Archive for idioms

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.

idiom: to be a walk in the park

I have a short but interesting entry for you today – it’s the idiom to “be a walk in the park”. We use this idiom when we want to say something is easy. For example:

Installing this new computer system will be a walk in the park for me. I’ve done it many times before.

A: How was your test? Was it difficult?

B: No. It was a walk in the park because I studied really hard for it.

Can you give us a presentation about economics? That should be a walk in the park for you because you majored in economics.

I took a Spanish class last year. I thought it would be a walk in the park because I know French, but it was really difficult.

So, I’m not sure of the reason why we use “walk in the park” to mean “easy”, but I suppose it’s because walking in a park is considered to be an easy and relaxing thing to do.

idiom: the writing is on the wall

This week’s idiom is “the writing is on the wall”, and it is used when we know a certain situation is going to end badly based on things that we have observed. For example:

My girlfriend and I are still together, but I’m pretty sure we’re going to break up soon. The writing is on the wall; we hardly ever talk anymore.

I think my company is going to close down in the near future. The writing is on the wall; we have very few customers now, and several people have been laid off.

That politician is going to lose the next election. He’s been in power too long and has become extremely unpopular lately. The writing is on the wall for him.

I think my grandfather will die soon. He’s over 90 years old and has been sick for a long time. Unfortunately, the writing is on the wall.

Apparently, this expression comes from the Bible. There is a story in which someone writes on the wall of a King’s palace in order to tell him of great danger that will happen to him.

As you can see from my examples, we use this expression by explaining the situation first and then using “the writing is on the wall”. When we’re talking about other people’s situations, we can add “for him/her/them”.

idiom: to not be set/written in stone

This week’s idiom is to “not be set in stone”, but we also say to “not be written in stone”. We use these expressions when we want to talk about something which is not completely settled and therefore can be changed. For example:

A: Is it possible to change the schedule for the lesson?

B: Sure, we can change it. It’s not set in stone.

If you want to change the details of your contract now, you can. Nothing is written in stone yet.

A: I know you said to pay you back by Friday, but I won’t be able to do it until Monday. Is that ok?

B: Sure, that’s fine. It’s not set in stone. Just pay me back sometime next week.

It’s not written in stone or anything like that, but we’re not supposed to eat at our desks in the office.

The reason we use “stone” in this expression is that once something is carved into stone, it’s impossible to erase and therefore cannot be changed. However, it’s much easier to change something if it’s written in pencil or even in pen.

Please note that we always use this expression in the negative, so we CANNOT say, “It is written in stone.” That sounds strange, but it is possible to use it as a question. For example:

Is the schedule set in stone?

Is that written in stone?

I hope this is clear to everyone.

idiom: speak of the devil

Today’s idiom is “speak of the devil”, and it is used when two or more people are talking about another person who is not there, and then suddenly that person shows up. After that, one of the people who was having the conversation will often say, “Speak of the devil.” about the person who just came. Here are some examples:

I think we should get Adam to organize the party. Oh, speak of the devil! Here he is. Hello Adam, we were just talking about you.

What do you think of the new manager? Oh, speak of the devil. He just walked in.

A: Where is your wife this evening?

B: She said she’d be a little late. Speak of the devil. There she is. Let me introduce you to her.

So, as you can see, it’s quite simple to use this expression. It can be used when the person who is being talked about is close by or far away.

idiom: in the bag


The idiom for this week is “in the bag”; it is used when we want to talk about something that we think will be a sure success. For example:

If I were you, I wouldn’t worry about if you’ll get this job or not. You have so much experience, so I’m sure it’s in the bag!

That actress gave the best performance of her career in that movie. She’s got the Oscar award in the bag.

A: Do you think Bob will get ABC Company to become our client?

B: Oh yeah, definitely. It’s in the bag because he’s dating the daughter of ABC Company’s president.

We always use this expression to talk about something in the future that we feel extremely confident will happen; we don’t use it to talk about a past situation that has already happened.

idiom: to be the last straw

The idiom for this week is to be “the last straw”, and it is used when we talk about being in a bad situation which we have been tolerating for a while. Then something happens, and we can no longer tolerate this bad situation. We call that final bad thing “the last straw”. For example:

I’ve told you to be quiet at night because I’m trying to sleep! Now I’ve found out you broke some of my dishes! That’s the last straw! I want you to move out!

I had been unhappy in my job for a long time. Then my boss told me he was cutting my salary by 10% and that was the last straw for me. I quit my job the next day.

My friend Gloria was not happy in her marriage, but she tried to make it work. Later, she found out her husband cheated on her and that was the last straw. Now she’s divorcing him.

This expression comes from a longer expression in English: “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. I suppose camels have been used for transporting straw. If you keep putting straw on a camel’s back, it will become heavier and heavier. Eventually, there will be one straw that will cause the camel to collapse. Therefore, the straw is the symbol for the last bad thing we can tolerate, and breaking the camel’s back is the symbol for finally changing the bad situation.

idiom: a rain check

This week’s idiom is a very interesting one. It is “a rain check”, and we use it when someone invites us to do something. We want to do it but we can’t, so we use this expression to tell them we would like to do it at another time in the future. For example:

A: Would you like to have a drink with me after work?

B: I’d love to, but I have other plans. I’ll take a rain check though.

A: Ok.


A: Do you want to go bowling with me and my friends on Friday night?

B: That sounds fun, but I have to work Friday night. How about a rain check?

A: Ok.


A: How about coming over to my house for dinner tonight?

B: That would be wonderful, but I’m going to a movie with my friend. Can I have a rain check?

A: Sure, no problem.


A: Why don’t you join my friends and me for karaoke tomorrow night?

B: I love karaoke, but I’ve already made plans. Rain check?

A: Sure.

I believe this expression comes from baseball. Many years ago, no baseball stadiums were covered and so when it rained, the game had to be cancelled. Instead of giving people their money back for their tickets, they would give them another ticket called a “rain check” which meant they could come back at another time in the future to watch another baseball game. Now the meaning has been expanded to cover any activities we can’t do now but want to do in the future.

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