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There are thousands of idioms, occurring frequently in all languages. Many idiomatic expressions, in their original use, were not figurative but had literal meaning. If the jars were spilled before the counting of votes was complete, anyone would be able to see which jar had more beans, and therefore which candidate was the winner. Over time, the practice was discontinued and the idiom became figurative. 1903, and the one who “spilled the beans” was an unlikely horse who won a race, thus causing the favorites to lose. By 1907 the term was being used in baseball, but the subject who “spilled the beans” shifted to players who made mistakes, allowing the other team to win. By 1908 the term was starting to be applied to politics, in the sense that crossing the floor in a vote was “spilling the beans”.
However, in all these early usages the term “spill” was used in the sense of “upset” rather than “divulge”. A stackexchange discussion provided a large number of links to historic newspapers covering the usage of the term from 1902 onwards. Other idioms are deliberately figurative. By wishing someone bad luck, it is supposed that the opposite will occur. That compositionality is the key notion for the analysis of idioms is emphasized in most accounts of idioms. This principle states that the meaning of a whole should be constructed from the meanings of the parts that make up the whole.
In other words, one should be in a position to understand the whole if one understands the meanings of each of the parts that make up the whole. Understood compositionally, Fred has literally kicked an actual, physical bucket. The much more likely idiomatic reading, however, is non-compositional: Fred is understood to have died. Arriving at the idiomatic reading from the literal reading is unlikely for most speakers. Usage will prevent the words from being displaced or rearranged. For example, a person may be left “high and dry” but never “dry and high”. This idiom in turn means that the person is left in their former condition rather than being assisted so that their condition improves.
Not all Siamese twins are idioms, however. Chips and dip” is an irreversible binomial, but it refers to literal food items, not idiomatic ones. Idioms possess varying degrees of mobility. I spilled the beans on our project.
The beans were spilled on our project. The old man kicked the bucket. Semantically composite idioms have a syntactic similarity between their surface and semantic forms. The types of movement allowed for certain idiom also relate to the degree to which the literal reading of the idiom has a connection to its idiomatic meaning. While most idioms that do not display semantic composition generally do not allow non-adjectival modification, those that are also motivated allow lexical substitution. Although syntactic modifications introduce disruptions to the idiomatic structure, this continuity is only required for idioms as lexical entries.