Publication details [#3170]

Cacciari, Cristina and Sam Glucksberg. 1995. Understanding idioms: Do visual images reflect figurative meanings? Language, Mind, Culture and Society (LaMiCuS) 7 (3) : 283–305. 23 pp. URL


Gibbs and OBrien (1990) recently claimed that the images that people associate with everyday idioms reflect the deep conceptual metaphors that underlie the meanings of those idioms. However, because idiomatic strings can convey both a literal and an idiomatic meaning, people must be able to inhibit or ignore literal meanings if they are to produce mental images that uniquely reflect idiomatic meanings. We investigated the potential inter- ference between literal and idiomatic meanings in three experiments. Experi- ment 1 used a mental-image production task similar to that used by Gibbs and OBrien. Counter to Gibbs and O’Brien’s claim, the images that we obtained referred overwhelmingly to the literal meanings of idiomatic strings rather than to their idiomatic meanings. Experiments 2 and 3 employed a paraphrase verification task to examine the effects of mental imagery on idiom comprehension. If the images associated with an idiom reflect that idiom’s meaning, then imagery should facilitate comprehension. No evidence for facilitation was found in either experiment. Instead, imagery interfered with comprehension, as assessed by paraphrase verifica- tion time, both for idiomatic meanings and for literal, concrete meanings. We conclude that the images associated with idioms do not reflect idiom meanings.