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The birth and propagation of Phraseological Units

Naissance et propagation des unités phraséologiques

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Published on Wednesday, June 21, 2023


Lexis Journal in English Lexicology – will publish its 24th issue in 2024. It will be edited by Damien Villers (Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès, France) and will deal with the topic “The birth and propagation of Phraseological Units”.



Phraseology – the study of preconstructed expressions also known as phrasemes, set phrases, phraseological units, multi-word units, formulaic language, word combinations, etc. – has been a very productive and major field of research since its “coming of age” in the 1990s (Cowie [1998]). It has generated numerous works on a wide variety of topics. However, the birth and propagation of phraseological units has been among the least discussed aspects. Several reasons might account for such a dearth, such as the passing of time, which makes it tedious and difficult to study the origins of phrasemes, most of which are centuries old and mainly present in the oral tradition. Another reason is the difficulty to differentiate the creator of a phrase from a famous user (Villers & Mieder [2017]), despite gigantic corpora that include billions of words. Finally, as pointed by Burger et al. [2007], certain areas of research have come to assume a more “central role” in phraseology, such as the cognitive (Dobrovol’ski & Piirainen [2005], Gibbs [1995], Wray [2008]), the cultural (Piirainen [2012], Sabban [2007], Szerszunowicz [2009]), the didactic (Fielder [2007], Meunier & Granger [2008]), or lexicographic approaches (Cowie [2012], Mel’cuk [2012], Moon [1998]). This has left very little limelight for phenomena like the birth and propagation of phrasemes. The current issue of Lexis aims to fill this gap and expand on existing research.

Among specialised literature, where subtypes like proverbs and idioms are often the focus of research, it is generally accepted that a substantial portion of phrasemes originates in written works such as the Bible, Latin and Greek classics and the translations of Erasmus’s collections of sayings, or Antique fables (Mieder [2015], Paczolay [1997], Piirainen [2012]). Nowadays, the sources have evolved, making a corpus-based approach slightly easier. Scholars who have focused on modern phrasemes note that they tend to originate in mass media (Lau et al. [2004], Mieder [2015]): films (Run, Forrest, run! from Forrest Gump), TV shows (Is that your final answer? from Who wants to be a millionaire), advertising slogans (Because you’re worth it from L’Oreal), songs (Eye of the Tiger by Survivor), viral images on the Internet, i.e. memes (Haters gonna hate) and even video games (The cake is a lie from Portal, Villers [2018]). Unsurprisingly, some of them also stem from social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok.

The process of phraseological birth and propagation is even more elusive than the identification of the sources and creators. Scholars generally consider that PUs are “linguistic signs that are handed down historically and coined culturally” (Piirainen [2012]). Their creation is traditionally viewed as a particular type of lexicalisation (Bauer [1983], Fielder [2007]). This famous and controversial notion may be summarised as a diachronic and progressive process whereby a new element is coined and becomes accepted by a larger community, resulting in semantic or formal modifications that imply a loss of motivation or departure from productive rules (Bauer [1983], Hohenhaus [2005], Lipka [1992]). But the latter modifications do not seem to be compatible with all types of phraseological units, which is why many scholars, including Quirk et al. [1985] or Moon [1998], use the term institutionalization, which implies a more sociolinguistic approach, while cognitive linguists prefer the notion of entrenchment (Langacker [2017]). Other domain-specific hyponyms are sometimes used: phraseologization (e.g. Mel’cuk [2021]) or phraseogenesis and phraseme genesis in Villers [2018, 2022]. The latter draws from Heylighen & Chielens [2009] and adapts their “memetic” approach – a cultural analogue of genetics – to phrasemes, resulting in a model that identifies four main stages in phraseme genesis and a dozen key factors or propagation boosters, which include novelty, usefulness, simplicity, ornatus, publicity, or prestige.

Despite a variety of labels and conflicting definitions, all these terms refer to the very same phenomenon, which concerns all neologisms. This is why the two general stages mentioned above – coinage and acceptance – are consistently identified in the descriptions of linguists and folklorists alike (Bauer [1983], Mieder [2015], Taylor [1934]. This still leaves us with many questions, and more research is needed to consolidate this relatively uncharted area. This is why the present issue welcomes all articles on the following topics:

  • The birth or lexicalization of phraseological units;
  • The factors that boost their chances of propagation;
  • Their various media of propagation, including modern ones;
  • The detection of new phrasemes and the limitations of online corpora;
  • The differences in the lexicalisation of different subtypes of phrasemes;
  • The death and obsolescence of phrasemes.

Furthermore, all methodologies and frameworks are also welcome. They can include theoretical articles or case studies on specific phrasemes and adopt a number of approaches: corpus-based, folkloristic, stylistic, lexicographic, memetic, or any other, whether diachronic or synchronic. They may deal with phraseological units in the traditional sense – i.e. polylexical units such as idioms, proverbs, collocations, phrasal verbs, non-figurative or comparative locutions, etc. – or in a broader sense, as defended by Legallois & Tutin [2013] or Mel’cuk [2015], which includes syntactic patterns or polylexemic units.

How to submit

Please clearly indicate the title of the paper and include an abstract between 3,000 and 6,000 characters (including spaces) as well as a list of relevant key-words and references. All abstract and paper submissions will be anonymously peer-reviewed (double-blind peer reviewing) by an international scientific committee composed of specialists in their fields. Papers will be written preferably in English or occasionally in French.

Manuscripts may be rejected, accepted subject to revision, or accepted as such. There is no limit to the number of pages.

Submissions (abstracts and articles) will be submitted via the journal’s submission platform. If you encounter any problem, please send a message to Lexis.


Scientific committee

  • Jean Albrespit, Professeur à l’Université Montaigne Bordeaux 3
  • Keith Allan, Professor at Monash University, Australia
  • Fabrice Antoine, Professeur à l’Université Charles de Gaulle Lille 3
  • Pierre Arnaud, Professeur émérite à l’Université Lumière Lyon 2
  • Isabel Balteiro, Lecturer at the University of Alicante, Spain
  • Laurie Bauer, Professor at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
  • Kristy Beers Fägersten, Professor at Södertörn University, Sweden
  • Henri Béjoint, Professeur émérite à l’Université Lumière Lyon 2
  • Stéphanie Béligon, Rédactrice en chef, Professeure à l’Université Savoie Mont-Blanc
  • Lucile Bordet, Maîtresse de Conférences à l’Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3
  • Frédérique Brisset, Maîtresse de Conférences émérite à l’Université de Lille
  • Laurel J. Brinton, Professor at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
  • Kate Burridge, Professor at Monash University, Australia
  • Eliecer Crespo-Fernández, Professor at the University of Catilla-La Mancha, Spain
  • Amanda Edmonds, Professeure à l’Université Côte d’Azur
  • Laure Gardelle, Professeure à l’Université Grenoble Alpes
  • Vincent Hugou, Rédacteur adjoint, Maître de Conférences à Sorbonne Université
  • Denis Jamet, Directeur scientifique de la revue, Professeur à l’Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3 & University of Arizona, USA
  • Manuel Jobert, Professeur à l’Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3
  • Amélie Josselin-Leray, Maîtresse de Conférences à l’Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès
  • Suzanne Kemmer, Professor at Rice University, USA
  • Francis Katamba, Professor at Lancaster University, England
  • Annie Lancri, Maîtresse de Conférences émérite à l’Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3
  • Jean-Rémi Lapaire, Professeur à l’Université Montaigne Bordeaux 3
  • Diana Lewis, Maîtresse de Conférences à l’Université Aix-Marseille
  • Rochelle Lieber, Professor at the University of New Hampshire, USA
  • Élise Louviot, Maîtresse de Conférences à l’Université Reims Champagne – Ardenne
  • Andrew McMichael, Maître de Conférences à l’Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès
  • François Maniez, Professeur à l’Université Lumière Lyon 2
  • Ramon Marti Solano, Maître de Conférences HDR à l’Université de Limoges
  • Gérard Mélis, Maître de Conférences HDR à l’Université Paris 8
  • Élise Mignot, Professeure à Sorbonne Université
  • Philippe Millot, Maître de Conférences HDR à l’Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3
  • Lynne Murphy, Professor at the University of Sussex, England
  • Michel Paillard, Professeur émérite à l’Université de Poitiers
  • Catherine Paulin, Professeure à l’Université de Strasbourg
  • Blandine Pennec, Rédactrice adjointe, Professeure à l’Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès
  • Manon Philippe, Maîtresse de Conférences à l’Université de Rennes 2
  • Mireille Quivy, Maîtresse de Conférences émérite à l’Université de Rouen
  • Graham Ranger, Professeur à l’Université d’Avignon
  • Chris Smith, Maîtresse de Conférences HDR à l’Université de Caen Normandie
  • Pavol Stekauer, Professor at Pavol Jozef Šafárik University, Slovakia
  • Vincent Renner, Professeur à l’Université Lumière Lyon 2
  • Adeline Terry, Maîtresse de Conférences à l’Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3
  • Jean Tournier, Professeur émérite à l’Université de Besançon
  • Richard Trim, Professeur émérite à l’Université de Toulon
  • Jennifer Vince, Maîtresse de Conférences émérite à l’Université Paris 3 Sorbonne Nouvelle
  • Nathalie Vincent-Arnaud, Professeure à l’Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès


Bauer L., 1983, English Word Formation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Burger H., Dobrovol’skij D., Kuhn P. & Norrick N., 2007, Phraseology: An International Handbook of Contemporary Research, Berlin: De Gruyter.

Cowie A-P., 1998, “Introduction”, in Cowie, A.-P. (Ed.), Phraseology, Theory, Analysis, and Applications, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1-23.

Cowie A-P., 2012, “Dictionaries, language learning and phraseology”, International Journal of Lexicography 25-4, 386-392.

Dobrovol’ski D. & Piirainen E., Figurative language : Cross-cultural and cross-linguistic perspectives, Amsterdam; Elsevier.

Fielder S., 2007. English Phraseology: A Coursebook. Tübigen : Gunter Narr Verlag.

Gibbs R., 1995, “Idiomaticity and human cognition”, in Everaert M. et al. (Eds.), Idioms: Structural and Psychologi-cal Perspectives, Hillsdale-New Jersey-Hove: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers, 97-116.

Heylighen F. & Chielens K., 2009, “Cultural evolution and memetics”, in Meyers R. (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Complexity and System Science, 3205-3220.

Hohenhaus P., 2005, “Lexicalisation and Institutionalisation”, in Stekauer P.& Lieber R. (Eds.), Handbook of English Word-Formation, Dordrecht: Springer, 353-373.

Lau K., Tokofsky P., Winick S., 2004, What goes around comes around: the circulation of Proverbs in contemporary life, Utah State University.

Legallois D. & Tutin A., 2013, « Vers une extension du domaine de la phraséologie », Langages 189, 3-25.

Langacker R-W., 2017, “Entrenchment in cognitive grammar”, in Schmid H.-J. (Ed.), Entrenchment and the psychology of language learning: How we reorganize and adapt linguistic knowledge, American Psychological Association: De Gruyter Mouton, 39-56.

Lipka L., 1992, An Outline of English Lexicology, Tübingen: Niemeyer.

Mel’cuk I., 2012, “Phraseology in the language, in the dictionary, and in the computer”, Yearbook of Phraseology, Vol 3, 31-56.

Mel’cuk I., 2015, “Clichés, an Understudied Subclass of Phrasemes”, Yearbook of Phraseology, Vol 6, 55-85.

Mel’cuk I., 2021, “Morphemic and syntactic phrasemes”, Yearbook of Phraseology, Vol 12, 33-74.

Meunier F. & Granger S. (Eds.), 2008, Phraseology in foreign language learning and teaching, John Benjamins.

Mieder W., 2015, “Origin of Proverbs”, in Hrisztova-Gotthardt H. & Varga M. (Eds.), Introduction to Paremiology: A comprehensive guide to proverb studies, De Gruyter Open, 28-48.

Moon R., 1998, Fixed expressions and idioms in English: a corpus-linguistic approach, Oxford University Press.

Paczolay G., 1997, European Proverbs in 55 Languages, Indiana University: Veszprém: Veszprémi Nyomda.

Piirainen E., 2012, Widespread Idioms in Europe and Beyond, New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

Quirk R., Greenbaum S., Leech G. & Svartvik J., 1985, A comprehensive grammar of the English language, London: Longman.

Sabban A., 2007, “Culture-boundness and problems of cross-cultural phraseoloy”, in Burger H. et al. (Eds.), Phraseology: An International Handbook of Contemporary Research, Berlin: De Gruyter, 237-253.

Szerszunowicz J., 2009, “The linguo-cultural analyses of European phraseological units in a contrastive perspective”, Phraseology, Corpus Linguistics and Lexicography. Papers from Phraseology, 115-132.

Taylor A., 1934, “Problems in the study of the Proverb”, Journal of American Folklore 47, 230-260.

Villers d. & Mieder w., 2017, “Time is Money. Benjamin Franklin and the Vexing Problem of Proverb Origins”, Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship 34, 391-404.

Villers D., 2018, “The cake is a lie: witnessing the birth of a modern phraseme”, in Filatkina N. & Stumpf S. (Eds.), Konventionalisierung und Variation, Berlin: Peter Lang.

Villers D., 2022, “What makes a good proverb? On the birth and propagation of proverbs”, Lexis 19. URL: http:// journals.openedition.org/lexis/6383.

Wray A., 2008, Formulaic language: Pushing the boundaries, Oxford: Oxford University Press.



  • Tuesday, October 31, 2023


  • phraséologie, unités phraséologiques, lexicologie, lexique, anglais

Information source

  • Denis Jamet
    courriel : lexis [at] univ-lyon3 [dot] fr


CC-BY-4.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons - Attribution 4.0 International - CC BY 4.0 .

To cite this announcement

Damien Villers, « The birth and propagation of Phraseological Units », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, June 21, 2023, https://doi.org/10.58079/1bfc

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