- Does linguistics have a concept of "set phrase" with a meaning differing from "idiom"?
- In the Gospels, Can “Day of:” the Passover - be Interpreted Idiomatically?

1. Question, Reference Request: Research Methodology

What is the proper methodology to validate - or refute - whether an expression is an Idiom?

What are the Evidences and Criteria that would substantiate those conclusions?

Note: The question here is not to identify if a specific phrase is idiomatic - but rather: to identify the correct methodologies to use.

Are there any recommended / published guidelines or example studies?

2. Context, Validating or Refuting Chrysostom's Idiom Claim

Chrysostom, (349-407 CE) claimed that an expression was idiomatic - but in order to validate or refute his claim - a valid and systematic methodology would have to be used:

Homilies on Matthew (Chrysostom) > Homily 81: - "Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed; by the word came, meaning this, it was near, it was at the doors ...

3. Current Working Methodology

  1. Exhaustive Samples: Examples from contemporaneous texts, (Example searching Greek Literature: lemma:ἔρχομαι OR lemma:γίνομαι AND lemma:ἡμέρα);
  2. Literal Uses - Where the plain meaning can be inferred, in those contexts, (or not).
  3. Figurative Uses: If the implied meaning is certainly not its literal meaning;
  4. Contradictions Imposed: In cases of ambiguity - where a contradiction would be imposed onto the text whether either the literal or figurative meaning are assumed;
  5. Contemporaneous Identification: Whether contemporaneous authorities also identified the expression as idiomatic or not.
  6. etc ... ?

What is missing here? What is the "actual criteria" normally expected in order to validate or refute such a claim?

  • What do you mean by "idiomatic expression" -- for example "keep tabs on", "kick the bucket"? By "actually used", do you mean "can be shown to have been used at least once", or do you want a higher token count?
    – user6726
    Apr 3, 2016 at 22:02
  • @user6726 - A.) Yes, that is what I mean by idiomatic expression; B.) However, my question is about "when hypothesizing IF an unknown expression is actually an idiom" C.) So, in this case - I don't already know if the expression is an idiom, but I think so. So, what would be the standard criteria for proving it?; D.) I will clarify the question a bit more with your comment; Apr 3, 2016 at 22:07
  • Give us more details: the actual expression, language etc.
    – Alex B.
    Apr 4, 2016 at 0:37
  • @AlexB. A.) The phrase I am currently researching is actually in Greek, and "Came the Day", (lemma:ἔρχομαι OR lemma:γίνομαι AND lemma:ἡμέρα); B.) But the question is intended to be about methodology and language neutral - not necessarily to ask about any particular idiom, (thought it would be helpful); C.) I will update the question to clarify that it is about general methodology, for any given phrase - in any given language; Apr 4, 2016 at 0:55
  • @elikakohen Have you seen this already? linguistics.stackexchange.com/a/4597/445
    – Alex B.
    Apr 4, 2016 at 1:02

2 Answers 2


In another answer, here, I introduced the notion of a derived phrase structure rule, as an alternative to phrase structure derivation. In effect, every constituent, together with its grammatical category, becomes a phrase structure rule, and any finite subset of these which is a basis for the language can be considered a lexicon for the grammar. This handles the case of idioms which are constituents, without any apparatus other than the parsing and look up needed for the language anyhow.


I consider an expression an idiom when I find I wouldn't express the idea in this way in English or in my mother tongue. But if you want a scientic method to ascertain whether an expression is an idiom or not you will get into a quagmire.

  • - rogermue - A.) Just applying any / some methodology - would lend some amount of credibility; B.) Hopefully, at least enough to merit a reasonable review. Apr 7, 2016 at 14:57

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