Archive for idioms

idiom: par for the course


This is my first blog entry for a while and this time I’d like to teach you another idiom: par for the course. We use this when we want to talk about something happening that we think is usual or typical for a certain situation. In other words, we expect this thing to happen in the situation because it’s happened many times before. Let me give you some examples using this idiom.

At my company, Bill got promoted instead of Mary. Unfortunately, that’s par for the course at my company; the women almost never get promoted.

Don’t expect Nancy to come to the party on time. Being late is par for the course with her.

Working until late at night is par for the course at my office.

Please note that we always put some form of the verb “be” in front of this idiom.

This expression comes from the sport of golf. In golf, “par” is the typical number of strokes it takes to complete one hole or one game. Therefore, the word “course” in this expression is referring to a golf course.

However, the meaning of “par for the course” has been expanded from referring to the typical number of strokes in a game of golf to mean a typical thing to be expected in a situation.


idiom: to put something on the back burner


Today I’d like to write about the idiom, to put something “on the back burner”. We use this expression when we want to talk about postponing doing something. The postponement happens usually because we feel the activity is less important than other things we have to do, and therefore it can be delayed. The activity can also be delayed because we feel it’s not possible to do it at the moment. Here are some example sentences using this idiom.

This new project is really important, so I have to put my current project on the back burner for a little while.

My boss wants me to put my research for the ABC project on the back burner because he wants to focus on the XYZ project.

I don’t have much money, so I’m going to put buying a car on the back burner for now.

This expression is often used in business situations, but not always. We sometimes use it to talk about personal plans, such as in my third example.

This expression comes from the idea of cooking something on a stove. In many western countries we have four elements, or burners, on our stoves. The ones closest to us when we’re cooking are the front burners and the ones farthest away are the back burners. If we’re cooking something that is more important we usually use the front burners but if something is less important, or will take longer to cook, it’s often put on the back burner of the stove.



idiom: to talk someone’s ear off


For my final blog entry of 2015, I’d like to write about the idiom “talk someone’s ear off”. We use it when we want to talk about a person who is talking a lot to another person. Let me give you some ways to use it in sentences.

Don’t sit with Betty at the party. She’ll talk your ear off all night.

Peter is a very talkative person. He can talk anyone’s ear off.

I asked my teacher a simple question about my assignment, and he talked my ear off for the next hour.

My mother has changed a lot. When she was younger, she used to talk my father’s ear off, but now she’s extremely quiet. I wonder why she changed.

We usually use this expression in grammatically positive sentences.

This expression is a bit negative in tone. The feeling is that the person is talking too much, and the other person doesn’t like it so much. However, please note that it’s not extremely negative; just a little bit.

Please note that we don’t put an “s” at the end of “ear” if there is just one person who is being talked to. However, if there is more than one person who is listening, we add an “s”. For example: “The professor talked the ears off the students in his class.”

We can use this in casual business situations, but it’s not usually used in formal situations.

idiom: on the mend

on the mend

Today, I’d like to write about the expression “on the mend”. We use it when we want to talk about someone or something which is recovering from something bad. Here are some ways to use it in sentences.

I was very sick last week, but I’m on the mend now.

A: I heard Jack had to have an operation! Is he ok?

B: We were very worried for a while, but fortunately he’s on the mend now.

My sister’s boyfriend broke up with her and totally broke her heart! She’s a strong woman though. I’m sure she’ll be on the mend soon.

The economy was in deep trouble, but there are signs now that it’s on the mend.

So, as you can see from my examples, we usually use this expression to talk about people recovering from a physical or emotional problem such as an illness, an injury or a broken heart.

However, as you can see in my last example, we can also use it to talk about the economy when it recovers from a recession. This is a less common way to use it, but we sometimes hear this in the news media.

idiom: to break the ice


For this blog entry, I want to write about the expression, “break the ice”. We use it when we want to talk about a situation in which we are meeting a new person or people for the first time and we do something in order to feel more comfortable with them. Here are some example sentences.

I’m going to tell a joke at the start of my speech to break the ice with the audience.

I feel really uncomfortable when meeting new people. What should I do to break the ice?

The teacher had everyone in the class play a game in order to break the ice.

A: I think a good way to break the ice with someone is to ask them a lot of questions.
B: I’m not so sure. I think that could make them feel even more uncomfortable.

This expression can be used to talk about many types of situations in which people are meeting for the first time: a person speaking in front of a large group, two people meeting for the first time on a blind date, a group of people meeting for the first time for a class or job situation, etc.

There are also various ways to break the ice: asking questions, telling jokes, telling a personal story, playing a game, etc.

In this expression, the “ice” represents the feeling of discomfort that comes with meeting new people for the first time. When we “break” that ice, we are removing the feeling of discomfort and then the relationship can begin in a better way.

idiom: to not be a spring chicken


Today, I’d like to write about the expression “not be a spring chicken”. We use it when we want to talk about a person who is getting much older or who is already quite old. Here are some ways to use it in sentences.

Please slow down! I can’t go as fast as you can. I’m not a spring chicken anymore.

A: Is your boss old?
B: Well, he’s not so old, but he’s not exactly a spring chicken either.

My aunt is no spring chicken, but she’s still a very active person.

The members of that band are no spring chickens anymore, but they still make very good music.

In English, a “spring chicken” is a young chicken between the ages of two months and ten months old.

We almost always use this in grammatically negative sentences. It is possible to use it in a positive sentence, as in “He’s just a spring chicken.” meaning he’s very young. However, these cases are quite rare, so it’s more common to say “He’s not a spring chicken.” meaning he’s quite old.

We can use two types of negation with this expression. We can use the word “not” + “a” + “spring chicken”, as in my first two examples. We can also use the word “no” + “spring chicken”, as in my last two examples. Both ways are commonly used.

Please note that “spring chicken” is countable, so if we’re talking about more than one person, we must add an “s” to the word “chicken”. This is the case of my last example.

idiom: to turn over a new leaf


Today, I’d like to write about the idiom “turn over a new leaf”. We use this expression when we want to talk about a person making a major change in their lives as a way of improving themselves and becoming a better person. Here are some examples of how to use it in sentences.

I’ve treated my wife very badly in the past, and now I feel terrible about that. I promise that I’m going to turn over a new leaf.

Bill used to be one of the laziest employees at our company, but he’s turned over a new leaf recently. Now he works so hard!

You never exercise and eat too much junk food! You also smoke and drink too much. If you don’t turn over a new leaf, you’re going to get sick!

I thought this expression referred to a leaf on a tree, but apparently it does not. Instead, it refers to the pages of a book which are sometimes called leaves. Therefore, to “turn over a new leaf” means to turn to a new page in a book. I think the book represents our lives and when we turn the page or “turn over a new leaf” it means we are moving to a new and better place.

idiom: to play with fire


Today I’d like to teach you another idiom: to “play with fire”.  We use this expression when we want to talk about a person who is doing something that could lead to a negative or dangerous result. For example:

You’re dating two girls at the same time? I think you’re playing with fire. If they find out, you’ll lose both of them.

You’re playing with fire if you go into business with Carl. He’s got a really bad reputation.

A: I take drugs sometimes, but I’m not addicted.

B: I think you’re playing with fire. If you keep taking them, you’ll get addicted.

People who buy products from ABC Company are playing with fire. That company has had so many problems with product safety.

The first two sentences are examples of a negative result and the last two are examples of a dangerous result. As you can see from all the examples, we almost always use the present continuous tense (am/is/are +ing) with this idiom.

idiom: cold turkey

Today, I’d like to teach you another strange but interesting idiom. It’s the expression “cold turkey”, and we use it when we want to talk about quitting a bad habit suddenly instead of slowly trying to stop doing it. For example:

My friend quit smoking cold turkey. I don’t know how she could do that. She must have a lot of self control.

My father had to stop drinking cold turkey. His doctor told him if he drank any more alcohol, it would seriously harm his health.

A: How did you quit gambling?

B: I did it cold turkey. It wasn’t easy at first, but it got better after a while.

So, as you can see, we use this idiom in connection with the verbs “quit” or “stop”. I had to look up why we use “cold turkey” to talk about quitting something suddenly and there are no clear explanations, but one theory is that when someone quits using drugs or alcohol suddenly, their skin starts to look white with goosebumps on it. This is similar to the way turkey meat looks before it is cooked; in other words, when it is cold. I don’t know if this explanation is the true one, but it’s interesting.

idiom: to dodge a bullet

Today’s idiom is to “dodge a bullet”, and it is used when we want to talk about a situation in which we didn’t get something we wanted and then we find out that we were lucky not to get it. For example:

I really wanted that job at ABC Company, but I didn’t get it. Anyway, I just found out that the guy who got the job has been transferred to Mongolia! I guess I really dodged a bullet.

I know you wanted to date George, but he wasn’t interested in you. I think you dodged a bullet because I heard he treats his girlfriends really badly.

A: My wife and I wanted to buy this house, but we didn’t get it.

B: Oh really? You guys really dodged a bullet. This house needed a lot of repairs, and it cost me a lot of money.

I couldn’t get time off work to go camping last weekend, but it was raining all weekend so I guess I dodged a bullet.

In case you’re not sure, the word “dodge” means to move quickly away from something so that it doesn’t hit you. We sometimes use this word when talking about a game called dodgeball. This is a game we sometimes played in school in which people would throw a ball at the people on the opposite team and, if they hit them, they were out of the game. Therefore, the people had to dodge out of the way of the ball.

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