Exciting Adventures in the English Language and Culture

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Bag & Baggage

Image by Toocapic from Pixabay

Bag and baggage means ‘with all one’s possessions’.

Originally a military phrase, it was used to refer to the entire property of an army, including the personal belongings of its soldiers.

And one of the sure signs of a successful military campaign is an army returning from war without any in of its property having fallen into enemy hands.

As time passed, the phrase became useful in describing a much wider variety of departures, though all typically associated with a failure or misfortune of some sort.

When Sally caught her boyfriend using her business bank account to pay his gambling debts, she threw him out bag and baggage.

Now you know!

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The Language of Friendship

Friendships… They enrich our life, provide comfort and support, boost our confidence and sense of belonging. And yet a true friendship is not that easy to find, takes a lot of effort to maintain and can be lost forever with one thoughtless word or action.

Image by Alexas Photos from Pixabay

Obviously, there are loads of words related to the topic of friendship. I’ve picked the ones I think you’ll find most useful – I myself use them a lot and so do native speakers.

Friendship is a kind of magic, don’t you think? You meet a lot of different people but you make friends with only a handful (=few) of them.

By the way, friend is also a verb meaning to add someone as your friend on a social networking website (i.e. Facebook).

– He’s got about ten thousand friends on Facebook! How’s that possible?!

– It’s because he friends every single person he meets.

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10+ alternatives to ‘clever’

In his book ‘How to Be an Alien’ George Mikes writes,

In England it is bad manners to be clever, to assert something confidently’ as ‘the Englishman is modest’.

I wouldn’t say much has changed in this respect since the book was first published in 1946 – the British code of behaviour still strongly disapproves of any displays of one’s intelligence. In other words, if you’re smart, keep it to yourself.

It should now come as no surprise that the English language (or at least British English) has far fewer words and expressions for ‘intelligent’ than, as we have seen, it does for ‘stupid’. Let’s have a look at them.

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

1. Bright is used especially about children and young people (you may have read Evelyn Waugh’s Bright Young Things or seen the film based on the book).

She’s the brightest student in the class and loved by all the teachers.

2. Brilliant means ‘extremely clever’.

Albert Einstein was one of the most brilliant scientists of all time.

However, it can also be used sarcastically to mean the opposite!

(At the airport) You left the tickets at home?! Brilliant! What are we going to do now?

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On the grapevine

On 24 May 1844 Samuel Morse presented his new invention – telegraph – to congressmen. To demonstrate its ability to speedily transmit information over great distances he sent a message from Washington to Baltimore.

The new means of communication met with great enthusiasm and soon telegraph lines criss-crossed the country.

Image by Conny Griebel from Pixabay

Rumour and gossip have been around for much longer than telegraph and like Morse’s invention have an almost magical capacity to spread information briskly, even if not in a straight line and often distorting the truth beyond recognition along the way. So, shortly after the historic demo, the phrase grapevine telegraph was coined. Over time, the word telegraph was dropped, but the grapevine has remained in the language, just like the social phenomenon it describes.

How do you know Sarah’s expecting a baby? – I heard it on the grapevine (i.e. someone, who heard it from someone else, told me).

Interestingly, the Russian equivalent of this phrase also features a 19th-century invention – the radio – as well as the country’s traditional pinafore dress sarafanсарафанное радио.

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15 ways to say someone is stupid

Unfortunately, every now and then we all have to deal with people, things and situations that lack thought and/or judgment. To describe them in English, you’d probably use the words silly and stupid.

Staying focused will help you avoid making silly mistakes in the test.

He soon realised that spending all his savings on a new car was a stupid idea.

There’s nothing wrong with these two adjectives but the wonder of English is that more often than not it has loads of alternative ways of expressing the same idea, and lack of intelligence is no exception.

Image by Prawny from Pixabay

Let’s start with some nouns (please note they’re all informal). We’ve got quite a few for silly/stupid people – take your pick!

1. silly billy

used – often quite affectionately – when someone’s done something stupid

You silly billy! Why didn’t you ask me before you tried to reinstall Windows?! You’ve lost everything!

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Colour Idioms: Black

This is the final part of the mini-series on colour idioms and in today’s post we’ll be looking at idiomatic expressions with the adjective BLACK.

Image by Alexas Fotos from Pixabay

Let’s get started with the black sheep. When used idiomatically, this expression means a person who is an embarrassment or shame to their family or any other social group they belong to.

Coming from a family of high-achievers (someone who is very successful in their work), Emily, who dropped out of university and has been unable to get a decent job, is considered the black sheep.

Unsurprisingly, idioms with black, a colour traditionally associated with the dark side of life, mainly refer to rather unpleasant things. Here’s another example of this. When you do something wrong and people notice and remember it you get a black mark.

He got a black mark when his dissertation was found to contain plagiarisms.

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

A black eye is what you end up with when someone hits you in the eye (ouch!).

Danny had a fight with his younger brother. He won and his sibling got a black eye.

And to finish on a positive note, a rare exception to the above mentioned rule – the new black. This expression is used to refer to things (and colours of course!) that have suddenly become fashionable or popular. Note that other words can be used instead of black in this idiom.

Pink is the new black – all fashion designers have made a generous use of it in their recent collections.

They say that for generation Z food is the new sex.

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Colour idioms: Blue

This is part 3 of the series of posts on idiomatic expressions using colours. Previously, we had a look at some red and green idioms. Today we’ll be looking at the most common expressions using the word blue.

Image by Monionline from Pixabay

Let’s start with feel blue. Chances are you’re already familiar with this one as it’s used a lot. Blue in this informal expression means depressed, or sad and hopeless.

She’s been feeling blue ever since her boyfriend dumped her.

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Colour idioms: green

This is part 2 of the series of blog posts about colour idioms. Last time, we had a look at some red idioms, and today we’ll explore those that mention the colour green.

Image by Public Domain Pictures from Pixabay

Let’s start with have green fingers. This idiomatic expression has nothing to do with Shrek and everything to do with one of the favourite pastimes of British people – gardening. When someone says that you have green fingers, they mean you’re very good at gardening – everything you plant grows and thrives and whether you have a proper garden or just a few planters (a container for growing plants in) outside your window they look healthy and attractive.

My gran had green fingers. Her vegetable garden was her pride and joy and the envy of the neighbours.

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Colour Idioms: Red

This is part 1 of my new series of blog posts on colour idioms and we get started with the colour red.

Red hot

Image from Pixabay

If something is red hot, it’s extremely hot.

Be careful with the kettle – it’s just boiled and is red hot.

Go (as) red as a beetroot

Image by Christian Dorn from Pixabay

When you go red as a beetroot, you turn red in the face with embarrassment.

Alice went red as a beetroot when I caught her eavesdropping on my conversation with Melanie.

Red-letter day

Image by DarkWorkX from Pixabay

This is an informal expression used to refer to a special and happy day you’ll never forget.

Ann’s husband did his best to make their 10th wedding anniversary a red-letter day for both of them.

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To Grin like a Cheshire Cat

Image by nakedprintpembrokeshir from Pixabay

In chapter 6 of Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland the enigmatic Cheshire cat makes an appearance and the oft-quoted exchange takes place:

Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where ―” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

They talk on for a little while and then the Cat vanishes

beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone.”

It’s very tempting to think that the Cheshire cat is Lewis Carroll’s invention but it’s not. The phrase to grin like a Cheshire cat (=to have a broad smile on your face) was already in use towards the end of the 18th century.

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