Brexit idioms

by Kate Woodford

Andrew Linscott/iStock/Getty
Andrew Linscott/iStock/Getty

Every two or three months on this blog, we look at the idioms being used in a range of daily newspapers in the UK. This week, we thought it might be interesting to look specifically at the idioms used in relation to the UK’s recent decision to leave the European Union, (Brexit). As ever, we have only included frequent idioms – in other words, the sort of phrases that you are likely to hear or read in other places.

One newspaper reports that since the referendum, events have been moving with lightning speed (= extremely quickly). Possibly the most dramatic of those events was Prime Minister David Cameron’s announcement the day after the election that he would resign. This, said one newspaper, fired the starting gun on (= started) his party’s leadership contest. In another newspaper, a journalist writes that he wants there to be a general election in Britain. However, he adds that a general election may only be a sticking-plaster solution for the nation’s very serious, long-term problems. A sticking plaster is a way of dealing with a problem that is only temporary.

Many people in the UK are angry about the result of the referendum so it is not surprising that many idioms used in the newspapers relate to blame. One newspaper states that ‘the blame game for losing the EU referendum has begun’. A blame game, as you might imagine, is a situation in which people try to blame each other for something bad that has happened. In the same article, the journalist writes about people pointing the finger at a particular party leader for his failure to convince party supporters to vote to stay in the EU. To point the finger at someone is to say that it was their fault. Whoever is being blamed in the newspapers, there is a generally reported belief held by the UK public that their political leaders are out of touch with their citizens. To be out of touch with people is to fail to understand their concerns.

Other idioms feature in the papers on a variety of themes. One journalist writes that we should have seen the warning signs of feeling against the European Union before the referendum. A warning sign is an early signal that something bad or dangerous might happen. The same paper, noting that the majority of people in London voted to stay in the EU, says that some Londoners are calling for London to go it alone, (=to be independent). Another paper, focusing on the process that will lead to Britain leaving the EU, reports that London and Brussels both seem reluctant to make the first move (=to be the first to take action). All papers report that the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has warned the UK that it cannot cherry-pick its conditions in future negotiations with the EU. To cherry-pick is to choose only the best things in a group.

A week has now passed since the UK’s referendum and so much is up in the air (= uncertain). We may well revisit this topic in a month or two.


18 thoughts on “Brexit idioms

  1. Hadeel Hammam

    Some idioms are very close to my sense as they fully fit to my Arabic language on the literal level as well as the meaning level. Of them are with the lightning speed, warning signs and pointing the finger. With the last idiom we usually add the accusation; the accusation finger. We use them literally in the same contexts. For the others such as: make the first move and the blame game are easily grasped and used in the same context even with the literal translation. Am I going to cherry-pick when it regards to use alive idioms from very alive language? Thank you,Kate for this great top post

  2. Kate Woodford

    Hi! Thanks for taking the trouble to get in touch. That’s really interesting. (I particularly like the ‘accusation finger’!) We’ll be posting more on idioms in the months to come. All the best to you!

  3. Pingback: Brexit idioms | CSantaAna in English

  4. Thanh Tuan Nguyen

    It is interesting idioms that helps me clearly understand events about the British’s referendum of leaving EU. Thanks for your composition, especially the meaning of the idiom “cherry-pick”. All the best to you

  5. Allen

    Thanks very much indeed for all your efforts and great job. I would really enjoy reading them as some of them are attached to real life situations. I always follow the UK Parliament Prime Minister’s Question Time and I find them very useful and practical

  6. Shruthi

    Hi Kate, the article was very nice indeed!!! It really helped me a lot in understanding the brexit negotiations. Keep doing the good work!!

  7. Iuliana

    Thank you enormously, I used to search for idioms myself in books and it takes much more time to find them, plus they aren`t as actual. The ones in these articles are on spot. I`ve alredy read most of the editions and can`t wait for new collections of idioms. You are a great professional! Thank you once again!

  8. lucy zhang

    For a low-level chinese learner, it really helps me a lot, accessible and convenient to take notes! Thank Kate sincerely!

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