THE ENGLISH IDIOM

 







 apple of her/his eye
someone or something that one likes a lot
Mary was so cruel and hurt her mother although she has always been the apple of her mother’s eye.

bad egg
a bad person
He’s a bad egg; he’ll never be a good friend to you.

big cheese
an important person, a leader
You’ll get the job if he likes you; he is a big cheese in his company so you should be very nice to him.

bring home the bacon
earn your family’s living
Recently he has been working very hard trying to bring home the bacon. He has no time to do anything else.
bread and butter
basic needs of life
The financial crisis makes everyone worried about bread and butter issues like unemployment, inflation, higher prices.
butter up
flatter someone to try to get their favor or friendship
Stop it! Don’t try to butter me up. You have no choice. It’s your turn to wash the dishes.
cool as a cucumber
calm, not nervous or anxious
You’re cool as a cucumber. Don’t you ever worry about anything?

eat one’s cake and have it too
use or spend something and still keep it
The baby is so selfish and always wants to eat his cake and have it too.

eat one’s words
admit something is not true
I first thought of quitting the job but later I had to eat my words; couldn’t find a better job.

full of beans
feel energetic, in high spirits
Sometimes she’s so annoying, so full of beans at parties. She can’t stop talking, dancing and laughing.
hard nut to crack
a person difficult to understand
He is such a secretive person and a very hard nut to crack.

hot potato
a controversial issue that is difficult to settle
The issue of their getting divorced is a real hot potato for the whole family.

in the soup
in serious trouble
She is really in the soup now. She told her boss that she was sick but he saw her downtown shopping.

out of the frying pan and into the fire
 from bad to worse
She moved house because of some small problems but she has jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire because now she can’t afford to pay the higher rent.

polish the apple
flatter someone
Nobody likes her. She’s her teacher’s pet student - always trying to polish the apple with her to get higher marks.

sell like hotcakes
sell quickly or rapidly
Michael Jackson’s album has been released for about a week but already it is selling like hotcakes.

spill the beans
tell a secret to someone who is not supposed to know about it
Please don’t spill the beans about my failing the exam. Mom will be devastated.






at the top of one’s lungs
- as loud as one can, very loudly
I yelled at the top of my lungs to get the man's attention.

bad blood
- anger or a bad relationship due to past problems with someone
There has always been a lot of bad blood between the two supervisors.

behind one’s back
- when one is absent or without one's knowledge, secretly
He doesn't like people who talk behind his back.

get off one’s back
- stop criticizing or nagging someone
I wish that my mother would get off my back about trying to find a better job.

on one’s back
- making insistent demands of one, being an annoyance or bother
My sister is always on her daughter's back to clean up her room.

on one's shoulders
- one's responsibility
I don't want to have the failure of the project on my shoulders.

pain in the neck
- an obnoxious or bothersome person or event
The customer is a pain in the neck and is always complaining about something.

pat on the back
- praise
The man was given a pat on the back for his efforts to stop pollution in the river.

yellow-bellied
- extremely timid, cowardly
I think the new boss handled the matter in a yellow-bellied manner.

stab in the back
- say/do sth. unfair that harms a friend or someone who trusts you
My friend stabbed me in the back even after I made an effort to help him get a job.

stick one’s neck out
- do something dangerous or risky for someone
His friend will never stick his neck out to try and help other people.

straight from the shoulder
- open and honest way of speaking
He was speaking straight from the shoulder when he told the workers about the possible factory closing. 




sing the blues
to be disappointed or disillusioned.
Jim is singing the blues since he broke up with Elisabeth.
play second fiddle to someone
to be subordinate to sb.
Carol resigned from the company because she was tired of
playing second fiddle to George.
play by ear
to play a piece of music without looking at the notes.
To perform without prior preparation
I can perform all the popular songs by ear.
I haven’t had time to prepare for the meeting. We’ll have to play it by ear.
music to my ear
good news; information that makes someone happy.
When my boss told me about my promotion, it was music to my ears.
jazz something up
make sth. more interesting or lively.
Tom jazzed up his gray suit with a red tie.
toot one’s own hornt
to praise oneself; to brag
Mary is always tooting (blowing) her own horn. She forgets that other people have a role in our company’s success.
it’s not over till the fat lady sings
to not speculate about something until it is completed.
Though her  policies were criticized and  her election in doubt, the candidate reminded  the news correspondents that it’s  not over till  the fat lady sings.
change one’s tune      
 to change one’s opinions or manner.
John  was critical of Anne’s judgement until she was made his supervisor. Now  he has changed  his tune and agrees with everything  she does.
call the tune
make decisions; decide what is to be done.
A lot of people do not get along with Carol. She always wants to call the tune.
out of tune
not in agreement.
His suggestions were out of tune with reality.
march to a different drummer
follow one’s own ideas rather than being influenced by the group.
Dick isn’t going to support us; he always marches to a different drummer.
drum up business
influence people to buy something.
The big advertisement in today’s newspaper should drum up business.
off-beat
unusual
He dressed in an off-beat manner.




Here are some popular idioms and their derivations. Their meaning differs from the original literal meaning because they have passed through a metaphorical stage.


End of one’s rope. The limit of one’s patience or endurance. (Reference to grazing animals that were tied to stakes).

Give someone the cold shoulder.  To reject or ignore. ( When a guest was served a meal consisting of a cold shoulder of mutton it was a clear indication that the person was not appreciated ).

Called on the carpet. To be criticized. (When servants were formally criticized they had to stand on a carpet placed before their employer).

His/her name in mud. A negative reference to a person. ( Refers to Doctor Mudd who set the broken leg of the assassin of Abraham Lincoln. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for his involvement and his name became associated with one who committed an unpopular action).

Bang-up job. Excellent work. (As successful as a banging fireworks display).l

Rake (someone) over the coals. To criticize strongly. (An old practice of obtaining money from people by dragging them over hot coals until they agreed to pay).

Writing on the wall. A warning or sign. (A scene described in the Bible where a human hand appeared miraculously to write a prediction of certain doom during a banquet).

Sold down the river. Abandoned; cut off from support. (Before the Emancipation Proclamation of l863, American slaves were sold to more prosperous farms to the south – down the river).

Become unhinged. Confused or disrupted. (As the doors removed from their hinges).

Low man on the totem pole. The lowest man in a hierarchy. (The figure carved at the bottom of the pole seemed to bear the weight of all those figures carved above)

Pull up stakes. To move to another place. (Reference to the stakes used as boundary markers).

Touch and go. Uncertain, dangerously critical. (In a near collision, cars barely touch and keep on going).

Go to pot. Go to ruin, disintegrate. (In a steel foundry, scraps and refuse were thrown into a pot; ashes of the dead are put into pots or urns).

Be on the beam. To be functioning correctly. (Refers to radio beams directing airplane travel).

Earmarked. Identified for something. (From the practice of marking the ears of sheep/cattle for identification).

To a T.= perfectly; accurately. (Refers to the accuracy of the T square used by architects, carpenters).

Let the cat out of the bag. To reveal a secret. (People who bought a suckling pig were often cheated by being given a cat instead. They used to open the sack before paying, avoiding being cheated).

Crocodile tears. A false sign of sympathy or sorrow. (From the belief that crocodiles shed tears while they eat their victims).

Laugh up one’s sleeve. To laugh secretly or to oneself. (Reference goes back to medieval times when people wore very large sleeves that they could hide their faces).

Sucker. A naďve, simple person who is easily tricked. (Refers to young animals that still suckle milk from their mothers).

Woolgathering. Doing nothing of great value. (Children were kept busy in worthless activities such as gathering wool from hedges where sheep had passed).

Feel one’s oats. Feel energetic; to be in top physical condition. (A horse full of oats displays its energy).


Patrick was depressed. He was at the end of his rope. Ever since he lost the contract for his company, his friends had been giving him the cold shoulder. The director called him on the carpet when the agreement fell through; Patrick’s name was in mud. For years he had done a bang-up job, but now he was being raked over the coals for something beyond his control. He could read the writing on the wall. He was no longer appreciated. In his mind, Patrick felt he was being sold down the river, but he wasn’t going to let himself become unhinged.
He would submit his resignation, pull up stakes and start over again. It wouldn’t be easy. Being the low man on the totem pole at a new company was not Patrick’s idea of fulfillment. It would be touch and go for a while, but he wasn’t going to let himself go to pot. Before long he would again be on the beam. Patrick had his work cut out for himself, but he was earmarked for success. A job change suited him to a T. the company effort.
Patrick knew it; his plans were known throughout the company. Someone had let the cat out of the bag. Even his boss was shedding crocodile’s tears telling him what a great employee he had been. Patrick just laughed up his sleeve. He was no sucker. Let them go about their woolgathering. Once he got himself established again, he would be feeling his oats.



Something old…
Latin abbreviations or Latin words used in English (and other languages)

A.D. (anno Domini) = in the year of our Lord
A.M. (ante meridiem) = before midday
cf. (confer) = compare
et al. (et alli) =  and others
ibid. (ibidem) = in the same place, cited before
[sic] (thus, so) = (used to show that a quoted passage, often containing some error, is precisely reproduced)

Something borrowed…
Words that have been taken into English from native Alaskan and Australian languages

igloo = an Eskimo house build for temporary purposes, made of blocks of snow in the shape of a dome
parka = a hooded fur pullover garnment for Arctic wear  (now any hooded jacket)
mukluk = a sealskin or reindeer boot worn by Eskimos
kayak = an Eskimo canoe made of a frame covered with skins except for a small opening in the center, and propelled by a double-bladed paddle

Something new…
New words, new combinations, or new usages

ace = to earn the grade A in an examination
Because he studied hard, John aced the examination.

number crunching = the performance of long, complex, often repetitive calculations
After some intense number crunching he was able to solve the mathematical problem.

laid-back = having a relaxed style
The summer-school students had a much more laid-back attitude than the full-time students.

gut course = a course or class that is easily passed
Bill took several gut courses because he didn’t have enough time to study.

Something blue…
A few of the many English idioms that contain the word blue

feeling blue = feeling low in spirits, melancholy
the blues = a song, often a lamentation, characterized by sad notes in melody and harmony
until one is blue in the face = to do something for an exasperatingly long time
blue collar = relating to the class of wage earners whose duties call for wearing work clothes,   as opposed to office workers (white collars)
once in a blue moon = very rarely
blue jeans = trousers made of blue denim




brighten up the day =make one feel happy and positive all day long
chase rainbows = try to do something that will never happen
cloud on the horizon = you can see a problem, a difficulty
bolt from the blue = something happens unexpectedly
fairweather friend = one who is always there when times are good, but forgets about you when things get difficult or dangerous
hit rough weather = you experience difficulties
take by storm = captivate
twisting in the wind = you are without help or support
under the weather = one is feeling ill, sad or lack money
under the cloud = people suspect you of having done something wrong
on cloud seven/ nine = you are extremely happy
waiting for a raindrop in the drought = hoping for something that is most unlikely to happen
when it rains, it pours = when something goes wrong, a lot of other unpleasant things will occur simultaneously
white as snow = completely, innocent, uncorrupted
lovely/ fine weather for ducks = rainy weather is unpleasant, but must be good for something
keep one's weather eye open = be on the guard, watch for something to happen
to weather the storm = wait for something unpleasant to stop, have an unpleasant experience and survive it





as poor as a church mouse = extremely poor
The old man was as poor as a church mouse. He couldn’t even afford to buy lunch everyday. 

as sound as a dollar = secure
The multinational company was believed to be as sound as a dollar.

back on one`s feet = to get back to good financial health
After having been sacked, he is now  back on his feet after.

bet one`s bottom dollar = to bet all because he/ she is sure to win
I would bet my bottom dollar that you don’t have the guts to talk to her.

burn a hole in one`s pocket = to make one spend money quickly
Gambling was irresistible; the money was burning a hole in the man's pocket when he stepped into the casino.

chicken feed = little money
The dress looks pretty expensive, but she says the money she paid for it was chicken feed.

control the purse strings = to be in charge of the financial department/ money in a business or family controls the purse strings in her family.
Wives control the purse strings in European families.

feel like a million dollars/bucks = to feel very well
The beach is beautiful, the hotel is not expensive, the food is excellent;  I feel like a million dollars here.

grease (someone`s) palm = to bribe
He made an attempt to grease the palm of the policeman.

have sticky fingers = to steal
The new employee has sticky fingers and many things in the store have disappeared.

he who pays the piper calls the tune = the person who pays for sth decide how the money is spent
Mother decides if I need a new bicycle because he who pays the piper calls the tune.

pay a king's ransom = pay a large sum of money
I had to pay a king's ransom for a ticket to Lady Gaga’s concert.

pennies from heaven = unexpectedly got money
I was very lucky to win at the Lottery. It was pennies from heaven when I most needed it.

a penny saved is a penny earned = resist temptation to spend the money is money saved
A penny saved is a penny earned. I stopped buying clothes if I don’t need them and was able to open a bank account; and don’t need to work longer hours.

squirrel away money = to save some money
I was well paid and was able to squirrel away much money.