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Tinkering with Idioms through Contamination

One characteristic of idioms is their fixity, which is to say that they are not subject to alteration at the whim of the speaker/writer. When a radio announcer with good diction who is otherwise articulate says “cut him a break” (as did Steve Inskeep, “Morning Edition,” NPR, December 20, 2010) instead of the idiomatic “give him a break,” one can easily trace the source of the mistake (“cut him some slack”) and recognize it as an instance of contamination. All the same, it is a catachresis nonetheless, stylistically offensive and bordering on the ungrammatical.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

One Response to “Tinkering with Idioms through Contamination”

  • Eve says:

    Thanks for the interesting article. I really appreciate it. We were just now considering this very same thing. It is always so convenient and fortuitous when we discover an article which we’ve been researching without resorting to search all over the web all day long!

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