What’s an Idiom?
Broadly speaking, an idiom is a widely used phrase that, when taken as a whole, has a particular meaning that you would not be able to deduce from the meanings of the individual words. The ubiquitous greeting “How are you doing today?” is an example of an idiom. Normally, how means “in what manner” or “to what degree.” Taken literally, the question doesn’t make a lot of sense. But fluent English speakers understand the idiomatic meaning; “How are you doing today?” usually just means “hello.”
Idiom vs. Cliché
The terms idiom and cliché are often used interchangeably, especially when people talk about things you shouldn’t say. But they’re not quite the same thing. A cliché is an expression like “throw the baby out with the bathwater” or “the cat who ate the canary”—a phrase that has been repeated so often that it’s no longer effective. Clichés are like idioms in that you can’t understand the meaning of the phrase by looking at the literal meaning of each word. See More . . .