of texts (BOWKER 2002: 10). On the contrary, the texts in a corpus are selected
according to explicit criteria in order to be used as a representative sample of a particular
language or subset of that language. (BOWKER 2002: 10).
It follows that there are several types of corpora and it seems absolutely imperative to
impart as much information regarding the selected corpus as possible if the findings based on
it are to be of some relevance.
The corpus used in this thesis is an electronic collection of issues of Sunday Times
published in 1995. It contains roughly 48,200,000 words and was donated to the Masaryk
University by Tim Johns at a workshop in Usti nad Labem in 2000 (Seznam dostupnch
korpus).
If an attempt is made to draw a comparison between the corpus consulted here and
other corpora in existence, then a viable option is to apply the following taxonomy of binary
oppositions (BOWKER 2002: 10):

 general reference corpus vs special purpose corpus


 written vs spoken corpus
 monolingual vs multilingual corpus
 synchronic vs diachronic corpus
 open vs closed corpus

The corpus in question could be then defined as closed, synchronic, monolingual,


written, special purpose corpus. This is because it consists exclusively of one kind of text, that
is newspaper article, hence special purpose, which does not embrace spoken language, hence
written. As the corpus covers the issues of The Sunday Times which came out in 1995, its
language is naturally English, hence monolingual and it presents a snapshot of language use
during a limited time frame (BOWKER 2002: 12), hence synchronic. A closed corpus, by
definition, is one that does not get augmented once it has been compiled (BOWKER 2002:
13), which is obviously the case here, hence closed.

22
When the attention is focused on the question why the corpus described in the
previous paragraph is chosen for the analysis in this thesis, then it is necessary to state some
facts. Among linguists, there has been considerable debate about corpora and their function as
a representative sample of language.
According to Akimoto (1983: 24), a corpus provides objective information to the
researcher. This proposition, although expressed in the narrow context of the corpus-based
and intuition-based approaches being compared and contrasted, rings true in general. Given
the strict selection criteria, a corpus should really serve as a sufficiently reliable test bed for
various investigations, providing the researcher with objective facts about observable
linguistic phenomena. Considerable difficulties in sticking to an objective approach might
crop up, though, when the process of interpretation takes place. Therefore all the findings
presented in this thesis are interpreted in the light of the corpus, on which they are based.
Referring back to the concept of representativeness and objectivity of a corpus, it
might appear that a corpus of news compares unfavourably to general reference corpus, such
as the British National Corpus in the sense that it is too limited in its scope.
But if the proposition, Newspaper language and conversation are among the most
familiar kinds of writing and speech (BIBER 1999: 9), put forward in Longman Grammar of
Spoken and Written Language, is accepted, then this limited scope could be viewed as a
significant advantage.
Firstly, unlike academic English or some other registers of English, newspaper
language displays the quality of being readily comprehensible to most native speakers of
English. It is therefore more than possible that it is constituted of such pieces of language
which are common knowledge and could be considered a norm, The Sunday Times being no
exception to the rule.
Secondly, as is perfectly clear from the very beginning of the process of consulting the
corpus, such a corpus as the one used in this thesis deals exclusively with one register, which
is exactly defined in terms of the name of the newspaper and the year of the publication of the
issues compiled in the corpus in question. Its main aim is thus not necessarily to be
representative of the language in general, as is the case with general reference corpora.
To sum up, a newspaper corpus such as the one used in this thesis does not represent
the English language as a whole, but it could be, to a certain degree, taken for granted that if a
piece of language, here an idiom, say, American idiom appears in a corpus of British
newspaper articles, it is of considerable significance.

23
3.3 CORPUS SEARCH

Initially, it is convenient to state that the approaches to studying a corpus may vary.
The approach chosen in this thesis is the so-called corpus-based approach (Pearson 1998:
50). According to Atkins, this approach is used by theoretical linguists to provide a check on
the evidence of their own, or their informants intuitions (qtd. in PEARSON 1998: 50).
So first a hypothesis was formulated and then the following procedure was adopted.

3.3.1 PROCEDURE
1. No searching a corpus would ever be possible without an appropriate tool. Hence, the
first step was to decide on the tool. The Faculty of Informatics of the Masaryk
University makes it possible for the students in the Department of English and
American studies to use the Manatee system, which is a corpus manager, together with
Bonito, a graphical user interface (Bonito), which helps users to create queries and
displays its results (concordance lists) from different viewpoints (Bonito).
2. The second step taken was the actual searching the corpus for British idioms and their
American counterparts.
3. Finally, tables showing the findings were compiled and afterwards comments were
added.

3.3.2 FINDINGS

The tables with findings are provided on the following few pages. Each table consists
of pairs of idioms arranged in such an order that they correspond precisely with the levels of
differences between British and American English explored in some detail in the previous
chapter, including all the groups of differences set up within the particular levels.
On the left a British idiom is given, on the right its American equivalent is positioned,
both of which are accompanied by a total number of hits in the Sunday Times corpus. The
tables are designed to embrace the whole sample of idioms under study; therefore information
regarding the frequency of a particular pair of idioms can be directly accessed. However, for
the purposes of this thesis it is necessary to essay a generalization and it appears in the section
Comments and Charts.

24
Systemic differences at the level of spelling a knight in shining armour a knight in shining armor
BrE AmE 7 0
be on your best behaviour be on your best behavior a labour of love a labor of love
16 0 22 0
a chink in sb's armour a chink in sb's armor be cast in the same mould be cast in the same mold
8 0 0 0
see the colour of sb's money see the color of sb's money be cast in a different mould be cast in a different mold
0 0 0 0
nail your colours to the mast nail your colors to the mast break the mould break the mold
6 0 45 0
show sb in their true colours show sb in their true colors They broke the mould when they made sb/sth. They broke the mold when they made sb/sth.
1 0 0 0
show your true colours show your true colors be off-colour be off-color
7 0 3 0
see sb in their true colours see sb in their true colors off-colour off-color
0 0 3 0
see sb's true colours see sb's true colors rose-coloured glasses/spectacles rose-colored glasses
2 0 3 0
Discretion is the better part of valour. Discretion is the better part of valor. schoolboy humour schoolboy humor
0 0 4 0
sail under false colours sail under false colors be/take centre stage be/take centre stage
0 0 54 0
a favourite son a favorite son Non-systemic differences at the level of spelling
28 0 BrE AmE
the flavour of the month the flavor of the month get the axe get the ax
6 0 1 0
come through/pass with flying colours come through/pass with flying colors be given the axe be given the ax
30 0 0 0
gallows humour gallows humor have an axe to grind have an ax to grind
9 0 7 0
a glamour girl/puss a glamor girl/puss be spoilt for choice be spoiled for choice
7 0 31 4
be/feel honour-bound be/feel honor-bound be burnt to a crisp be burned to a crisp
7 0 0 2
do the honours do the honors grey matter gray matter
0 0 11 0

25
Non-systemic differences at the level of spelling (ctnd) a Bible-basher a Bible-thumper
BrE AmE 2 0
a grey area a gray area bore the arse off sb bore the ass off sb
46 0 0 0
a kerb-crawler a curb-crawler a blue-eyed boy a fair-haired boy
9 0 4 0
kerb-crawling curb-crawling a mummy's/mother's boy a mama's boy
9 0 16 1
be a licence to print money be a license to print money have the brass (neck) have the brass (balls)
4 0 2 0
practise what you preach practice what you preach chew the fat chew the rag
17 3 2 1
Differences at the level of vocabulary - substitution be coining it be coining money
BrE AmE 4 1
be all over the shop be all over the lot a cross (sb has) to bear a cross (sb has) to carry
1 0 5 0
can't tell your arse from your elbow can't tell your ass from your elbow march to a different drummer march to a different tune
0 0 1 0
not know your arse from your elbow not know your ass from your elbow wash your dirty laundry/linen in public air your dirty laundry/linen in public
0 0 3 0
get your arse in gear get your ass in gear be easy meat be an easy mark
0 0 9 1
get off your arse get off your ass the boot is on the other foot the shoe is on the other foot
1 0 5 0
Kiss my arse! Kiss my ass! have green fingers have green thumbs
0 1 2 0
Move/shift your arse! Move/shift your ass! green-fingered green-thumbed
0 0 6 0
My arse! My ass! send sb on a guilt trip lay/put a guilt trip on sb
0 0 0 0
Shove/Stick sth up your arse! Shove/Stick sth up your ass! half-arsed half-assed
1 0 1 0
sit on your arse sit on your ass ham-fisted ham-handed
2 0 17 1
talk out of/through your arse talk out of/through your ass be as happy as larry/a sandboy be as happy as a clam
0 0 0 0

26
Differences at the level of vocabulary - substitution (ctnd) a pen pusher a pencil pusher
BrE AmE 1 0
hum and haw hem and haw blow a raspberry give a raspberry
3 0 2 0
Joe Bloggs Joe Blow rat-arsed rat-assed
5 0 1 0
a kick up the arse/backside a kick in the butt/pants do a roaring trade do a roaring business
10 4 19 1
king of the castle king of the hill do the rounds make the rounds
2 3 19 2
the lie of the land the lay of the land run out of steam run out of gas
5 0 45 1
be left holding the baby be left holding the bag take sth with a pinch of salt take sth with a grain of salt
2 0 20 0
to cut a long story short to make a long story short be in the driving seat be in the driver's seat
7 0 18 2
be minting it be minting money shut up shop close up shop
1 0 13 0
off the peg off the hook a skeleton in the/your cupboard a skeleton in the/your closet
6 0 13 5
one of the lads one of the boys a smart-arse a smart-ass
15 8 3 0
blow your own trumpet blow/toot your own horn kick up a stink make/raise a stink
9 2 1 0
be a pain in the arse/backside be a pain in the ass/butt as straight as a die as straight as a pin
5 0 0 0
sleeping partner silent partner get into your stride hit your stride
5 2 29 8
sb's pet hate sb's pet peeve swear blind swear up and down
4 0 7 0
the pink pound the pink dollar a tight-arse a tight-ass
0 0 0 0
I wouldn't touch sb/sth with a barge pole. I wouldn't touch sb/sth with a ten-foot pole. be tight-arsed be tight-assed
3 0 0 0
Pride comes before a fall. Pride goes before a fall. work your arse/backside off work your ass/butt off
2 1 0 5

27
Differences at the level of vocabulary - substitution (ctnd) be well in be in well
BrE AmE 1 0
put/throw a spanner in the works put/throw a (monkey) wrench in the works Differences at the level of grammar - prepositions, etc.
5 0 BrE AmE
from/since the year dot from the year one go with a bang go over with a bang
4 0 2 0
More power to your elbow! More power to you! as best you can as best as you can
0 0 56 2
like the cat that got the cream like the cat that ate the canary be cooking on gas be cooking with gas
1 0 0 0
bums on seats fannies in the seats like death (warmed up) like death (warmed over)
22 0 1 0
like gold dust like gold at the double on the double
8 1 2 0
Differences at the level of vocabulary - addition be fresh from swh be fresh out of swh
BrE AmE 12 11
know sth backwards know sth backwards and forwards a home from home a home away from home
3 0 5 0
won't say boo to a goose won't say boo give sb a new lease of life give sb a new lease on life
0 0 7 0
die a death die a natural death at a pinch in a pinch
9 0 11 2
no ifs and buts no ifs, ands or buts try sth for size try sth on for size
2 0 2 2
a know-all a know-it-all Differences at the level of grammar - plural
16 3 BrE AmE
left, right and centre left and right / right and left even stevens even steven
0 2 1 0
be all fingers and thumbs be all thumbs on second thoughts on second thought
1 0 6 0
leave well alone leave well enough alone kids' stuff kid stuff
30 2 3 0
Differences at the level of grammar - Word order be at a loose end be at loose ends
BrE AmE 6 0
pastures new new pastures
17 6

28
Differences at the level of grammar - articles
BrE AmE
in the light of in light of
410 38
Other differences
BrE AmE
arty-farty artsy-fartsy
2 1
like a headless chicken like a chicken with its head cut off
8 1
a dark horse dark-horse
17 3
a down and out a down-and-outer
4 0
highly-strung high-strung
5 2
You live and learn. Live and learn.
0 0
Prevention is better than cure. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
3 0
a rough diamond a diamond in the rough
9 0

3.3.3 COMMENTS AND CHARTS

A generalisation of the importance of the number of hits would be not necessarily


valid provided that no mention was made about in what way the number was definitely
established. In conducting a search in a corpus, a concordancer retrieves plenty of sentences
and the crucial decision on which of them will be included and which not is to be reached by
the researcher.
Here, such examples of idioms used in sentences were counted that remained exactly
the same as the entries in the Cambridge International Dictionary of Idioms or were slightly
altered as far as the number (plural or singular), person, tense and negative are concerned.
Among the sentences found in the corpus, there were some which contained a foreign
element in their structure. If the insertion was a word which modified the verb be, e.g. really
be spoilt for choice, the example was counted. If the insertion was connected with other verbs
or even word classes, it was not counted. Neither were the sentences in which the substitution
of the active voice for the passive voice or vice versa occurred.
The frequency of some of the pairs of idioms is comparatively low. This is because of
the restrictions mentioned above and also because of the fact that idioms such as be cast in the
same mould produced no hits, whereas, if reduced to in the same mould, the number of hits
saw an apparent increase.

29
Moving from the form to the meaning, a heavy emphasis was placed upon sticking to
the definition of a particular idiom, as offered by the Cambridge International Dictionary of
Idioms, e.g. off the peg or off the hook are used to speak about clothes, so example sentences
which contained the idiom off the peg or off the hook in different contexts were not included.
With the category of meaning another difficulty arises. It is often highly problematic to
distinguish between the literal use and idiomatic use of such phrases as a favourite or favorite
son.
As for technical problems, the concordancer Bonito spells hyphenated words with
spaces before and after the hyphen. This was found out when the search had already been in
progress and some significant adjustments had to be made.

Once the number of hits was explained, the attention can now be refocused onto the
actual generalisation of the findings. The only two groups of differences in which none of the
American variants of idioms were found are Systemic differences at the level of spelling and
Differences at the level of grammar plural. Systemic differences at the level of spelling can
be therefore described as exclusive, because they can only be spelt one way in the UK or
US (McARTHUR 2002: 248).
The clear contrast in frequency between British idioms and American idioms can be
seen in the charts on the following page. In the chart Differences at the level of vocabulary the
two groups substitution and addition were counted together as were all the groups within
Differences at the level of grammar.
Each chart shows the percentage of hits for American idioms, the total number of all
hits for both British and American idioms being one hundred per cent. The percentages were
rounded to whole numbers.

30
Systemic Differences at the Non-systemic differences at
Level of Spelling the level of spelling

0% 6%

AmE AmE
BrE BrE

94%

Differences at the Level of Differences at the Level of


Vocabulary Grammar

11% 10%

AmE AmE
BrE BrE

89% 90%

Other differences (apart from


those mentioned above)

13%

AmE
BrE

87%

It can be seen that apart from differences at the level of spelling, the percentage of
American idioms exceeds ten per cent. The percentage is relatively high, so this seems to
confirm the validity of my hypothesis in that idioms which are labelled as American English
might appear in British context. As for the second part of my hypothesis that in several pairs
of idioms the proportion of British to American idioms could be one to one as far as the
frequency in British context is concerned, this was not proved. Although the American idioms

31
king of the hill and be burned to a crisp are of a higher frequency than their British
equivalents, it would not be accurate to build on this.
It should be once again stressed that all the findings are based on the selected sample
of idioms and the selected corpus.
The last section in this chapter presents the most frequent idioms in the Sunday Times
corpus. There are fifteen of them; the frequency was based on British idioms.

3.3.4 TABLES OF MOST FREQUENT IDIOMS

idiom in the light of in light of


number of hits 448 38
if something is done or happens in the light of facts, it is done or happens because of
definition
those facts
The pound fell about a pfennig and a
cent yesterday morning, largely But in light of recent turmoil, the
because of nervousness about the announcement may be seen as a contrived
stability of the Government in the light attempt to paper over the cracks in a
examples of the dispute with the Ulster troubled empire.
Unionists.
The decision has been made in the
light of the internationally agreed
criteria for military exports.

idiom as best you can as best as you can


number of hits 58 2
if you do something that is difficult as best you can, you do it as well as you are able
definition
to do it
We held things together as best we
Meanwhile, Britain continue to do their thing
could, but the past year or so was
as best as they can.
pretty much a write-off.
examples
If the casualty is conscious treat any
obvious injuries as best you can and
then dial 999.

idiom be/take centre stage be/take center stage


number of hits 54 0
to be the most important thing or person at an event or in a situation, or to be the
definition
thing or person that people notice most
Yet despite such hair-raising
adventures the people and the places
she observes with such enjoyment
take centre stage.
But, on Saturday, all thoughts of
examples Murdoch and mergers will be set
aside as the Challenge Cup final, the
biggest showcase on the calendar,
takes centre stage.
Not for the first time, it was left to an
Irishman to take centre stage in a
Ryder Cup triumph.

32
idiom a grey area a gray area
number of hits 46 0
a subject or problem that people do not know how to deal with because there are no
definition
clear rules
I do not know why anybody should
think this last item at all shocking at a
time when even for some Anglican
bishops the divine aspects of
Christianity seem to be a grey area.
examples We are victims of a grey area in the
law which fails to recognise that
artificial feeding is as much a life-
support system as a ventilator.
Medico-legal experts will welcome the
ruling as clarifying a grey area of the
law.

idiom run out of steam run out of gas


number of hits 46 1
definition to suddenly lose the energy or interest to continue doing what you are doing
The couple runs out of steam soon
after a sunset kiss atop the Ferris I was going well but then ran out of gas.
wheel that overlooks the Danube.
examples
They have run out of steam, run out
of ideas and must now be run out of
office, nationally as well as locally.

idiom break the mould break the mold


number of hits 45 0
definition to do something differently, after it has been done in the same way for a long time
There are a number of women who
have already broken the mould.
Flexible annuities break the mould,
and solve all these problems, by
letting pensioners simply withdraw an
examples income from their existing fund
without cashing it in.
Yet the most complex task, for he has
now to break the mould of Spanish
politics, is that which faces Jose Maria
Aznar.

33
idiom get into your stride hit your stride
number of hits 37 8
to start to do something well and confidently because you have been doing it for
definition
enough time to become familiar with it
And that was nothing compared to He made his first appearance in Heat And
what I wrote when I got into my stride Dust, disguised as Nickolas Grace, but really
with 1,500 words at my beck. hit his stride in A Room With A View, where
examples
We were never allowed to get into our he played the eccentric Rev Beebe and we
stride and they caused us a lot of got to see his bum.
problems.

idiom be spoilt for choice be spoilled for choice


number of hits 35 4
definition to have so many good possible choices that it is difficult to make a decision
Those with a lump sum to invest are If punters prefer to bet on top-class horses,
spoilt for choice. they are spoiled for choice.
examples Bernhardt is spoilt for choice when it
comes to decorating her house for
Christmas.

idiom come through/pass with flying colours come through/pass with flying colors
number of hits 30 0
to pass an examination with a very high score or to complete a difficult activity very
definition
successfully
You passed the test with flying
colours and the warmth of your
welcome made me want to book up a
whole week there.
He had passed all his exams with
examples
flying colours.
Tom Foley, his trainer, gave the horse
his first serious gallop yesterday, and
he came through with flying
colours.

idiom a favourite son a favorite son


number of hits 28 0
a famous person, especially a politician, who is supported and praised by people in
definition
the area they come from
President Bill Clinton and Vice-
President Al Gore were among the
fortunate 46,272 to stand and roar
their approval as Baltimore's
favourite son broke one of baseball's
examples most cherished records.
The organisers will trust that
Germany's favourite son will be in
contention again next year.
Mr Portillo is still the favourite son of
many right-wing MPs.

34
idiom one of the lads one of the boys
number of hits 23 8
someone who is accepted as part of a group of male friends who all have similar
definition
ideas and interests
The desire to be "one of the lads"
The trouble with Ito is not only that he wants
has to be countered with unflinching
to be one of the boys, he is one of the boys.
examples authority if it is to have any effect.
Most of my friends think he's great he
is one of the lads after all.

idiom pastures new new pastures


number of hits 23 6
if someone goes to pastures new, they leave their job or home in order to go to a new
definition
one
He left the soap for pastures new,
and then seemed to spend most of his Ivan Golac, too, is ready to seek new
time involved in one nightclub debacle pastures in the summer, leaving behind a
after another; people, he claimed, Scottish Cup and a bemused Dundee public.
examples
picked on him.
By June, however, he says he will "be
looking for pastures new, hopefully
within BAe."
idiom be fresh from swh be fresh out of swh
number of hits 23 11
to have just finished education or training in a particular school or college and not
definition
have much experience
The two novels collected here feature
ingenue narrators who, fresh from Few painters fresh out of college can storm
college and the Armed Services, are the barricades of the contemporary art world,
plunged into a netherworld of murder notorious for its distrust of incomers.
examples and organised crime.
He went out to the trenches fresh
from school, a patriotic young
subaltern of 17 declaring "France is
the only place for a gentleman now."

idiom a labour of love a labor of love


number of hits 22 0
definition an activity that is hard work but that you do because you enjoy it
The biography of Wilson was a labour
of love, and she has unearthed some
odd tales.
Of course, it is a labour of love for
examples
Rowse to hate puritans and
republicans.
All our lads have day jobs and
wrestling is a labour of love.

35
idiom bums on seats fannies in the seats
number of hits 22 0
if a public performance or a sports event puts bums on seats, many people pay to go
definition
and see it
It was clear that, in this town,
controversy didn't put bums on
seats.
examples But then again, what did put bums on
seats?
For much of the theatre, bums on
seats, especially young bums, is what
Christmas is all about.

36
CONCLUSION

The thesis dealt with pairs of British and American idioms with equivalent
meanings but different forms. The forms were scrutinized and it was found out that British
and American idioms in question shared certain features according to which it was possible to
divide them into distinct groups.
Although the general levels of differences between British and American English,
namely differences at the level of spelling, the level of vocabulary, the level of grammar and
other differences, were used as a starting point for classification of the selected pairs of
idioms, it emerged that only at the level of spelling are general differences reflected in the
differences between the pairs of idioms under study.
The findings in the corpus partly proved the hypothesis proposed in the Introduction in
that the labels in the dictionary were, to a certain degree, obsolete but as far as the individual
pairs of idioms are concerned, only in two cases did the idioms labelled as American show
higher frequency than those labelled British, which is by no means conclusive.
For further research, it would seem advisable to examine the frequency of the same
pairs of idioms in an American corpus or to study idioms which are, according to a dictionary,
exclusively British or American, but which do not have their equivalent with a similar form in
the other variant.

37
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Cowie, A. P., R. Mackin, and I. R. McCaig. Oxford Dictionary of Current Idiomatic English
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