Canonical Forms of Idioms in Online Dictionaries

Alenka Vrbinc, Marjeta Vrbinc


This study focuses on the inclusion of canonical forms of idioms in different online dictionaries, and occasionally a parallel is drawn to canonical forms in print dictionaries used in the compilation of our database, which contains 141 idioms originating from literary works, ancient legends, fables and the Bible. In the foreground are dictionary users, especially learners of English, who may face a range of problems concerning canonical forms. However, we have to limit ourselves to a certain extent, which means that attention is paid mostly to the following: the use of the article preceding a noun that is the first constituent element in the idiom, the way of including information on possessives in idioms, the use of the infinitive marker, which is obligatory in some idioms beginning with a verb, the way of indicating variations in idioms, differences in the use of the apostrophe, the inclusion of similes with the comparison marker as, and lower- or upper-case initial letter. Analysis of the idioms from our database shows that the canonical forms may pose problems for lexicographers, who may not be sufficiently consistent, as well as to dictionary users, who may find it difficult to interpret the idiom correctly and consequently use it correctly. A possible variation should be indicated unambiguously and clearly, so as to make dictionary users aware that some idioms allow some flexibility in their form. If the comparison of the way a particular idiom is included in different dictionaries shows any differences, these are discussed and commented upon, suggestions are made and guidelines are proposed for improving the level of consistency, thus resulting in a more consistent as well as uniform and possibly more user-friendly inclusion of idioms.




idioms; canonical forms; dictionaries of idioms; online dictionaries; learners of English

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