Rushed off my feet: words connected with hard work

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by Liz Walter

Last month I wrote about laziness and doing nothing, but this month, when most people are back at work and school begins again (in the UK at least), the topic is the opposite: hard work and being busy.

There are several colourful idioms connected with having too much work to do. If you are up to your eyes/eyeballs/neck/ears in work, there is a very large amount of it to do. We can also say that we are rushed off our feet – this phrase is usually for when the work involves standing up or moving around, for example working in a shop or café. In UK English, an informal way of saying that a job or situation (for example, running a family) is busy is to say that it’s all go.

If you say you have your hands full with something, you mean that it takes up all your time and you can’t do anything else. You could also say that you have a lot on your plate. If you say you are chasing your tail or running (a)round in circles, you mean that you are very busy but not managing to achieve much. If people are trying hard to do something but they are in a panic and not being effective, they are running (a)round like headless chickens. Note that US English speakers usually say around while UK English speakers say either around or round.

If someone is working very hard at the moment, we can say that they have their nose to the grindstone or that they have their head down. These two phrases are often used for students who are trying to do well, especially when they are preparing for exams.

A general adjective for someone who works very hard is hard-working. A more formal word is industrious. If we describe someone as conscientious, we mean that they put a lot of effort into doing their work as well as they can. If someone is willing to go the extra mile, they do more than is necessary in order to do something as well as they possibly can. If it takes hard physical effort to do something (for example cleaning something) we say that it needs elbow grease, and if you want to say that you made an extreme amount of effort, you could say you sweated blood to achieve it.

I hope all this talk of effort, exertion and slog (informal) doesn’t make you feel tired – we all need to try to have a good work-life balance, so don’t bust a gut (work too hard)!


28 thoughts on “Rushed off my feet: words connected with hard work

  1. Maryem Salama

    In our Libyan dialect, we say, “no time to scratch one’s head” describing a very rush hour or a completely involvement in a work. Once my seven year daughter requested me to play with her, so I said this metaphoric expression she replied literally: “mama let me scratch your head and play with me

  2. Tatiana Balandina

    Thank you,Liz! Your articles are always very informative.My question is: Can the expression “to be head over heels ” doing someting be used in such siyuations?

  3. Sisir Kumar Panday

    Thanks Liz for teaching us the versatile and the most used language of the world, ‘The English Language’.


    Hi… I am new here and I loved this article, I have found it so useful. Could you please help me with some info about meanings on phrasal verbs? Those are my problem in my introduction for the English World… Thanks so much and have a nice day!!!

  5. Bwalya siame

    The idioms are quite interesting, they have helped in improving my grammar. I have my nose to the grindstone in improving my grammar.

  6. Berk

    Liz Walter really makes it easy to learn this language. I hope you keep posting as you have been doing for ages.
    I encountered one of your works when I go abroad (precisely when I needed it the most), ever since I’ve become a big silent fan of her. She is my stimulating online teacher who makes me more enthusiastic and eager.
    (What about the phrasal verb, buckle down? I expected to see it among others while I was reading.)

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