You could spend a lifetime learning English, but when visiting an English-speaking country, you’d be almost horrified to realise that its people seem to be blurting out whole sentences of stuff you have never heard in your life; not to mention that you don’t even know what they are talking about. So you consequently sigh to yourself and politely pretend that you’re deep in the conversation, smiling when your interlocutor smiles and frowning when you believe this is the correct face expression one should adopt at that moment. Meanwhile, you’ll surely be planning a future visit to the bathroom where you’ll look up those new terms on your mobile phone. It won’t be until then when you discover that what they said was something called ‘an idiom’ As if you weren’t having a hard time already with all those phrasal verbs!!!!! Then you may suddenly become suspicious of the English, wondering if they are deliberately making ‘your learning’ of ‘their language’ as complicated as possible for some strange reason you fail to grasp.
Idioms form part of everyday speech and they are extremely productive. Meaning by this, that even if you speak the language very well, you can quickly become obsolete concerning the vast idiom repertoire if you don’t live among English-speaking people. There isn’t much we can do about it, rather than watch TV, read books or mix with British tourists. On my behalf, I’m reading Zadie Smith’s latest novel, and yes, I have to consult the meaning of many of the expressions I come across (fortunately, I have an e-book, so this isn’t such a tedious job). But even Zadie Smith’s narrator acknowledges that having been away from Britain for a certain amount of time, means that she no longer can keep up with the amount of idioms that are being constantly fired at her by Londoners.
Anyway, idioms are fun, and somehow say a lot about the British mentality. However, they usually belong to a colloquial register and will seldom appear in a piece of writing such as an essay so, just to keep on the safe side, careful using them in formal writing.
There are idioms about almost everything, some of them are quite old and others are of recent usage, but what’s really interesting about them is that they don’t have to rely on an official organism, to become part of everyday speech. Fancy learning some just for a laugh and a cultural note?
To begin with, today we’re going to see a couple of food idioms and you’ll be surprised to find out that the meaning of them, doesn’t have much to do with food.
It’s not my cup of tea
Meaning that we are not really interested in something or somebody.
‘I suppose Jane’s new boyfriend is nice, but he’s not really my cup of tea.’
‘As a writer, he’s really not my cup of tea’
To spill the beans
If somebody spills the beans, they have told somebody a secret or something that should have been kept private.
‘Trust Maria to spill the beans about Jane’s surprise party!’
Not a sausage
If somebody says that there wasn’t a sausage somewhere, they mean there was nothing or nobody there.
‘A- Did you go to that new restaurant across the road last night?’
‘B- Yes, but there wasn’t a sausage and so we had to leave early.’
The best thing since sliced bread
Means that you think something is very good and interesting
‘I think electric cars are the best thing since sliced bread.’
To know which side your bread is buttered
Meaning that you know how to get an advantage for yourself.
‘John always stays at work until late. He knows which side of his bread is buttered.’