Buttonhole is an idiom that is also a compound word. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the common idiom Buttonhole, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

Though buttonhole may be used as a noun to simply mean a hole stitched into a garment that may be fastened with a button, or in British English, a boutonniere, the figurative meaning of buttonhole is a verb that means to detain someone in order to speak to him. When you buttonhole someone, you are hindering that person from leaving; the implication is that the listener does not entirely want to listen. He is trapped into listening to the speaker. The image is of someone putting his thumb in the buttonhole of another’s coat, preventing him from leaving.The idiom buttonhole is primarily an American term and is a closed compound word. A compound word is a word derived from two or more separate words used together to create another word. Compound words are new words that have a different meaning than the definitions of the original words. The word buttonhole, used as an idiom, came into practice in the 1860s and is derived from an earlier version, buttonhold. The word buttonhold is still found in the Oxford English Dictionary, however, it is not generally seen in current English usage.


He or she might ping you on the work messaging system, drop by your desk, or buttonhole you after meetings. (The Week)

Two enterprising teenagers from Tel Aviv who are active in the Israeli branch of the youth movement Fridays4Future managed to get to the UN climate conference in Scotland and to buttonhole Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as he came out of the main plenum, following his address to world leaders on Monday. (Times of Israel)

As I sit down to write this column, Music Editor Kevin Curtin has just buttonholed Art Director Zeke Barbaro in the hallway outside my office. (Austin Chronicle)

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