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[Friday 25 January, 2013]
An alternative term is lexical item. Lexemes (or lexical items) are the basic units of meaning in a language. Dictionaries list them. There’s no harm, of course, in following the long-established tradition, and continuing to say ‘look the word up in a dictionary’, as long as students realise that what they’re really doing is looking up a lexeme. Most of the time, you can carry on talking about ‘words’, and there’ll be no ambiguity. But lexeme is a handy term to have available when students need to talk about such matters as variant forms (the go problem) and idioms. An idiom is a lexeme, because regardless of the number of words it contains it expresses a single meaning, as in the case of kick the bucket (which incidentally derives from old pig-slaughtering practices, when pigs were hung from beams).
Other examples of variant forms: plurals (boy and boys are the same lexeme), comparison (big, bigger, and biggest are the same lexeme), possession (girl and girl’s are the same lexeme). Other examples of idioms: see the entry on idiom.
CEL 17

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