We’re on a roll! (Everyday idioms in newspapers)

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by Kate Woodford

We like to keep you supplied with frequent, up-to-date idioms on this blog. One way in which we do this is by reading, every few months, a range of national newspapers that were published on the same day. We then pick out the idioms and phrases in use. As ever, we only include common, current idioms and phrases – in other words, the type that will be most useful to learn.

This week’s phrases come from tabloid newspapers. (Strangely, the broadsheets that I read contained few phrases of interest.) Starting off with an idiom that was in two newspapers, a member of the British government, it is said, has been ‘hung out to dry’ over a scandal affecting the whole government. If someone is hung out to dry, they are left to fail on their own, with no one else defending or supporting them.

Elsewhere in the same paper, it is reported that a TV celebrity has ‘set her sights on’ becoming an online lifestyle guru. To set your sights on a goal is to decide that you want to achieve it.

The same paper notes that a serious crime was not widely reported in the media while other, less important events received a great deal of attention. Sometimes, it says, we ‘lose sight of’ what matters. To lose sight of something important is to forget about it because you are focusing on less important things.

The business pages, meanwhile, report on a businessman who is ‘on a roll’, forming a new company and becoming involved in various other projects. The informal phrase to be on a roll means ‘to be experiencing a period of success or good luck’. The same pages also describe a company as being ‘on its knees’, meaning ‘failing’. (The idiom bring someone or something to their knees also exists, meaning ‘to cause someone or something to fail’.) In the same piece, a businessman is said to be ‘at loggerheads’ with the management of a company he used to own. To be at loggerheads with someone is to strongly disagree with them. Another article complains that some groups in society pay more than others for the same goods and services. It is time, they say, to ‘level the playing field’. This is a reference to the phrase level playing field, meaning ‘a fair situation where everyone is treated equally’.

Another tabloid rudely comments that a celebrity chef has been piling on the pounds, meaning ‘putting on weight’. On a different subject, the same paper quotes a British politician as saying that the Prime Minister must ‘get to the bottom of’ a particularly difficult situation. To get to the bottom of something is to discover the truth about it, often when it is hidden.

Finally, a photograph of a famous boxer, it is reported, will soon ‘go under the hammer’. To go/come under the hammer is to be sold at an auction (= a public sale where people make offers for items).

34 thoughts on “We’re on a roll! (Everyday idioms in newspapers)

  1. Luc

    Dear Kate,

    Great article, but if I may, I think it would be even more instructive for your reader if you would explain the origins of the various phrases which you are giving the meaning of.

    E.g. “to come under the hammer” finds its origin in the fact that the auctioneer strikes the top of his desk with a small hammer when nobody upbids the last bidder, thereby declaring that the object for sale is awarded to the last bidder at that particular price.

    Giving explanations as to the origins of such phrases often makes it both more interesting and easier to remember.

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi Luc! Thanks for this! I take your point completely. A lot of people are very interested in word/phrase origins and they can, as you say, help with memorizing meanings. However, we have very limited space for these posts so in the interests of brevity, we tend not to include such information. Very best wishes.

      1. Magati Bw'Obebo

        As a journalist myself, allow me to quickly point out that most of these expressions have lost their salt.

        A good reporter must learn to play with words to weave fresh beatiful expressions which breath fresh air into their story.

    2. Billy

      Just remember that this a hard thing for me to do ,vent my feelings but I do know that I have to but don’t want give up on sg!! so I’ll pull away and concentrate on myself and I will apologise firstly to her for not saying enough cause actually I was scared should have stood up like a man for that for that I’m sincerely SORRY now for anyone else maybe in the past or the near future trying to help me by dragging me kicking and screaming out of this hole stinking of self pity a big THANKYOU I will get on with my journey.

  2. Timothy Sosnowski

    Wake up in the morning with a new word to help and decipher our complexities on this vast and ever expansive planet. Bring on the next word of the next second…..hour….day…year…. millenia…



  4. khush Dev

    It is very knowledgeable things to learn the idioms and phrases so I want to learn all of this idioms and remember it on daily usage or on the professional front , I keep them in mind , thank you so much.

  5. MMM Mshuta

    Hello every one I’m still new , may someone help me how do I save my favorite words thank you.

  6. Elaine

    Hi, I’m from Taipei,Taiwan.
    I highly recommend this website as reading it day by day surely enhances my versatility in using of words and phrases.

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