How do you find synonyms for expressions?
February 19, 2018 10:56 AM   Subscribe

How do you find synonyms for expressions, or common turns of phrase that embody a concept, rather than synonyms for a single word? For example, if I needed to find a synonym for "ins and outs", "boots on the ground", and similar compound concepts or metaphors - are there magical google search parameters or terms? Or perhaps a dedicated dictionary that does this? Thanks in advance for any tips.
posted by rada to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
There's a Thesaurus of English Idioms, which seems to do exactly this.
posted by damayanti at 11:05 AM on February 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


The Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.
posted by zamboni at 11:09 AM on February 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


I think good ol' Merriam Webster can still help you in many cases. I looked up the definition of "ins and outs," clicked on "thesaurus" and voila. Won't work everytime (didn't work for "boots on the ground") but it's an option.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:21 AM on February 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the useful term for search is "idioms" and a good strategy is to search for the meaning you're after + "idioms," or the phrase you want analogues for + "idioms." There are a great many ESL teaching sites that provide lists of idioms.
posted by Miko at 12:03 PM on February 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


Wiktionary provides entries for phrases like boots on the ground, frequently with a "Synonyms" section.
posted by XMLicious at 12:04 PM on February 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Interestingly, I just checked two reference books I have at hand (McGraw-Hill's dictionary of American idioms and phrasal verbs, and The Oxford Dictionary Of Idioms), and neither one has an entry for "boots on the ground."

For "ins and outs," McGraw-Hill gives:

the ins and outs (of something): the correct and successful
way to do something; the special things that one needs
to know to do something. I don’t understand the ins and
outs of politics.
Jane knows the ins and outs of repairing
computers.


Oxford simply gives:

the ins and outs: all the details of something.

At 1100 pages, the McGraw-Hill is far more complete than most, but is still far from perfect.
posted by tenderly at 3:06 PM on February 19, 2018


I think I like this one best of all:

ins and outs
1. The intricate details of a situation or process. For example, It takes a newcomer some time to learn the ins and outs of the legislative process, or David really knows the ins and outs of how this engine works. This usage alludes to the tortuous windings and turnings of a road or path. [Second half of 1600s] 2. Those with position and influence and those without, especially those in office versus those who are not, as in "Juan stood well both with Ins and Outs" (Byron, Don Juan, 1823). [Mid-1700s]

From The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms (1997); 1200 pages! (But still no entry for "boots on the ground"...)
posted by tenderly at 4:30 PM on February 19, 2018


Interestingly, I just checked two reference books I have at hand (McGraw-Hill's dictionary of American idioms and phrasal verbs, and The Oxford Dictionary Of Idioms), and neither one has an entry for "boots on the ground."


It's quite recent.
posted by Miko at 4:33 PM on February 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Thesaurus.com doesn't have "boots on the ground," but it does have "ins and outs." I've used it for probably a couple dozen idioms over the past several months.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 7:04 PM on February 19, 2018


Putnam's Phrase Book is completely dated and completely delightful.
posted by brookeb at 8:51 PM on February 19, 2018


Might be obvious given the venue, but I've seen lots of people use Ask Metafilter for this very thing
posted by potrzebie at 11:58 PM on February 19, 2018


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