Having lots of callers is a blessing in disguise for a talk show host. Sometimes, I agree, they beat a dead horse or go the other way and beat around the bush. But once in a blue moon, my callers give me cause to ask questions, like why do we use so many idioms?

I became fascinated by that thought during today's radio show when a listener was lamenting the fact that Little Richard had kicked the bucket over the weekend.

I define an idiom as an expression with a figurative meaning that differs from the literal meaning. A good example is when someone says she's on the ball to mean she's doing a good job. And adding insult to injury, I discovered the words idiot and idiom come from the same Greek root.

Linguists have studied this and, as a way to kill two birds with one stone, say that we have as many idioms in our long-term memory as we have words. That's right, we're caught between a rock and a hard spot because idioms are no longer peripheral language oddities, they are central to how we communicate.

I enjoy listening to the word choices callers use in chatting with me. I find their use – or overuse – of idioms adds color or humor to their commentary. Last week, referring to a political candidate running for national office, it was said, "the lights are on, but nobody's home."

Similarly, "when pigs fly" is a more vivid way to say that something is highly unlikely to occur, like balancing the best of both worlds of words.

Extra points for correctly counting the number of idioms I just used.

Phil Paleologos is the host of The Phil Paleologos Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Contact him at phil@wbsm.com and follow him on Twitter @PhilPaleologos. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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