In this podcast, you’ll learn 11 English idioms and we’ll explain where these idioms come from and why we use them so that they’ll be easier for you to remember. Is learning 11 idioms in one podcast episode biting off more than you can chew? We don’t think so!
Voice message from Şeniz from Turkey responding TO that question
XAll in honestlyX – to be honest, in all honesty, honestly,
doctors are experiencing burnout and frustration
to make/cut a long story short…
11 Common English Idioms and how to use them
In a recent episode (482 about living abroad as an expat) we spoke about the expression to know the ropes – Someone who “knows the ropes” is experienced at what they are doing. “Showing someone the ropes” means to explain to them how something is done.
Example: “Ask John, he knows the ropes around here.”
We’ve spoken about idioms many times previously:
Family Idioms – https://www.inglespodcast.com/245
Idioms Connected to House & Home – https://www.inglespodcast.com/220
Spanish idioms that don’t translate literally to English – https://www.inglespodcast.com/278
Baseball and Cricket Idioms – https://www.inglespodcast.com/285
Gambling Vocabulary and Idioms – https://www.inglespodcast.com/307
Drinking idioms and expressions – https://www.inglespodcast.com/364
Money Idioms and Expressions – https://www.inglespodcast.com/389
Crime idioms – https://www.inglespodcast.com/412
Work idioms – https://www.inglespodcast.com/422
Food idioms – https://www.inglespodcast.com/423
Clothes Idioms – https://www.inglespodcast.com/443
Chicken Idioms – https://www.inglespodcast.com/450
Due to popular demand, here are 11 more common idioms with their origin stories.
What Is an Idiom?
An idiom is a phrase that comes to mean something totally different from its literal meaning. This meaning typically comes from the context in which it was first used, and later evolves to be used in other situations.
- To turn a blind eye – to ignore or pretend not to see something.
For example, “The teacher turned a blind eye to the students cheating on the test.”
The origin of this idiom comes from a naval battle in 1801, when Admiral Horatio Nelson disobeyed his superior’s order to retreat by holding his telescope to his blind eye and claiming he couldn’t see the signal.
2. To feel under the weather – to feel sick or unwell.
For example, “I’m feeling a bit under the weather today, so I’m going to stay in bed.”
The origin of this idiom comes from sailing, when sailors who were seasick would go below deck to avoid the weather.
3. To beat around the bush – to avoid talking about the main point or issue.
For example, “Stop beating around the bush and tell me what you really want.”
The origin of this idiom comes from hunting, when hunters would beat the bushes to flush out birds or animals, but sometimes they would do it too cautiously or timidly.
4. To be barking up the wrong tree – to follow a false lead or having incorrect thoughts about a situation or event.
For example, “If you think it was Reza who ate the last chocolate biscuit, you’re barking up the wrong tree.”
The phrase may also have originated from hunting and the use of hunting dogs that would bark up the trees into which they’d seen their prey run. Even if the prey has escaped to a different tree, the dogs may still continue “barking up the wrong tree.”
5. To be as mad as a hatter – to be crazy or eccentric.
For example, “He’s (as) mad as a hatter, always talking nonsense and wearing strange clothes.”
The origin of this idiom comes from the 18th and 19th centuries, when hat makers used mercury in their process, which could cause neurological damage and symptoms such as tremors, mood swings and hallucinations.
6. To bite off more than you can chew – to take on and accept to do more than you can handle or manage.
For example, “She bit off more than she could chew when she agreed to work on three projects at the same time.”
The origin of this idiom is obvious, as it compares taking on too much work to taking too big a bite of food.
7. To play it by ear – to improvise or adapt to a situation without a fixed plan.
For example, “We don’t have a reservation for dinner, so let’s just play it by ear and see what we can find.”
The origin of this idiom comes from music, where playing by ear means to play without reading sheet music.
8. To bite the bullet – to perform a painful task or endure an unpleasant situation
For example, “I have to bite the bullet and tell my boss about the mistake I made.”
This idiom dates back to the 18th century when soldiers would bite on a bullet during surgery to endure the pain instead of using anesthesia.
9. To cost an arm and a leg – to be very expensive and cost a lot of money.
For example, “Buying a new car can cost an arm and a leg.”
The story goes that this phrase originated from 18th-century paintings, as famous people like George Washington would have their portraits done without certain limbs showing. Having limbs showing is said to have cost more money.
10. To hit the nail on the head – to do or say something precisely and accurately.
For example, “You hit the nail on the head with your analysis of the situation.”
This idiom originates from carpentry.
11. To let the cat out of the bag – to tell a secret by mistake
Up to and including in the 1700s, a common street fraud included replacing valuable pigs with less valuable cats and selling them in bags. When a cat was let out of a bag, the trick was over!
…and now it’s your turn to practise your English.
Send us a voice message. https://www.speakpipe.com/inglespodcast
Send us an email with a comment or question to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
This podcast is sponsored, in part, by mansionIngles.com. Visit the online store: https://store.mansioningles.net/
Thank you to our Patreon supporters. Join our Patreon program for as little as $1.50 per month and you get instant access to the transcriptions of this podcast. https://www.patreon.com/inglespodcast
Welcome to our new Patreon super supporters who have joined us this month:
Jose Luis Muñoz Olivares
Juan Carlos Alumbreros Fresneda
In next week’s episode: Common Metaphors
If you enjoyed this podcast, please tell your friends.
The music in this podcast is by Pitx. The track is called ‘See You Later’