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What are Idioms? - Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Jeremy Cook

Jeremy has been teaching in elementary education for 13 years and holds a master's degree in Education

Have you ever heard someone say ~'Did you let the cat out of the bag?~' Have you ever done something wrong and been told that ~'It's time to face the music~'? If you have, you've experienced idioms. Learn more about idioms in this lesson.

Idioms Don't Mean What You Think

Idioms are phrases that have a meaning that is very different from its individual parts. Unlike most sentences that have a literal meaning, idioms have figurative meaning. A literal meaning is when each word in a sentence stays true to its actual meaning. Figurative meaning is when a combination of words mean something different than the individual words do.

If you take the sentence, The dog ran down the street, you can figure out what the sentence means as long as you know what each part means. It's literal. But idioms don't work that way; they are figurative. Take the common idiom ''you let the cat out of the bag.'' If you take the literal parts and add them them up, you would assume that it meant that a person was opening up a bag and letting a cat out of it. But that is not even close to what it means. The idiom doesn't even have anything to do with a cat or even a bag. Letting the cat out of the bag means to reveal a secret.

The hard part of idioms is that you need to know what the phrase means to begin with. There is no way to use the literal parts to find the meaning.

Face the Music
face the music

Where Do Idioms Come From?

Idioms exist in all languages. Oftentimes, idioms are cultural, which means that they develop from different groups of people throughout history and are passed down. Many of the most common idioms have origins that are quite fascinating.

Have you ever heard someone say 'bite the bullet'? Do you know what it means? First of all, it doesn't mean you literally take a bite out of a bullet. It means to accept an unpleasant situation. Your mom might tell you to just ''bite the bullet and do your homework.'' This idiom came from olden days. When doctors would run out of pain medicine, they would sometimes give a patient a bullet to bite down on when operating on them.

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