Axiom vs. Idiom — What's the Difference?
By Tayyaba Rehman — Updated on November 3, 2023
An axiom is a universally accepted principle or rule, whereas an idiom is a phrase where the meaning is not deducible from its words.
Difference Between Axiom and Idiom
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An axiom is a statement or proposition that is regarded as being established, accepted, or self-evidently true. Axioms serve as starting points for further reasoning or arguments, often in fields like mathematics and philosophy.
An idiom, on the other hand, is a commonly used expression whose meaning does not relate directly to the individual words it contains. Idioms are unique to particular languages or regions and are often puzzling to non-native speakers due to their figurative meanings.
While axioms are foundational truths that do not require proof, idioms represent the quirks of language, reflecting cultural idiosyncrasies and traditions. Axioms are used universally within their disciplines, while idioms vary widely between cultures and languages.
In practice, axioms are tools of logical structuring that provide the base for systems like geometry or economics, devoid of any cultural coloring. Idioms enrich language with cultural flavor but may not translate well across languages due to their figurative nature.
Lastly, an axiom's value lies in its general acceptance and applicability in rational discourse, whereas an idiom's value is in its ability to convey complex ideas succinctly and colorfully in conversational language.
Universally recognized principle
Phrase with a figurative meaning
Consistent across contexts
Varies by language and culture
Often does not translate directly
Compare with Definitions
Universally accepted principle
Freedom of speech is a fundamental axiom of democracy.
When I got the job, I said I was over the moon.
Starting point for reasoning
Her research begins with the axiom that climate change is man-made.
She's been feeling under the weather lately.
It is an axiom that opposites attract.
Set phrase of a language
It costs an arm and a leg to buy a house in that neighborhood.
Statement assumed to be true
The axioms of Euclidean geometry are not provable.
He let the cat out of the bag about the surprise party.
An axiom, postulate or assumption is a statement that is taken to be true, to serve as a premise or starting point for further reasoning and arguments. The word comes from the Greek axíōma (ἀξίωμα) 'that which is thought worthy or fit' or 'that which commends itself as evident.'The term has subtle differences in definition when used in the context of different fields of study.
An idiom is a phrase or expression that typically presents a figurative, non-literal meaning attached to the phrase; but some phrases become figurative idioms while retaining the literal meaning of the phrase. Categorized as formulaic language, an idiom's figurative meaning is different from the literal meaning.
A statement or proposition which is regarded as being established, accepted, or self-evidently true
The axiom that sport builds character
A group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words (e.g. over the moon, see the light).
A self-evident or universally recognized truth; a maxim
“It is an economic axiom as old as the hills that goods and services can be paid for only with goods and services” (Albert Jay Nock).
A characteristic mode of expression in music or art
They were both working in a neo-impressionist idiom
An established rule, principle, or law.
A speech form or an expression of a given language that is peculiar to itself grammatically or cannot be understood from the individual meanings of its elements, as in keep tabs on.
A self-evident principle or one that is accepted as true without proof as the basis for argument; a postulate.
The specific grammatical, syntactic, and structural character of a given language.
(philosophy) A seemingly self-evident or necessary truth which is based on assumption; a principle or proposition which cannot actually be proved or disproved.
Regional speech or dialect.
A fundamental assumption that serves as a basis for deduction of theorems; a postulate (sometimes distinguished from postulates as being universally applicable, whereas postulates are particular to a certain science or context).
A specialized vocabulary used by a group of people; jargon
An established principle in some artistic practice or science that is universally received.
The axioms of political economy cannot be considered absolute truths.
A style of artistic expression characteristic of a particular individual, school, period, or medium
The idiom of the French impressionists.
The punk rock idiom.
A self-evident and necessary truth, or a proposition whose truth is so evident as first sight that no reasoning or demonstration can make it plainer; a proposition which it is necessary to take for granted; as, "The whole is greater than a part;" "A thing can not, at the same time, be and not be."
A manner of speaking, a mode of expression peculiar to a language, language family, or group of people.
In English, idiom requires the indefinite article in a phrase such as "she's an engineer", whereas in Spanish, idiom forbids it.
Some of the usage prescriptions improved clarity and were kept; others that yielded discordant violations of idiom were eventually revised.
An established principle in some art or science, which, though not a necessary truth, is universally received; as, the axioms of political economy.
(programming) A programming construct or phraseology that is characteristic of the language.
A saying that widely accepted on its own merits
A language or language variety; specifically, a restricted dialect used in a given historical period, context etc.
In the idiom of the day, they were sutlers, although today they'd probably be called vendors.
(logic) a proposition that is not susceptible of proof or disproof; its truth is assumed to be self-evident
An established phrasal expression whose meaning may not be deducible from the literal meanings of its component words.
She often spoke in idioms, pining for salad days and complaining about pots calling the kettle black.
Basis for argument
He used the axiom of equality as the foundation for his theory.
An artistic style (for example, in art, architecture, or music); an instance of such a style.
The idiom of the expressionists
The syntactical or structural form peculiar to any language; the genius or cast of a language.
Idiom may be employed loosely and figuratively as a synonym of language or dialect, but in its proper sense it signifies the totality of the general rules of construction which characterize the syntax of a particular language and distinguish it from other tongues.
By idiom is meant the use of words which is peculiar to a particular language.
He followed their language [the Latin], but did not comply with the idiom of ours.
An expression conforming or appropriate to the peculiar structural form of a language.
Some that with care true eloquence shall teach,And to just idioms fix our doubtful speech.
A combination of words having a meaning peculiar to itself and not predictable as a combination of the meanings of the individual words, but sanctioned by usage; as, an idiomatic expression; less commonly, a single word used in a peculiar sense.
It is not by means of rules that such idioms as the following are made current: "I can make nothing of it." "He treats his subject home." Dryden. "It is that within us that makes for righteousness." M. Arnold.
Sometimes we identify the words with the object - though by courtesy of idiom rather than in strict propriety of language.
The phrase forms peculiar to a particular author; as, written in his own idiom.
Every good writer has much idiom.
Dialect; a variant form of a language.
A manner of speaking that is natural to native speakers of a language
The usage or vocabulary that is characteristic of a specific group of people;
The immigrants spoke an odd dialect of English
He has a strong German accent
The style of a particular artist or school or movement;
An imaginative orchestral idiom
An expression whose meanings cannot be inferred from the meanings of the words that make it up
He has a lot of skeletons in his closet.
Can idioms be translated literally?
Usually not, as their meanings are figurative and not based on the literal meanings of the words.
Are axioms provable?
No, axioms are accepted as self-evident truths and do not require proof.
Do axioms change over time?
Generally, no. Axioms are foundational and remain constant within their context.
Are idioms used in formal writing?
They are generally more common in informal conversation than in formal writing.
Are axioms subject to interpretation?
They are intended to be clear and universally accepted, so interpretation is minimal.
Can an axiom be a hypothesis?
No, an axiom is a starting point assumed true, not a hypothesis to be tested.
Do idioms make language more difficult to learn?
Idioms can be challenging for language learners due to their figurative meanings.
Is an axiom always true?
Within its system, an axiom is taken to be true, but its applicability can vary in different systems.
Do all cultures use idioms?
Yes, all languages have idioms, but they are unique to each culture.
Is an axiom the same as a law?
In philosophy and mathematics, an axiom is a foundational principle, while a law is a proven principle in science.
How are idioms created?
Idioms often arise from cultural practices, historical events, or literary sources.
Can the meaning of an idiom change?
Yes, the usage and meaning of idioms can evolve over time.
Can idioms become clichés?
Yes, overused idioms can become clichés.
Are there axioms in science?
Yes, some scientific principles are considered axiomatic within their fields.
How often do new idioms appear?
New idioms appear as languages evolve, often reflecting changes in culture and society.
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Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to askdifference.com. As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.