Welcome to my first English Post
I was very impressed when I read an email from one of my students.
He wrote: “I think to work in the Hotel is not my cup of tea”
This is a very typical expression which means that you don’t like something.
English is a very old language, and over the course of many centuries, interesting sayings have been incorporated into everyday language that make little sense if you haven’t grown up with them. “Barking up the wrong tree”, “the straw that broke the camel’s back” and “raining cats and dogs” are all examples of expressions or idioms that add colour to the English language.
If you find yourself starting to use idioms when you speak English, well done you’ve mastered it!
Origins of Idioms
Have you ever wondered how an idiom becomes an idiom? Below you will find the origins of some of the more common idioms:-
Pull someone’s leg
Meaning: Joking or fooling with someone.
Origin: To pull someone’s leg had much more sinister overtones when it first came in use. It was originally a method used by thieves to entrap their pedestrians and subsequently rob them. One thief would be assigned ‘tripper up’ duty, and would use different instruments to knock the person to the ground. Luckily, these days the saying is much more friendlier, though being on the end of a joke might not always be fun.
Bark up the wrong tree
Definition: To make the wrong choice or pursue the wrong course.
Origin: When hunting raccoons for fur was a popular sport, hunting dogs were used to sniff them out of trees. Being a nocturnal animal, the hunting party had to work at night, and the dogs would sometimes end up choosing the wrong tree, or as the idiom goes, ‘bark up the wrong tree”. The term was first printed in a book by Davy Crockett in 1833.
Definiton: If you’re “in stitches”, you’re laughing so hard that your sides hurt.
Example: “He was so funny – he had me in stitches all evening.”
Origins: Presumably comparing the physical pain of intense laughter with the prick of a needle, “in stitches” was first used in 1602 by Shakespeare in Twelfth Night. After this, the expression isn’t recorded again until the 20th century, but it’s now commonplace.
The Best Way of Learning Idioms
The best way of learning idioms is to group them under subjects. For example,
let’s take our favourite subject, The Weather. How many idioms can you think of to describe these pictures? (answers at the end of this blog).
The best way of practising idioms
The best way of practising idioms is to practice them in context for example when you’re working or with friends. Below are some useful expressions to impress your friends and work colleagues:-
Expressions to use with friends
|get on like a house on fire||Two people who get on like a house on fire have similar interests and quickly become good friends.
As soon as Sarah met her brother’s girlfriend, they got on like a house on fire.
|know someone inside out||If you know someone inside out, you know them very well.
Sue and Anne have been friends since childhood. They know each other inside out.
|go with the flow||If you go with the flow, you follow the general tendency and go along with whatever happens.
When my colleagues organise an office party, I just go with the flow.
|speak the same language||If two or more people speak the same language, they have similar opinions or ideas, so they understand each other very well.
We work well together because we speak the same language.
Expressions to use at work
|ASAP||is an acronym for “as soon as possible”
I need to finish these reports, my boss needs them ASAP
|Back to the drawing board
Call it a day
|Means to start again from the beginning
The prototype wasn’t successful, we have to go back to the drawing board
means to stop working and go home
Let’s call it a day and go home, I’m tired
|Think outside the box||To think of creative unconventional solutions instead of common ones
My colleague is great at thinking outside the box and always thinks of creative ideas for our project
More exercises to practice
Here are some interactive exercises you can do:-
And for movie fans out there, here you’ll be able to see how idioms are used in films:-
Idioms around the globe
Have you ever tried to translate an expression from your language literally into English? Here are a collection of idioms from around the world:-
The idiom: Tomaten auf den Augen haben.
Literal translation: “You have tomatoes on your eyes.”
What it means: “You are not seeing what everyone else can see. It refers to real objects, though — not abstract meanings.”
The idiom: Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof.
Literal translation: “I only understand the train station.”
What it means: “I don’t understand a thing about what that person is saying.’”
The idiom: Det är ingen ko på isen
Literal translation: “There’s no cow on the ice.”
What it means: “There’s no need to worry.
The idiom: Att glida in på en räkmacka
Literal translation: “To slide in on a shrimp sandwich.”
What it means: “It refers to somebody who didn’t have to work to get where they are.”
The idiom: Sauter du coq à l’âne.
Literal translation: “To jump from the cock to the donkey.”
What it means: “It means to keep changing topics without logic in a conversation.”
The idiom: Les doigts dans le nez
The idiom: Quem não tem cão caça com gato
Literal translation: “He who doesn’t have a dog hunts with a cat.”
What it means: “Make the most of what you’ve got.” Basically, you do what you need to do, with what the resources you have
And finally …
It’s very common to hear people getting idioms wrong. My sister once said “we get on like a field on fire” and wondered why everyone was “in stitches”!
Here are some more stories:-
When I was 10, my sister told me that my grandmother quit smoking “cold turkey”. It wasn’t until high school, when I embarrassed myself by telling my friend to try eating cold turkey to help quit smoking, that I knew what it really meant.
When I was little, I thought “drinking and driving” meant the physical act of drinking a beverage, not just alcohol. One day when I was 6 I told my mother not to drink and drive while she sipped a Diet Pepsi. She just laughed at me.
What are your favourite idioms in English? I will publish these in my next blog.
Answers to weather idioms
- Raining Cats and Dogs – when it rains very hard
- To break the ice – To remove the tension at a first meeting
- To feel under the weather – when you don’t feel well
- On cloud 9 – when you’re very happy
- Snowed under – when you have a lot of work to do