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I come across this question when I encounter the phrase "for the record".

According to the Cambridge Dictionary,

for the record

Meaning: something that you say before you tell someone something important that you want them to remember

Example: And, just for the record, we were never any more than good friends.

So this is the idiomatic or fixed meaning of this phrase. But what if I just mean to record (i.e. store) a piece of information. For example,

I have included the date of travel in the claim form for the record.

Is it good or common to do so? Or I have to stay away from using idioms/fixed phrase as other meanings.

  • They don't really have different meanings, other than one has a physical record and the other does not (think of it as a mental record regarding remember). – user3169 May 18 '17 at 20:30
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Your example is flawed because you're using the word record incorrectly. If you wanted to use record to mean storing a piece of information, your example sentence would be something like:

I have recorded the date of travel in the claim form.

You would never get a collision between the idiom and your sentence because in for the record, record is a noun, whereas in your example it should a verb and thus can't be used the same way.

If you wanted to refer to a physical record, the sentence would likely take a different form there too, something closer to:

I have included the date of travel in the claim form in the record.


With regards to your question regarding whether you should stay away from idioms and fixed phrases in sentences, it depends. If you establish enough context, it shouldn't matter. Let's take a phrase like on the ball.

He's on the ball.

Without context, I would assume the meaning of on the ball to be its idiomatic one. However, if you establish some context, you can make it a lot more clear.

I saw it bouncing before he fell. He's on the ball.

He got all his work in early. He's on the ball.

In both cases, the added context makes it a lot more clear which meaning is implied.

The more generic your idiom or phrase is the less worried I would be about it. If you're ever in doubt about the clarity of your message, don't use an idiomatic phrase. Plenty of ways to skin a cat, so to speak.

  • To whoever has an issue with this answer, could you let me know what you disagree with? I would be more than happy to address it. – Cantalouping May 19 '17 at 0:13
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In some cases, context (and common sense) will make it clear that a literal meaning is intended. For example, if someone, handing you a straw, says "this is the last straw" when you are in a restaurant and asking for a straw.

However, in your example it is not clear that you intended anything other than the idiom: it is ambiguous.

The solution is simple. Idioms are a subset of fixed expressions that rely heavily on certain phrasing. It is easy to "break" an idiom so that the only interpretation is literal:

  • Change a word (or two). Depending on the details, your example may be able to be reworded as:
    I have included the date of travel in the claim form in the record.
    I have included the date of travel in the claim form for my record.
  • Add a word. Specifically, add either actual or literal (or their adverb derivatives):
    I have included the date of travel in the claim form for the actual record.
    Another example: He fell off the literal wagon.

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