Idiomatic Vocabulary (1 of 25): What a load of claptrap!

Donald Trump.jpg

This is the first post of 25 posts, all about idiomatic vocabulary. This is a complicated subject, and when put in relation to the IELTS Speaking & Writing Test, needs some discussion. The first six posts do this.

This first post, Post 1, defines idiomatic words/vocabulary.

Posts 2 & 3 examine this in relation to the situation of IELTS Speaking.

Posts 4 & 5 looks at formal words in relation to IELTS Speaking.

Post 6 looks at idiomatic words in relation to IELTS Writing.

Then, Posts 725 give and discuss useful examples of idiomatic words and phrases.

So, let’s get started. The first question is, what exactly is idiomatic vocabulary. Well, every language has phrases and sentences that cannot be understood by just knowing the individual words. There are …

  • cliches (‘Tom, Dick, and Harry’),
  • proverbs (‘A bird in the hand’),
  • items of slang (‘claptrap’),
  • phrasal verbs (‘to bear out’),
  • and common sayings (‘in your face’),

… where knowing the literal meanings of the individual words is not enough. In the third example, you may know the word ‘clap’ as in ‘clap your hands’, and ‘trap’, as in, ‘to trap an animal’. The trouble is, knowing this doesn’t help. When you put ‘clap’ and ‘trap’ together, it becomes a completely different thing.

claptrap = stupid and obvious lies, usually spoken.

As an example, think about almost every single word that comes from the mouth of Donald Trump [See above picture]. Here’s a quote from the New York Times (July 31, 2020).

“Despite what he may believe, even the overwhelming majority of the president’s supporters are not interested in this claptrap.”

So, ‘claptrap’ is just a new word, where the meaning of the individual parts is not relevant (and this is very different to compound nouns, such as carpark, where you can understand the meaning from those parts). With idiomatic language, you just have to know what the whole thing means. But idiomatic language is very important, as we shall see in the next posts.

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