Playing second fiddle (Everyday idioms in newspapers)

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by Kate Woodford

Every few months on this blog, we like to pick out the idioms that have been used in a range of national newspapers published on the same day. As with previous posts, we include only the most frequent idioms – in other words, the sort of idioms that you might read or hear in current English.

One tabloid newspaper reports that a television celebrity who used to be very concerned about what the public thought about her, at 49, ‘couldn’t give two hoots’. To not care/give two hoots about something is to not care at all. Another paper quotes a celebrity as saying that she and her husband are ‘not in each other’s pockets’ since they work away from home much of the time. If two people live or are in each other’s pockets, they are with each other all the time and depend on each other. The same paper describes the meeting of minds that sometimes happens in school lessons. A meeting of minds is a situation in which two or more people discover that they have the same opinion about something.

On the sports pages of a tabloid paper, a journalist refers to a heavyweight boxer as Mr Nice Guy. People sometimes use the phrase ‘No more Mr Nice Guy’ to mean that they are going to stop being kind and considerate towards other people and start doing what they want to do. The same pages report on a famous tennis player’s performance in an important game. They describe her as gathering a head of steam. To build up/work up a head of steam is to start to do something with energy and determination. Another journalist states that a famous racing driver is now prepared to play second fiddle to his team-mate. If you play second fiddle to someone else, you are in a less important position than them. Less pleasantly, a footballer who was ordered to leave the pitch for violent behaviour was said to ‘see red’ at the decision. To see red is to suddenly become very angry.

Meanwhile, a broadsheet reports that a famous actor has poured scorn on people who say that we should remove the more difficult bits of Shakespeare from his plays so that more people can understand them. To pour scorn on someone or something is to say that they are stupid and worth nothing.

Of course, the papers are not just concerned with celebrities and sport. The same broadsheet claims that one of the two main candidates in the French presidential election is rolling up his sleeves to compete with another. To roll up your sleeves is to prepare for hard work.

If you’re keen to learn about English idioms, keep checking in as we’ll take another look at the papers in a couple of months.

16 thoughts on “Playing second fiddle (Everyday idioms in newspapers)

  1. Hadeel Hammam

    I am excited and ready to roll up my sleeves to learn and fully absorb all these amazing English idioms. I will be seeing red if anyone or anything prevents me. no more Mr nice guy with them.

  2. Judy Wang

    How wonderful I found this website accidentally while I was looking for a dictionary for my cellphone. And I love to learn true and correct English by it ~

  3. Fungus

    This sentence in the blog :
    ” …One tabloid newspaper reports that a television celebrity who used to be very concerned about what the public thought about her, at 49, ‘couldn’t give two hoots’…..”

    This is a contradiction because you can’t be ” very concerned about …” and the same time ” ‘couldn’t give two hoots’…..” ( or do I understand this sentence incorrectly … ? )

    1. kathleen trieschmann

      she used to be concerned about what people thought about her implies that in her past, this was the case. but now, at age 49 things are different- she now couldn’t give two hoots. get it? past, present

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