I've heard some people posit that the reason a large amount of idioms in American English come from sports terminology (e.g. "ballpark figure" or "the whole nine yards") is due to the "competitive nature" of Americans. While I'm not completely bought into the idea, is there a currently accepted theory for classifying the determining factor of idioms in a culture?

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    that's an interesting question. on the specific example i think it's because americans like to talk about sports to non-intimates.
    – user483
    Jul 9, 2012 at 22:12
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    It's not the idioms; it's the Metaphors that occasion them. Sports is used as a metaphor for all sorts of things in our culture (politics, for instance), and is itself a metaphor for aggressiveness, competition, and war. Add those up and you'll get tons of idioms, but they're consistent with the metaphor theme.
    – jlawler
    Jul 9, 2012 at 23:56
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    @jlawler I'm not sure how we're crazier than Americans, but yes there are plenty of sports-related idioms in Australian English. But I think would be very problematic to try to measure relative amounts of such idioms in order to say one has a 'large' number, this implying a comparison. Jul 11, 2012 at 11:28
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    Sorry, I'd meant to write "even crazier than Americans about sports" (practically nobody's "crazier than Americans" in general. :-) As for measuring the usage, probably a $100 million grant would serve to initiate the process of measurement. It'd take a while, though.
    – jlawler
    Jul 11, 2012 at 14:12
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    @jlawler Fair enough: I'd be willing to work with you for half… (let's have lunch). In Australia it's often said that South Africans and Kiwis are crazier about sport than we are. Jul 11, 2012 at 23:02

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The most common way for new languages to form is fairly regular. When two cultures meet, the dominant culture's language forms the basis for a pidgen in which those in the less dominant culture try to accomodate the dominant language while using grammatical structures, vocabulary, and metaphors/symbols from their own language. Once a complete language develops from these, it's often called a creole which has elements from both languages, including the metaphoric/symbolic imagery from each--(at the same time, the creole simplifies the grammar/syntax of the original). So the idiom is usually a metaphor which meant something concrete in the original language but which has taken on a more abstract meaning in the creole--which is then a real language. English went through this process, absorbing symbols and metaphors while simplifying forms. Sometimes individuals create idioms which go on to be applied to many things; for instance, Shakespeare: wild goose chase, the crack of doom, as pure as the driven snow, and many more. America added many: well healed, on the wagon, off the record, +++. It's a fascinating study.

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