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Lecture VI

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English Lexicology, V semester

Lecture II

English Lexicology, V semester


The term irony is taken from rhetoric (as well as litotes). It is the expression of one’s thought by words of opposite sense, especially a simulated adoption of the opposite point of view for the purpose of ridicule or disparagement. The ironical meaning of the words nice and pretty is “bad, unsatisfactory”: You’ve got us into a nice mess; A pretty mess you’ve made of it!


primarily - главным образом

vehicle - транспортное средство

ellipsis - эллипсис

resemblance - сходство

contiguity - смежность, близость, связь

metaphor - метафора

metonymy - метонимия

specialization (narrowing) - сужение значения

of meaning

generalization (broadening) - расширение значения

of meaning

elevation of meaning - улучшение (возвышение) значения

degradation of meaning - ухудшение значения

hyperbole - гипербола

litotes - литота

range - диапазон

lawsuit - судебный процесс, тяжба

to perish - погибать, умирать

toponymics - топонимика

ford - брод

auxiliary - вспомогательный

quisling - предатель

exaggeration - преувеличение

synecdoche - синекдоха

to adopt - принимать

ridicule - осмеяние, насмешка

disparagement - пренебрежительное отношение, недооценка



Additional questions to the 2nd seminar

  1. Give four ways of specialization (narrowing) of meaning.
  2. What is linguistic metaphor? Give four types of resemblance. Illustrate your answer with examples.
  3. What is linguistic metonymy? Give five different types of metonymy. Use examples.
  4. What is hyperbole?
  5. What is litotes?
  6. What is irony?
  7. What is “degradation” of meaning?
  8. What is “elevation” of meaning?
  9. Is there any difference between the terms: “development of meaning” and “change of meaning”?


  1. Phraseological units, free phrases, semi-fixed combinations.
  2. Criteria for distinguishing phraseological units from free groups: semantic and structural.
  3. Polysemy and synonymy of phraseological units.
  4. Sources of phraseological units.
  5. Proverbs and phraseological units. Common and distinctive features.



Phraseology is the branch of lexicology specializing in word-groups which are characterized by stability of structure and transferred meaning.

These word-groups with stable meaning are called phraseological units. This term was first introduced by Academician V.V. Vinogradov who developed the theory of Russian phraseology. The term “idiom” is widely accepted by western scholars.

There are some other terms for phraseological units: set expressions, set-phrases, fixed word-groups, collocations.

Phraseologacal unit is a stable word group characterized by a completely or partially transferred meaning.

1. The term completely transferred meaning implies that semantic change affected the whole group, and none of the components preserves its current meaning. All the components are used in their transferred meanings.

Ex. a wolf in a sheep’s clothing - enemy

to kiss the hair’s foot - to be late

2. The term partially transferred meaning implies that one of the components, preserves its current meaning and the other is used in a transferred meaning.

Ex. to fall in love, to lose one’s temper.


Phraseological units are contrasted to free phrases and semi-fixed combinations.

A free phrase such as to go early permits substitution of any of its elements without semantic change in other element or elements. The verb go in free phrases may be preceded by any noun or followed by any adverbial. Such substitution is never limited.

In semi-fixed combinations we are not only able to say that such substitutes exist, but fix their boundaries by stating the semantic properties of words that can be used for substitution, or even listing them. So in semi-fixed combinations these lexico-semantic limits are manifest in restrictions imposed upon types of words which can be used in a given pattern. For example, the pattern consisting of a verb go followed by a preposition to and a noun with no article before it (to go to school, to go to market, to go to courts etc) is used only with nouns of places where definite actions or functions are performed.

If substitution is only pronominal or restricted to a few synonyms for one of the members only, or impossible, that is the elements are always the same and make a fixed context for each other, the word group is a phraseological unit.

Ex. All the world and his wife

time and again

to and fro


see English lexicology by G.B. Antrushina pp. 229-234.




1. Some English phraseological units can be polysemantic. For example the unit “to feed the fishes” has several meanings. 1. утонуть

2. страдать морской болезнью

“to give way” has meanings:

  1. отступать
  2. уступать место
  3. надломиться (в том числе и о здоровье)
  4. понизиться в цене

и др.

As in the case of polysemantic word, the meaning of a polysemantic phraseological unit can be defined in the context.

2. Phraseological units can have synonyms. We can distinguish synonymic phraseological units of two types:

1. Synonymic phraseological units which have the same structure and the same lexical composition with exception of one component.

закусить удила
Ex. to get the bit between one’s teeth

to take bit between one’s teeth


пресечь в корне
to hip in the bud

to check in the bud

to crush in the bud


2. Synonymic phraseological units which have different images in their structure and accordingly are built on different lexical units.

испробовать все возможности
Ex. to leave no stone unturned

to move heaven and earth

быть помешанным на ч-л.

to have a bee in one’s bonnet

to have smth. on the brain



1. The pointing to the historical situation, a forgotten custom.

For example the phraseological unit “to burn one’s boats” (сжечь за собой мосты) comes back to the custom of some ancient army generals, who ordered their soldiers to burn their boats after coming ashore thus to cut all the ways to retreat.

“to bury the hatchet” (заключить мир)reveals a custom of Northern American Indians to bury the hatchet when making place.


2. Literary quotation

“to make a cat’s paw of” (сделать к-л своим орудием) it’s from the fable about a monkey that made a cat get fried chestnuts out of the fire.

“Brevity is the soul of wit” (Shakespeare)


3. Translation loans:

“the apple of discord” (яблоко раздора) – from Greek

“to wash one’s hands of” (умыть руки) – from Greek

“to make two bites of cherry” (затягивать работу) – from French


4. Different professional expressions and the ones concerning entertainment, games, sport and the like.

Ex. “to put the finishing touches” (the artist’s expression)

“to feel one’s pulse” (medical expression)

“to have a ball at one’s feet” (sport expression)

“to have all the trumps in one’s hand” (card players’ expression)

“between wind and water” (sailor’s expression)




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