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English-Learners' Dictionary Delivers in Explaining Idioms

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Merriam-Webster's Advanced Learner's English Dictionary had been released. It delivers on a promise contained in its promotional materials that it would describe a great deal of English idioms.


It lists and explains, for example, 23 English idioms that use the word "hell," none of which, by the way, would have been considered acceptable in the English-speaking household I grew up in, where we generally didn't use emphatic language at all. But if you are learning English and want to understand other folks, you have to know what these words, mean, right?

Here are a few excerpts from the "hell" list.

come hell or high water--informal--used to say that something will definitely happen or be done even though other events or situations might make it difficult. I will be there on time, come hell or high water.

go to hell in a handbasket--see handbasket

when hell freezes over--informal + impolite--used to say that you think that something will never happen. I'll apologize when hell freezes over. [=I'll never apologize]

OK, I acknowledge I fished for something a bit sensational to get you to read a blog entry about a dictionary.

The 1,994-page volume contains plenty of other idioms used in non-emphatic conversation. It has an accompanying Web site with a blog, pronunciation exercises, and other tools that might be useful for teaching ELLs.

1 Comment

It may be very useful to look idioms once in awhile, but I think people really learn idioms from interacting with other people in the language and extensive reading. Dictionaries are definitely useful but I think overused. When we look back on learning a language or learning to read and write in our own language, we don't reminisce about how much we learned from the dictionary. Even calendars such a word a day seems like a good tool until you realize that you are not retaining the vocabulary. The dictionary companies creating dictionaries for English Language Learners are doing a great service, especially when they have definitions in full sentences, but I think they are overemphasized and misused.

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