Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 25–39 | Cite as

Why You Can't Kick the Bucket as You Slowly Die: Verbs in Idiom Comprehension

  • Jennifer L. Hamblin
  • Raymond W. GibbsJr.


Idiomatic phrases differ in their degree of analyzability. Some idioms are highly decomposable with their parts independently contributing to their overall figurative meaning (e.g. pop the question) while other idioms are nondecomposable with parts that do not contribute to their idiomatic meaning (e.g. kick the bucket). Nonetheless, even the parts of nondecomposable idioms might have a role in determining what they specifically mean. For example, the verb kick, in kick the bucket implies a quickness or suddenness to the death such that kick the bucket means “to die suddenly” rather than “to die slowly.” We report the findings of three experiments showing, in different ways, how the action of the verb contributes to the overall figurative meaning for some nondecomposable idioms. Together, these studies suggest that even nondecomposable idioms are not truly frozen as, at least, part of their overall figurative meanings are shaped by the particular verbs used in these phrases.


Cognitive Psychology Figurative Meaning Idiomatic Phrase Idiomatic Meaning Nondecomposable Idiom 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennifer L. Hamblin
    • 1
  • Raymond W. GibbsJr.
  1. 1.University of California, Santa CruzSanta Cruz

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