1. Travalgar

    Travalgar Active Member

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    Web tools for your word search, and idioms

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Travalgar, Dec 28, 2021.

    As an ESL folk, writing in English often comes with an extra hurdle for me. I once believed that as long as I have perfect spelling and grammar (which I haven't) and a prodigious vocabulary (which I lacked), I'll pass by the technical side of writing without problem. Well, turned out that there's a ton more to it than just picking the right words and stringing them together in a proper way; one needs to make their writing pleasantly and naturally readable too!

    The awesome peeps over the several writing communities on the internet I frequented (including WritingForums.org, of course!) have recommended some of the most amazing tools to aid me. There's Grammarly and ProWritingAid for SPAG checking, and OneLook Thesaurus which in my opinion is a superior word search and reverse-search tool to a lot of other online thesauri.

    On my journey, I've also discovered another weakness of mine (and perhaps others' with ESL too): idioms. The use of simple set phrases such as how come, shoot the breeze, make a run for one's money, get on with (something) etc., which should come as naturally to native English speakers as bending their pinky, actually greatly helps in making speeches and dialogues sounding real and flowing.

    That did not come as instinctively for me. OK, one might make a case (I think this is an idiom, too!) that fewer is better, that there are simpler words to use that convey the same meaning with less word counts, that overusing idioms will make your prose purple and needlessly flowery and burying its meaning and readability. But I stand by the opinion that proper, well-placed usage of some idioms will improve my speeches and dialogues by infusing some degree of authenticity to it.

    I haven't found a good web tools for idioms yet. The sites I find simply look up the definition of a given expression. What I need is a suggestion of idioms for a given word (for example: say -> make a case above); kind of a reverse idiom search like what OneLook does. Any help?
     
  2. SapereAude

    SapereAude Contributor Contributor

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    Being a olde fogey who struggles with the digital world, my thought probably won't help you much but ... here goes:

    I often find idioms in the thesaurus. But not an on-line thesaurus, and not any of the multitude of books that claim to be thesauri, but which are actually nothing but dictionaries of synonyms. There is a difference. The one I prefer is Roget's International Thesaurus, which was edited by Robert Chapman, but I believe he may have passed away or retired, and been replaced by someone else.

    Ah, yes -- here it is: https://www.amazon.com/Rogets-International-Thesaurus-Barbara-Kipfer/dp/0061715212/ref=sr_1_2?crid=YIDBSTKMWT2L&keywords=roget's+thesaurus+7th+edition&qid=1640660408&sprefix=Roget's,aps,105&sr=8-2

    The new editor is Barbara Kipfer. And from all reports the 7th edition is superior to the eighth, because they mucked up the index system in the eighth edition.

    In addition to actual and near synonyms, this thesaurus also provides idioms where and when appropriate. There is no printed thesaurus that (IMHO) even begins to approach this one, and I haven't encountered an on-line thesaurus that challenges it, either. (But I confess that I haven't looked at many on-line thesauri, so I'm hardly an expert on them.)

    Would this site be of any help to you? https://www.idioms.online/

    Or this one? https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2022
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  3. evild4ve

    evild4ve Contributor Contributor

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    According to Yoda, https://urbanthesaurus.org does idioms
    but it's as an accidental side effect of keyword-searching the urbandictionary definitions instead of having an index.

    Having typed that, I suspect it wasn't a strictly idiomatic example of "According to Yoda". Something tells me it should be:-
    According to Yoda, https://urbanthesaurus.org idioms does

    To make sure, I tried Roget's British-English Thesaurus from 1998 for 498:wise but alas it only had King Solomon.

    There is something to be said for the brutal simplicity of keyword-searching dictionary definitions, and I wonder if there is a proper thesaurus site that uses that approach. Another thing I like about urbanthesaurus is the way it shows social media users are making up new idioms on an industrial scale. In a way, if the research doesn't turn up any existing ones, then it's our job to create new idioms and enrich the language. This is an area where ESL writers have a unique advantage - since they are often having to make English express thoughts they have formed in another language.

    Rather than reaching for native English idioms, I'd suggest for the OP to use the language he has. Idioms aren't in the dictionary because they're optional and only have any currency as a result of people in a dialect-community sharing them. To look one up from a resource rather than overhearing it in a living community of language is artificial and can probably be sensed. English-speakers from England often notice over-use use of idioms as a characteristic of German ESL speakers (which I guess is a result of the school curriculum).

    I would tend to disagree with the view that there is a bank of approved idioms that must be natural to English-speakers - because almost any English idiom will be foreign to most of the dialects. Part of their role in communication is to locate us to our local group.

    Having said that, some of what the OP refers to as idioms I think would turn out to be part of the dictionary definitions if a full dictionary in volumes was used. I suppose that's another challenge of ESL - if a native speaker is let down by a 'concise' or 'shorter' single-volume dictionary we might be more likely to sense something's missing and double-check.

    https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.120828/page/n761/mode/2up

    and I think it's there in the 1911 dictionary as usage 63f of "get".

    I also checked a concise OED
    https://archive.org/details/conciseoxforddic0010unse/page/596/mode/2up

    and it's missing. It does show though how in a concise dictionary the entry for "get" is a small fraction of the information.

    The 1911 dictionary I think is missing "Get on with it!" in the Monty Python sense.


    But in England of course we don't have have free online access to our own language.
     
  4. Travalgar

    Travalgar Active Member

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    Hi @SapereAude. Thanks for your input. Roget's Thesaurus kept getting mentioned to me over and over these past few months; I'm certainly interested in checking it out now! If only it were available online....
    Yes, I've checked the sites you mentioned out before, and as I said above most of them are basically just a dictionary of idioms and not the tool I'm looking for to convert normal words into something that felt more "conversationy".

    @evild4ve, I'm sorry, but I'm not sure what you're trying to say with your first few paragraphs and whether it relates to the topic at all.
    On another note, although I agree with you that using idioms doesn't always equate a more "natural-sounding" speeches, IMO it certainly helps. A lot of English-language pop culture media consumed by the international audience were written and tailored with the taste of consumers from the USA and Great Britain in mind. By catering to that same subset of language nuances, an author could reach the widest amount of readership.
    Basically it's a choice between writing in a language natural to me versus writing in one that is acceptable to the general populace. Of course, having the two sets of language intersect with each other as much as possible greatly helps a writer in finding readers who are interested in reading his/her writings. That's what I'm aiming for. I don't want to write a story only I can enjoy!
     
  5. KiraAnn

    KiraAnn Senior Member

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    You could always ask about an idiom here...

    And note that idioms do change from region to region. That "shoot the breeze" wouldn't mean anything to someone from the UK, for example.
     
  6. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    i'm from the uk and i understood that fine
     
  7. Travalgar

    Travalgar Active Member

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    I'm not from an English-speaking country and I understood that just fine as well. IMO the idea is that North American-speech had been extremely pervasive throughout the global popular culture scene that almost anyone who regularly consumed media written in English would be familiar with North American idioms.
     
  8. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    As i said on a different thread we do have to be careful about words or idom with wildly with different meanings from country to country. I mentioned before that while in the Uk army a detatchment of us were visiting a US base, and our liaison officer imparted the message to us outside the O club (which we Brits call a the officers mess btw)

    "Lt 'Moose' I have to warn you my bird is in there and they're totally pissed."

    He thought he was imparting the warning that his Colonel (Bird in US slang from the silver eagle insignia) was within and he was really mad at us (about our men being drunken crazed visigoths probably, i forget)

    We understood him to mean that his girlfriend was in the club and that she was drunk out of her skull
     
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  9. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 HP: 10/190 Status: Confused Contributor

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    I learned the Canadian slang phrase "shagging the dog" from QI - it means something rather different from how a UK reader might interpret it.
     

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