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The Relationship between Social Custom and English Idiom


									     The Relationship between Social Custom and English Idiom

       Idioms as a special form of language that carry a large amount of cultural
information, such as history, geography, religion, custom, thinking pattern and so on.
Therefore, they are closely related to the culture, especially idioms have an
inseparable relationship of social customs. From a dynamic view, language and
culture interact with each other and shape each other. Idiomatic expressions are even
difficult for native English speakers because their meanings cannot be determined
through an analysis of their individual words. For instance, “to fall out” means “to
quarrel”, but neither “fall” nor “out” has a sense of quarrel. Another example is “a
feather in one‟s cap”, which means “an honor or a success, of which one can be
proud”. The meaning of this idiom is a metaphorical one. “Under the rose” is also
very difficult to understand from the literal meanings of its component words, its true
meaning is “secretly”. “To have a bee in one's bonnet” means “to have a strange fixed
idea about something”. “To kick the bucket” means “to die”. The figurative
interpretation of “shoot the breeze” is “to talk without purpose”. Unlike literal
language, it is impossible to explain the idiom from the literal meaning of the
individual words. Thus, English idioms are difficult to understand, because they are a
combination of two or more words, which function as a unit of meaning.
       For our Chinese students, English idioms are a stumbling block. It is very
possible that they often not only feel at a loss in understanding conversations because
of a key idiom but also misuse idioms. In this paper, I am going to make a study of
the relationship between idioms and social custom cultures and throw some light on
the learning of English idioms. As we all know, language is closely related to culture
and can be said as a part of culture. They are the heritage of history and product of
cultural evolvement. Consequently, we can know much about social custom culture
through studying idioms and in turn get better understanding of idioms by learning the
cultural background behind them.

Ⅱ.The Definition of English Idioms
      To research idiom, first of all, we must understand what is idiom. This is the old
theme that we discuss it. Because to define the idiom exactly and popular accepted
definition is a difficult question. In the definition of English idioms, some scholar
emphasis on the words quantity of structure in idioms. That is to say, how many
language units to constitute the English idioms? Is it except the phrases, words group,
and words or sentences also can make up to the idioms? Others emphasize the single
meanings of English idioms, it refers that the English idiom‟s meaning is arbitrary.
The English idiom‟s meaning can not be synthesized or cut apart. Different people
hold the different opinions on the definition of English idioms; they have different
focal point on the definition of English idioms. So we must understand the definition
of English idioms exactly through the research. Although we are unlikely to give an

ideal definition to the English idioms; but we should give a better definition of
English idioms before the research.
       In the book A Research on English Idiom, the author thinks before we decide
what expression is idiom, we should consider the following three points: first, the
English idiom should have two words to constitute at least; second, the structure of
English idioms are relatively fixed, the word-formation of idioms can not be change;
third, the meaning of English idioms can not be interpreted by the meaning of the
words which constitute it. (骆世平,2006:13)
       It is not easily to define what English idiom is. On one hand, the scope, content,
structure and formation of English idioms are very complex; on the other hand, what
formations of language belong to the English idioms? How to classify the idioms
from the narrow sense and broad sense? Different scholars hold the different opinions,
so it brings the difficult to define the English idioms. The English idiom is a special
kind of English language form which come from the phrases, words groups, structure
or custom expressions, the meaning of English idiom can not be deduce from the
single meaning of the constitute-words. (张安德,杨元刚,2003:14)
       From the above definition of English idiom, we can define that English idioms
are some special language structure units—phrases, words groups and expressions,
their meaning always can not be inferred from the literal meaning of the
constitute-words of idioms, their meaning should be understood from the
conventional form of whole idioms. From the broad sense, the English idioms include
the phrases, common sayings, proverbs, idiomatic phrases, slang, a two-part
allegorical saying and allusion and so on.
       The English idioms mainly include the set phrases and idiomatic phrases. For
instance, “to have one‟s head in clouds” means “to meet the difficult problems that
can not think the way to solve it”. Another example is “the man in the street”, which
means “normal people, citizen”. “No man is born wise or learned” means “the man is
learned from the studying but not learned from the inheritance”. The idiomatic phrase
of “to charge someone an arm and a leg” means “the price is very expensive‟. The
allusion of “skeleton in the cupboard” means “the disgraceful affair of a person”, and
the slang of “slag off” means “to criticize”.
       The definitions of English idioms are many in our society. In my opinion, the
English idioms consist of set phrases and short sentences, which are peculiar to the
language in question and steeped in the national and regional culture and ideas, thus
being colorful, forcible and thought-provoking. Strictly speaking, idioms are
expressions that are not readily understandable from their literal meanings of
individual constituents. In a broad sense, idioms may include colloquialisms,
catchphrases, slang expressions, proverbs and so on.

Ⅲ.The Characters of English Idioms
       We have been discussed the definition of English idiom in the above; we know
an English idiom has its different characters from other words and expressions. I
think these characters can be sum up as single unit, institutionalization and
irreplaceability. But this conclusion of English idioms is more abstract so that we can

not easily understand. From my view of the characters of English idioms, they mainly
have two aspect characters:
       First of all, being phrases or sentences, idioms each consist of at least two or
more constituents, but each is a semantic unity. Thought the various words which
make up the idiom have their respective literal meanings, they have lost their
individual identities in the idiom. That is to say, their meanings are not often
recognizable in the meaning of the whole idiom. Likewise, the part of speech of each
element is no longer important, for quite often the idiom functions as one word. For
instance, “till the cows come down” which comprises a conjunction “till”, an article
“the”, a noun “cow”, a verb “come” and an adverb “home” means “forever” and
function as an adverb, thus replaceable by the word “forever”.(张维友,2004:228—
       The semantic unity of idioms is also reflected in the illogical relationship
between the literal meaning of each constituent and the meaning of the idiom. Many
idioms are semantically inexplicable. For example, “how do you do” is a common
form of greeting used by people when they first meet. Literally it means “in what way
do you do things”, which is far from its idiomatic usage.
       Second of all, the idioms have the character of structural stability. The structure
of an idiom is to a large extent invariable, unlike free phrases. Firstly, the constituents
of idioms cannot be changed or replaced. For example, “kick the bucket” can not be
changed as “kick the pail” or “strike the bucket”, it means “to die”. Secondly, the
word order cannot be inverted or changed. For instance, “by twos and threes” and “tit
for tat” are not being turned into “by threes and twos” and “tat for tit”. Thirdly, the
constituents of an idiom cannot be deleted or added to, not even an article. Take the
“out of the question” for example, it means “impossible”. If the article “the” is
deleted, the idiomaticity will be lost and it will signify “no question” instead. Finally,
“diamond cut diamond” (two parties are equally matched) is grammatically incorrect,
for normally the verb “cut” should take the third person singular “-s” as the subject
diamond is singular. (张维友,2004:229—230)

Ⅳ.The Social Customs in English Idioms
       We have been discussed the definition and characters of English idioms. Now,
we discuss the relationship between social customs and English idioms. We know the
English idioms carry large amount cultural information such as history, geography,
religion, custom, nationality psychology, thinking pattern and so on. They are closely
related to the culture and social customs. But how are they related to the social
customs? In what way are they related? This is the question we discuss. As far as I am
concerned, the English idioms are mainly related to the religious belief, Greek and
Roman mythologies, social fashions, food customs, literary masterpieces, ancient
fables and so on.

A. The Relationship between Religious Beliefs and English Idioms.
      American and Britain are the countries that have Christianity and Hebraism as
their cultural background. Most idioms produced in this background carry rich

religious elements. Getting to the roots of idioms, we can find that they mainly
originated from the Bible. It is firm concept of western people that God created
people. They think that God is omnipotent and sacred. God, Christ, devil, Adam and
some educational segments of the stories in the Bible are passed down because of
people favored or even some historical and political causes. For example:
       Judas’s kiss: a deceitful act of courtesy. (Judas betrayed his Master with a kiss.)
(New Testament)
       Much cry and little wool: a proverbial saying expressive of contempt or
derision for one who promises great things but never fulfils the promises. (Originally
the proverb says,“Great cry and little wool, as the Devil said when he sheared the
hogs”; and it appears in this form in the ancient mystery of David and Abigail, in
which Nabal is represented as shearing his sleep, and the Devil imitates the act by
“shearing a hog”.)
       Turn the other cheek: to take no action against the person who has hurt or
harmed one, especially to allow him to do it again. (Do not resist one who is evil. But
if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…)——(New
       The widow’s cruse: a small supply of anything that, by good management, is
made to go a long way and to be apparently inexhaustible. (New Testament)
       I listed four idioms from the Bible in which there are many idioms. So when we
learn idioms about Bible, we can read Bible, which will increase our knowledge and
help us to be familiar with the features of western culture and have a clear
understanding of the hidden meanings of idioms.

B. The Relationship between Greek and Roman Mythologies and English Idioms
       Mythologies are ancient stories that are based on popular beliefs or that explain
natural or historical events because the people of the primitive society were scared of
the nature and longed for the nice future. In the American and Britain, many idioms
are originated from the mythologies; especially they come from the Greek and Roman
mythologies, so that we can know some relationship between English idioms and
       Midas touch: the excellent skill of making money. (Midas is a legendary king
of Phrygia who requested of the Gods that everything he touched might be turned into
gold. His request was granted, but as his food became gold the moment he touched it,
he prayed the Gods to take their favor back. He was then ordered to bathe in the
Pactolus, and the river ever after rolled over golden sands.) (张安德,     杨元刚,      2003:
       Pandora’s Box: a prolific source of troubles. (In Greek mythology a box
containing all the evils of mankind and given by Zeus to the mythological Pandora,
who opened it against the command of Zeus, thus, all the evils flew forth and they
have ever since continued to afflict the world, only Hope remained in the bottom;
something that produces many unforeseen difficulties) (骆世平,2006:42)
       Sphinx’s riddle:means „the difficult riddle‟ (Sphinx is a monster of ancient
mythology; The Grecian Sphinx was generally said to be a daughter of Typhon and

Chimaera; she infested Thebes, setting the inhabitants a riddle and devouring all those
who could not solve it. The riddle was——What goes on four feet, on two feet, and
three feet. But the more feet it goes on the weaker it be? and it was at length solved
with the answer that it was a man, who as an infant crawls upon all-fours, in manhood
goes erect on his two feet, and in old age supports his tottering legs with a staff. On
hearing this correct answer the Sphinx killed herself and Thebes was delivered.)
      Here I only listed three examples of idioms from the Greek and Roman
mythologies; we can see these idioms reflect the English culture. Except these idioms,
there are many English idioms that originated from the Greek and Roman

C. The Relationship between Social Fashions and English Idioms
       The social fashion is traditional habit or is popular in a period of time in society;
it concludes living habit, etiquette, tradition, behavior standards, and method of social
communication and so on. Every person lives in the atmosphere of social fashion and
traditional habit, and this atmosphere influences their daily life. Meanwhile, these
influences reflect the language; especially they reflect the English idioms. For
       Let one’s hair down: to relax after a period of tense. (Long before, in whatever
occasion, the English woman‟s hair were very clean and tidy that comb up in the
forehead, only when they were alone which to let their hair down. Therefore, people
use the idiom of “let one‟s hair down” to express their relaxation after a long time of
working and tense situation.)
       Take off one’s hat to someone: pay one‟s respect to someone. (Long ago, the
English people wore the hat as a fashion. When they greeted with people in the social
occasion and showed the respect to someone, they took off their hat. For this reason,
“take off one‟s hat to someone” extends the meaning to show the respect to someone.)
       Go down the aisle: get married, enter into matrimony. (The westerners almost
believe the Christianity, their weddings always hold in the church. When the wedding
starts, the father of the bride always companies with her walk down the aisle.
Therefore, the idiom of “walk down the aisle” expresses “enter into matrimony”. For
this reason, the idiom “go down the aisle” is produced to indicate “get married”.) (骆
       The social fashions reflect the English idioms to the daily life of English and
American. I only listed three idioms of the social fashions. When we learn the social
fashions, we can understand the meaning of English idioms deeply. Meanwhile, there
are many idioms that come from the social fashions. If we learn more social fashions
about the English idioms, we can know the relationship between English idioms and
social fashions behind the background of culture.

D. The Relationship between Food Customs and English Idioms.
      On a large while, the food is the life of human being, the history of human
being is mainly to struggle for food. Because of the differences of nature environment
and geography place for each nation, they live in the different way. Even for the

people of one nation, they have different food customs because of their different
living conditions. Therefore, nowadays, “cultural festival of food” is held in the
everywhere of world. Because of the influences of sea to the Britain‟s weather, the
weather is not very cold or hot. So the wheat, barley and oats of main grain are
adapted to this climate of Britain. The staple food of Britain people includes bread,
milk, butter and cheese. If we are careful about these phenomenons, we can find many
idioms of constituents including bread. For example:
       Bread and butter: livelihood, a way of earning money.
       Bread and circuses: food and amusement.
       Bread with someone: to have dinner with somebody.
       Bread line: the long queue of the unemployed people to receive the relief.
       Take the bread out of someone’s mouth: grab somebody‟s job. (骆世平,
       It is very clear that the pursuit of daily living materials for English people is
mainly the bread. The bread is not very important in modern society, but the bread is
the record or the reflection of history as for English idioms.
       The English people love to eat butter; they make the figure of speech according
to the characters of butter. For instance:
       Butter would not melt in his mouth: very honest.
       Like a hot knife through butter: very easy to do something.
       Bread buttered on both sides: living a comfortable life. (骆世平, 2006:
       Many idioms about the custom of food are similar to these idioms, such as:
       Cry in one’s beer: forget worries by drinking.
       Big cheese: an important figure, boss.
       Out of a jam: live out of the desperate straits or get out of troubles.
       Save one’s bacon: shake off one‟ difficulties.
       Live on the breadline: living in the condition of poverty line.
       Jam tomorrow: something you want but it does not belong to you.
       Cry over spilt milk: to waste time feeling sorry about something that cannot be
changed for the better.
       Know which side your bread is buttered: to know what will be of most gain
to yourself. (骆世平, 2006:53)

E. The Relationship between Literary Masterpieces and English Idioms
       Many popular western literary masterpieces have the classic words, phrases and
sentences that attract people greatly. They are shaped to evolve the hidden meaning.
For instance:
       Screw up one’s courage: to overcome one‟s fear; to stop one from being
       Man Friday: a faithful and willing attendant, ready to turn his hand to anything.
(The young savage found by Robinson Crusoe on a Friday, and kept as his servant and
companion on the desert island.) (骆世平, 2006:39)
       To the manner born: is be born to do. (Hamlet)

       One’s pound of flesh: fair but unreasonable request. (A moneyless young
Venetian, Bassanio, is making preparations to court Portia, a rich beauty of Belmont.
He needs money and appeals to his friend Antonio, a merchant of Venice, for help.
But Antonio‟s money is invested in ships at sea. To aid Bassanio in his courtship, he
borrows money from Shylock the Jewish usurer. Shylock, who has been insulted by
Antonio and other Christians, agrees to lend the money on the condition that, if the
loan is not paid in three months, he may cut a pound of flesh from Antonio‟s body.    (刘
炳善,1993:78)Later people use “one‟s pound of flesh” to imply the fair but
unreasonable request. The Merchant of Venice(骆世平, 2006:35)
       Cakes and ale: idle away one‟s time in pleasure-seeking, enjoy pleasure. (Dost
thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ales) Twelfth
Night (刘炳善,1993:81)            (骆世平, 2006:36)
       Paint the lily: an unnecessary action. ( To gild refined gold, to paint the lily…Is
it wasteful and ridiculous excess?) King John (骆世平, 2006:36)
       Man of mould: ordinary person. HenryⅤ
       Suffer a sea change: a person who experienced a remarkable change. The
       The world is someone’s oyster: at one‟s will, follow one‟s inclinations. The
Merry Wives of Windsor.
       Much ado about nothing: create trouble out of nothing. Much Ado About
Nothing (骆世平, 2006:37)

F. The Relationship between Ancient Fables and English Idioms
       Though ancient fable stories are short and refined, they teach people many
philosophic and educational theories while being narrated. They are also parts of the
kindergarten education of Chinese children. It is obvious that they are popular even
among Chinese people. They, especially Aesop's Fables are the favorites of Chinese
people. For example:
       Naked truth: the plain, unvarnished truth; the truth without trimmings. (The
fable says that Truth and Falsehood went bathing; Falsehood came first out of the
water, and dressed herself in Truth‟s garments. Truth, unwilling to take those of
Falsehood, went naked.)
       Sour grapes: disparage something that is beyond one‟s reach. (The allusion is
to Aesop‟s well-known fable of the fox, which tried in vain to get at some grapes, but
when he found they were beyond his reach, he went away saying, “I see they are
sour.”) (骆世平, 2006:44)
       Bell the cat: risk one‟s own life to do something dangerous. (The allusion is to
the fable of a cunning old mouse, who suggested that they should hang a bell on the
cat‟s neck to give notice to all mice of her approach.)
       Cat’s paw: the tool of another, the medium of doing another‟s dirty work. (The
allusion is to the fable of the monkey who wanted to get some roasted chestnuts from
the fire, and used the paw of his friend, the cat, for the purpose.) (骆世平, 2006:
       The lion’s share: the largest part; all or nearly all. (In Aesop’s Fables, several

  beasts joined the lion in a hunt; but, when the spoil was divided, the lion claimed one
  quarter in right of his prerogative, one for his superior courage, one for his dam and
  cubs, “and as for the fourth, let who will dispute it with me.” Awed by his frown, the
  other beasts yielded and silently withdrew.)

  Ⅴ. Cultural Differences Reflected by Chinese and English Idioms
        Both China and Britain have a long history, which fertilized their brilliant
  cultures. The common experiences and reciprocal interaction in various aspects
  through long-time communication between the two countries induce a lot of common
  points in culture.
        In early British history, Britain was occupied by the Roman Empire for nearly
  four hundred years. The Romans left their deep marks on Britain culture. In 49 B.C.
  the Roman emperor Caesar sent the order of burning out boats after his army passed
  Lupigen River, showing the determination to take an all-out war. That is the origin of
  the English idiom “burn one‟s boats”. Incidentally, in 208 B.C. General XiangYu in
  China sent the similar order to smash all the boats after the army passed Yangtze
  River in attempt to show its determination of winning the war, which made the birth
  of the Chinese idiom “破釜沉舟”.(李洪涛,2002:114) The two idioms are
  stunningly the same in form and meaning, which reflect the same point in culture —
  the same concept to show inexorable determination or irrevocable decision.
       What‟s more, some similar points in culture are resulted from the reciprocal
  learning and affection in the course of communication between the two countries. For
  example, the Chinese idiom “以眼还眼, 以牙还牙” was borrowed from the English
  idiom.(李洪涛,       2002:38)The English idioms “to lose one‟s face” and “to save one‟s
  face” are borrowed from the Chinese ones.(李洪涛,2002:105)
       Although Chinese culture and English culture have much in common as showed
  above, they have more in discrepancy owing to their different geographical
  environment, history, religion and so on. The differentiation is a common
  phenomenon, which appears in varied forms, one of which is idiom. Then let me
  analyze four cultural divergences resulting in differences between Chinese idioms and
  English idioms.

A. Geographical Differences
       Geographical environment plays an important role in shaping one country‟s
  culture and human beings have no choices or capacities to change the geography. As a
  result, idioms based on geographical features appear different.
       Britain is an island country, which does not share land border with any other
  countries except the Republic of Ireland. In history, its navigation industry had ever
  been the first one for a long time. So, British people have a special passion for water.
  However, the most part of China belongs to inland place where people cannot live
  without earth. This very geographical difference results in different idioms in the two
  languages. For example, to show somebody being extravagant, there is a Chinese
  idiom “挥金如土”, but in English the idiom is “spend money like water”.(李洪涛,
  2002:   2) Take the other instance, in southern China with mild and moisture weather,

  bamboo is a familiar plant for people there, so they use the idiom “雨后春笋” to
  describe the new things cropping up in great numbers. Correspondingly, English has
  the idiom “spring up like mushrooms‟ to tell the same meaning, since in England
  mushroom in spring can be seen everywhere.(张培基,2002:11-12)Besides the
  different idioms expressing the same notion in the two languages, there are a lot of
  idioms related to water in English and earth in Chinese which have no corresponding
  counterpart in the other language, like the English idioms “to rest on one‟s oars”, “to
  keep one‟s head above water”, “all at sea” and etc.(张培基,1979:14-15)

B. Conventional Differences
        One nation‟s custom is formed through a long history and firmly rooted in
  people‟s mind. It is closely related to national psychology and acts as one important
  source of idioms. In different countries and nations customs drastically differ in
  various aspects. Due to that, a lot of idioms turn out with varied dress.
        Take food habit for example, cake has been a common food in English for a long
  history, so it is understandable that they use “a piece of cake” denoting an easy-done
  task.(李洪涛,2002:31) However, in China, cake cannot be seen until the last one
  hundred years. So it is impossible for the same idiom to appear in Chinese. On the
  other hand, dishes are common in China. Therefore a similar idiom “小菜一碟” turns
  out in Chinese to express the same meaning. 李洪涛,          2002:  127) Another example
  is related to the habitual way of working in the field. Chinese people were habituated
  to use the bull to plough the field before modernized agriculture was developed, while
  English did with a horse. Consequently, Chinese say “力大如牛” to describe someone
  with great strength while English do “as strong as a horse” in alternation.

C. Value Orientation Differences
       From people‟s working and living experience of one country, different values
  have been abstracted, accumulated and handed down from generation to generation.
  Because of different experience between countries, values originated from it also
  turned out to be largely varied and even totally opposite, which idioms are built on,
  therefore also differ greatly.
       For instance, modesty is valued in Chinese culture almost since the beginning of
  Chinese history. There are a great number of Chinese idioms showing the virtue to be
  modest and shame to be proud, such as “骄必招辱”(张耀飞,2003:30)                  ,“骄兵必
  败”(王福祯、赵友斌,2007:282)                   ,“谦虚谨慎”(邓乾德、江熙泰、郑玉章,
  2004:344)    ,“虚心使人进步, 骄傲使人落后”(张耀飞,2003:30)and etc. On the
  contrary, Britain as a developed capitalist country is infested with fierce social
  competition so that people there emphasize individual behaviors, achievement and
  value. Their value orientation in this aspect appears to be in contrast with Chinese.
  They have idioms showing the uselessness to be modest such as “where valor true is
  found, true modesty will there abound”,(张耀飞,2003:30) “hide not your light
  under a bushel”,(张耀飞,2003:31) “modest dogs miss much meat”, “pride feels
  no colds”(王福祯、赵友斌,2007:281)and etc.

D. Religious Differences
      Religion exists in every county and nation and affects much in people‟s belief
and life, especially before the modern civilization. Numerous idioms were generated
from the fountain of religion. The people in different countries mostly believe in
different schools of religion. Therefore, some differences of idioms between Chinese
and English can be traced back to the origin of religion.
      Religion played a key role in British society especially before capitalization. The
majorities of the English people believe in Christianity and regard the Bible as one of
the most important classical works in their life. The Bible is comprehensive of nearly
all the matters in life so that it acts not only a classic in religion but also an important
supporter of British culture, or even of western culture. Innumerable idioms are
originated from the Bible, such as the idiom referring to the unwise act of forcing the
extremely conservative person to accept new conceptions, “to put new wine in old
bottles”,(李洪涛,2002:36) the idiom describing thrilling horror caused by
something, “to make one‟s hair stand on end”,(李洪涛,2002:114) another idiom
denoting revenge in the same way, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” and etc.
(李洪涛,2002:38)Besides, the idiom “as poor as a church mouse” also is
somewhat influenced by religion. In Christian church, there is no devoted food, which
is not the same case in Chinese temples. Therefore, the mice in the church, which
have no food, can be said as poor.(万辰秀,2006:156)
      Different from Britain, Chinese culture evolved from Confucian School, Taoist
School. There are traces of Taoist principles and Confucian principles in Buddhist
doctrines. Therefore, although Buddhist culture originated from the other country, it
has been assimilated in Chinese culture through a thousand years of spreading and
accepting Chinese feathers at the same time. It has been a part of Chinese culture and
exerted enormous influence on Chinese traditional culture and present life as well. In
language, a large number of Chinese idioms can be traced back to Buddhist School.
For example, the idiom“道高一尺, 魔高一丈”is originally the warning in Buddhism
to warn Buddhist disciples of the outside temptations, which remind the disciples of
the hard prospect to overcome all the difficulties both inside and outside in order to
make the slightest development.(张培基,1979:19)Now it is used to tell there is
always at least one power stronger than the other. For another instance, “一尘不染” is
also a Buddhist term. Buddhist School calls sex, sound, smell, flavor, touch and rule
as “六尘” and Buddhist disciples should not be affected by the above sixes. Now this
idiom evolved to describe a person who is pure and honest or a thing which is clean
and in order.(邓乾德、江熙泰、郑玉章,2004:537)

        Idioms is a part of culture, it is reflect the cultural needs. Language is not
neutral codes or grammatical rules. Culture and language are intertwined and are
shaping each other. It is impossible to separate the two. Therefore, to know the
cultural background will help us to understanding what information of the author want
to tell us is; to know the cultural background will help us to know the true meaning of
idiom, especially when we know the relationship of the social custom and idiom, we

can better understanding the hiding meaning of idiom.
       Each time we select words, from sentences, and send a message, either oral or
written, we make cultural choices. We all agree that language helps us in
communicating with people from different backgrounds. However, we may be less
aware that cultural literacy is necessary in order to understand the language being
used. If we select language without being aware of the cultural implications, we may
at least not communicate well and at worst send the wrong message. Therefore, we
know the social customs for the sake of understanding the hiding meaning of idiom.
(Linda Beamer & Iris Varner, 2003: 31-32)
       Today, the type of figurative language is highly used in the daily life in Britain
and America. It is necessary for us to have such knowledge of how to comprehend.
The ability to understand idioms is an important way to successful communication. As
we all know, English idioms have close relationship in social customs and the
relationship reflects the English culture. The difficult comprehension of English
idioms may also lead to communication breakdown for the persons from different
language communities. Failure to grasp the meanings of idioms can impinge upon an
individual‟s understanding of language in social, academic, and vocational settings. In
order to communicate with each other fluently, the ability to know the hiding meaning
of idioms is important. We study of the relationship between English idiom and social
culture so as to understand the hiding meaning of idiom. To know the relationship of
social customs and English idioms can help us better to understand the true meaning
of English idiom.


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