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The filling in the sandwich: internal modification of idioms

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Chapter Summary

Idiomatic expressions – defined as (relatively) fixed and semantically opaque units such as a one-horse town or buy the farm ‘die’ – are basically self-contained, but can be ‘anchored’ in the discourse at hand via e.g. post-modification: A great many people thought that the pendulum of permissiveness had swung too far. But internal expansion is also possible: These dangers are being swept under the risk-factor rug. Using the BNC and newspaper CDs as corpora of sufficient size (approximately 300 million words in all), the patterns and frequency of such anchoring internal expansions in contemporary English are investigated, and compared with those for alternative formulations and the simplex form. Anchoring internal expansion is found to be generally possible, and occasionally inventive, but usually infrequent (with exceptions such as not have a leg to stand on); anchoring the idiom via exemplification in a following clause is a primary discourse alternative.



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