The article discusses the transformation of idiomatic expressions used in the Economist magazine headlines. The headline of the article is considered as performing both informative and expressive functions. Transformation of set phrases and idioms is viewed as a powerful linguistic tool of making a magazine headline more emphatic, memorable, and charged with connotative meanings. The findings reveal that the predominant type of transformation of the original idiomatic expression is the modification of its structural organization as compared to the usage of the conventional structural form which is accompanied by the semantic shift of meaning. Regarding the lexical aspect of research, the article examines four groups of idiomatic expressions pertaining to the basic word stock of the English language, including word collocations, idioms, proverbs and sayings, and special terminology. Regarding the cultural aspect of research, particular attention is paid to differentiating the sources of the original phrases, to which belong classical and contemporary literature, mass culture, famous quotations, biblical references. The researcher attempts at interpreting the complex semantic interactions arising between the original idiomatic expression and its modified variant used in the headline with due consideration of the context of the magazine article.
Keywords: Headlineidiomatic expressiontransformation of the original idiomatic expressionbasic word stockallusion
The headline of a magazine article, understood as the line of words introducing the title of the story, performs various functions in the media discourse of the publicist style. The headline may present the main thesis of the article in the form of an extended summary sentence, or it may only outline the major topic(s) the article is devoted to. It informs the reader briefly of what the article that follows below is about and states the essence of the article in a syntactically compressed form. Alongside with the purely informative function, the article headline fulfills the expressive function while trying to impress and involve the potential readers, make them interested in the subject matter of the published material. It is for this purpose that a great variety of expressive means of language are used in the headlines, including phonetic, morphological, lexical, and syntactical stylistic resources.
The focus of the present paper is on considering one particular lexical feature which, as the research findings demonstrate, is common to the significant number of the Economist magazine headlines – the use of idiomatic expressions. To idiomatic expressions in the present article we refer a wide range of idioms, set phrases, colloquial expressions, phrasal verbs, conversational clichés, ready-made speech formulas, proverbs and sayings, familiar quotations, etc., all of which are considered as an important characteristic of the natural, authentic spoken English. Idiomatic expressions appear to be highly informative linguistic units that possess various stylistic connotations, they are charged with linguo-cultural and socio-cultural meanings, for which reason these expressions often present quite a challenge for the non-native speakers of English in recognizing and grasping their meaning and semantic interconnections.
The use of an idiomatic phrase even in its original form already increases the expressive potential of any utterance, among them a magazine headline. In order to make the headline yet more expressive, memorable and eye-catching the writers of the Economist magazine headlines often resort to the method of transformation, or modification, of an original set expression, an idiom, or a quotation (Stepanova, 2014). This helps to make a stronger impact on the potential reader, to influence the opinion and judgment of the audience, to elicit some emotional response, to evoke meaningful associations in the reader’s mind (Melerovich &Mokienko, 2014).
The research material reveals that some of the idiomatic expressions represented in the Economist magazine headlines belong to the basic word stock of the English language, while others are recognized as references to the linguo-cultural sources, i.e. textual allusions, aphorisms, and quotations, whose origins go beyond the scope of the general bulk of the vocabulary. The research is focused on the differentiation between these two groups of the original idiomatic expressions, and furthermore, on more precise definition of (1) the specific layers of vocabulary and (2) the diverse origins of the intertextual and cultural sources.
The research data also demonstrates that the idiomatic expressions in the Economist magazine headlines can appear either in the newly modified form or in their original wording. The research looks particularly at the proportion between the cases of structural transformation (of different types) and the cases of purely semantic shift of meaning (of the structurally unchanged forms).
In accordance with the problem statement, the following research questions were developed:
What principles of classification can be applied to the analysis of headlines which are based on the transformation of idiomatic expressions?
What layers of the basic word stock of the English language are mostly employed in creating the Economist magazine headlines?
What original texts serve as the sources of idiomatic expressions used in the Economist magazine headlines? Which areas of cultural knowledge do they refer to?
Purpose of the Study
The main objective of the research is to provide an in-depth analysis and interpretation of the dynamic correlation, which emerges as a result of the interaction between the original idiomatic expression (as it stands in the system of the English vocabulary) and its modified variant (as it appears in the magazine headline). The study focuses on both structural and semantic levels of analysis.
The overall methodology of the current research can be presented as follows: the January-March issues of the Economist magazine (The Economist, 2018) were examined, the headlines containing various types of transformation of idiomatic expressions were identified to form the databank of over 130 headlines, the obtained research material was further analyzed, classified and interpreted.
The following methods of linguistic analysis were applicable at different stages of the given research:
contextual analysis, used while reading an article to get a general idea of its contents, to grasp the author’s message, to specify the exact meaning acquired by the modified idiomatic expression used in the headline;
semantic analysis, used when dealing with the dictionary definitions (Cambridge Dictionary, 2018) of idioms and conventional contexts of their usage, as well as studying the semantic structure of individual lexical units – components of a given idiom (both original and transformed) – thus revealing their expressive, emotive, evaluative, and stylistic connotations;
distributional analysis, employed while studying lexical and grammatical environment of linguistic units in a modified idiom as compared to the conventional one in order to specify the type of the semantic and structural transformation of an original idiomatic expression.
Apart from essential procedures of linguistic analysis mentioned above, two other methods can be outlined – that of interpretation which helps to provide possible explanations for the choice of the original idiom to be used in the headlines as well as to show any cultural links and connotations (Wikipedia, 2018), and that of classification, which together with the statistical method are used to render the typology and numerical results.
We obtained the following results.
Classification of headlines by the source of the original idiomatic expression
According to the source of the original idiomatic expression used in the headline in its modified version all magazine headlines can be roughly subdivided into two groups.
The first group – comprising almost two thirds (64%) of the overall quantity of the research material – is represented by the headlines containing the idiomatic expressions belonging to the
The second group – comprising one third (36%) of all magazine headlines analyzed – revealed the presence of
Classification of headlines by the type of transformation of the original idiomatic expression
The transformed idiomatic expressions found in the headlines differ from the original ones both on the structural and semantic level.
Three fourths (75%) of the research material are the headlines which have undergone
One fourth (25%) of all the headlines contain the idiomatic expressions used in their
Transformation of idiomatic expressions: lexical aspect of research
The research revealed that idiomatic expressions which traditionally pertain to the English
The smallest proportion of headlines (8%) makes use of a very specific group of idiomatic expressions –
Transformation of idiomatic expressions: cultural aspect of research
Idiomatic expressions functioning as cultural allusions (observed in the second group of magazine headlines) can roughly be subdivided into four groups which name the original sources of these phrases: (1) classical and contemporary literature (prose and poetry), (2) mass culture (music and film), (3) famous quotations, (4) the Bible.
The use of such intertextual components as
Textual allusions also frequently appear in the headlines in the modified form. The headline
Around one-third (34%) of the headlines using intertextual elements contain
Equally represented in the headlines are
The use of unchanged biblical quote can be illustrated by the headline
The aim of the research was to analyze the usage of the transformation of the idiomatic expressions in the Economist magazine headlines. The attempt was made at interpreting the interrelation arising between the original idiomatic expression and its modified variant while taking into account the context of the magazine article. The three research questions were answered. The two criteria for the classification of headlines – by the source and by the type of transformation – were established. The four lexical groups of the basic word stock of the English language were identified as the sources of idiomatic expressions used in headlines: (1) colloquial phrases and word collocations, (2) idioms, (3) proverbs and sayings, (4) special terminological word combinations. The four groups of original intertextual elements used in the headlines were revealed: (1) allusions to literary sources, (2) references to popular culture, (3) famous quotations and aphorisms, (4) biblical quotes.
It should be admitted that the usage of idiomatic expressions both in their original wording and particularly in their modified form might hinder the thorough understanding of the connection between the subject matter of the article describing some present-day fact, important event or development and the concept underlying the original idiomatic phrase, and thus detract from the pleasure of reading an article. This can presumably happen due to a variety of factors including (a) the reader’s inability to immediately recognize the idiomatic expression and recollect its figurative meaning, (b) the reader’s limited previous experience with specific spheres of knowledge (e.g. literature, music, folklore, science, religion), (c) the recipient’s incomplete linguistic or cultural competence, which is especially true of learners of English as a foreign language or representatives of other world cultures.
It can be inferred that the process of recognizing the original idiomatic expressions used in their modified variants and decoding the cultural sources of intertextual components is a challenging task demanding effort on the part of the reader. It is our considered opinion that the thorough analysis of the magazine headline can largely contribute to the deeper understanding of the present-day world view, which is reflected in the headlines due to describing the current events and present-day issues through the prism of language, history and culture.
- Cambridge Dictionary (2018). Retrieved from https://dictionary.cambridge.org.
- Melerovich, Alina M., & Mokienko, Valerii M. (2014). Okkazionalnye conversions of the phraseological units. In Herald of Chelyabinsk State Pedagogical University, (pp. 234-253). Chelyabinsk: CSPU.
- Stepanova, Irina V. (2014). A practical coursebook of English stylistics. Chelyabinsk: Encyclopedia.
- The Economist. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.economist.com.
- Wikipedia. (2018). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org.
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30 April 2018
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Sociolinguistics, linguistics, semantics, discourse analysis, translation, interpretation
Cite this article as:
Stepanova, I. V. (2018). Tranformation Of Idiomatic Expressions In Magazine Headlines. In & I. V. Denisova (Ed.), Word, Utterance, Text: Cognitive, Pragmatic and Cultural Aspects, vol 39. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 582-589). Future Academy. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2018.04.02.83