Archive for idioms

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.

idiom: to go to someone’s head

The idiom for this week is for something to “go to someone’s head”. It is used when we want to talk about a person who becomes conceited because of some success they have had or some accomplishment they have done. For example:

Winning the bowling tournament last week has really gone to Jim’s head. Now he thinks he’s the best bowler in the world!

Don’t give Patty a compliment about the way she looks. It will just go to her head.

Richard got a promotion last year, and it really went to his head. Now he thinks he’s so much better than everyone else.

I’m happy that you were successful with this project, but I hope you won’t let it go to your head.

So, as you can see, we use the accomplishment or success as the subject in the sentence. By the way, if you don’t know what the word “conceited” means, you can check my blog for last Wednesday. I write about it in more detail there.

We can also use this expression to talk about a situation in which a person is easily and quickly affected by drinking alcohol. For example:

I haven’t eaten anything all day, so this beer is going straight to my head.

My boyfriend is a weak drinker. If you give him anything with alcohol in it, it goes straight to his head.

Beer doesn’t affect me so quickly, but wine goes straight to my head.

As you can see from my examples, we usually use the word “straight” in these sentences.

idiom: to cross that bridge when (we) come to it

I found myself using today’s idiom in a conversation last week. It is to “cross that bridge when we come to it”. It is used to talk about a difficult situation or problem that will happen in the future, but it hasn’t happened yet; we don’t want to think about how to solve that problem yet because it’s still in the future. So in this idiom the “bridge” represents the problem and “crossing” it represents solving it. Therefore this idiom means we will think about how to solve that problem when it happens, but not now. For example:

A: I have to move  in September, but I don’t know where I can find a good place to live.

B: Well, you should cross that bridge when you come to it. There’s no point in worrying about it now.


A: Our parents are healthy now, but what are we going to do when they get older and start to become weak?

B: Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it. I’m sure that won’t happen for many years.


A: We have so much to do this week. We have to finish the report and plan the presentation. Also, next week we have to plan a meeting to discuss the budget. Where are we going to have that meeting?

B: Let’s just cross that bridge when we come to it. Right now, we need to concentrate on our tasks for this week.

Right now, I’m still in high school. I don’t know where to go to university, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. I can’t worry about it yet.

So, as you can see from my examples, the word “we” can be changed depending on who is speaking. We always use this expression to talk about the future, but we can’t use it talk about the past. Therefore, it sounds strange to say, “I crossed that bridge when I came to it.”

idiom: not by a long shot

Today’s idiom is “not by a long shot”, and it is used when we want to talk about a competition between two or more people or groups and we think one of them has no chance of winning. For example:

A: Do you think the Giants will win the baseball game against the Red Sox?

B: No, not by a long shot! The Red Sox are a much better team, and they’ve won every game this season!


A: Do you think Colin will get the promotion?

B: Not by a long shot! He’s only been working here for a year, and he still has a lot to learn.

The new movie directed by Sam Peters is nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, but it won’t win by a long shot.

I’m going to play tennis with my friend this afternoon, but she used to be a professional player, so I won’t win by a long shot.

As you can see from my examples, we can either use this expression as a response to someone’s question, as in the first two examples, or we can make a sentence with it using “won’t win by a long shot”.

In this expression, I think “long shot” represents a slight chance of winning, so when we say “not by a long shot”, we mean that even a slight chance of winning doesn’t exist.

We can also use it when we want to say that a certain situation is not even close to being finished yet. For example:

A: Do you think the storm is over now?

B: Not by a long shot! These storms usually last for at least 12 hours.


A: Do you think your mother is finished being mad at you?

B: Not by a long shot! She’ll stay angry for at least another three or four days!

I may not have gotten promoted yet, but this isn’t over, not by a long shot! I’ll keep working hard until I get a promotion.

My daughter asked me to buy her a computer. I said no, but I know her and this isn’t over by a long shot. She’ll keep asking me until I say yes.

Again, this expression can be used as a response, as in the first two examples, or in a separate sentence, as in the last two examples.

In this case, “long shot” represents the chance that something is over. So, in this case, the expression means that there is no chance that something is over.

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