Something on idioms
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?
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’
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.’
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.’
Put all your eggs in one basket
Meaning that you rely on one particular course of action not considering other possibilities first.
I have considered changing my job, but I don’t think I should put all my eggs in one basket.
This person thinks that a change of job might be a good thing, but it also involves a risk that might be difficult to change back if things don’t turn out as well as they had expected.
Cry over spilt milk
Meaning that a person is wasting their time worrying about something bad that has happened but cannot be changed.
It’s no use crying about spilt milk. Why don’t you speak to him about it?
To Not have a bean
To be without money.
I’m sorry. I can’t lend you any money. I haven’t got a bean!
Not know beans about something
Meaning that somebody doesn’t know anything about a particular subject.
I don’t know beans about art.
Don’t count your chickens (before they are hatched)
Meaning that you shouldn’t count on something good happening without considering that something may go wrong first.
She wanted to buy a new car in case she got the job, but I told her not to count her chickens before they hatched.
If you go Dutch, what are you doing? We have this idiom in Spanish but it is very different and I’m not going to spoil the fun. Maybe you would like to make a contribution to the blog and tell me how you would say ‘go Dutch’ in your country. Meanwhile, see if you guessed correctly on the button below.
Idioms with bee
If you have a bee in your bonnet, what’s on your mind? If something is the bee’s knees, what is it like? Click on the quiz button to find out and learn more idioms that involve these extremely hard-working, fluffy, buzzy little insects called bees.
Let the cat out of the bag
What have you done if you have let the cat out of the bag? What’s happened and who do you think will be angry with you (even though cats are really cute pets )?
Make a guess and see if you have the right answer on the click button.
If the bird has flown, what’s happened? Here’s another ‘birdie’ idiom.
In Spain we would say something like ‘Dios los crea y ellos se juntan’ for this saying or idiom, but in English, heavenly spirits have nothing to do with how humans interact with each other. Rather than this, typical behaviour is associated to animals (in this case to birds).
A dog in the manger
If you hear somebody call another person a dog in the manger, what have they said about this person?
Let sleeping dogs lie
Image by Isaac Davies from Unsplash
If somebody tells you to let sleeping dogs lie, what have they asked you to do?
Every dog will have its day
A dog and pony show
If somebody tells you that an event was a dog and pony show, what information are they giving you about it?
On Shanks’s pony
If you went somewhere on Shanks’s pony, how did you get there?
Image by Delaney Dawson from Unsplash
When/until the cows come home
Photo by Alaina McLearnon from Unsplash
If you ask permission to, say…, borrow your mum’s car to attend a beach party (where your mum suspects there will be a lot of boozing), promising that you will get back before dawn and your mum’s answer is ‘I’ll lend you the car when the cows come home.’ What exactly did she say? Will she lend you the car? Check the meaning of this idiom on the button below.
The Natural World Idioms
Idioms related to leisure
Idioms about work
Idioms about love and relationships