Raising your game and squaring the circle (Everyday idioms in newspapers)

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by Kate Woodford

The idioms and phrases in this post come from a range of national newspapers that were published on the same day. We write a post on newspaper idioms every couple of months with the aim of keeping you supplied with up-to-date, frequently used English idioms.

One tabloid, commenting on the plot of a well-known television soap opera, writes about the ins and outs of life on the fictitious square where the characters are supposed to live. The ins and outs of a situation or process are the detailed or complicated facts relating to it.

The television critic of another tabloid reviews a show that he thinks fails in its ambitious aims. He uses the British idiom to square the circle, meaning ‘to try to do something that is impossible’. In this paper, as with so many, it is the sports pages that contain the most idioms. A Welsh cyclist, it is reported, has the greatest prize in cycling within his grasp. To have something desirable within your grasp is to be in a position where you might now achieve it. A footballer says of his team that they are going to have to raise their game. To raise your game is to make an effort to improve the way you do something. The same footballer has his career described as a rags-to-riches football story. He started in low-level clubs and now plays in the top football league. Rags-to-riches usually describes a person who was poor but has become rich. Later, in the same sports pages, a much criticized young footballer is said to give short shrift to his critics. If you get or are given short shrift by someone, they give you little attention or sympathy.

The main pages of a regional freesheet report that the US president’s daughter has arrived in the UK hot on the heels of her father’s UK visit. To do something hot on the heels of something else is to do it very soon after. (American English uses the phrase hard on the heels.) The business pages of the same paper describe a company as being on the up. The British idiom on the up means ‘to be improving all the time’. In the sports pages, a cyclist’s ambitions to win a race are said to hang by a thread. If a situation hangs by a thread, a bad result is likely.

Finally, a journalist in a broadsheet expresses frustration with a political party and writes that they must rise to the occasion. To rise to the occasion/challenge is to prove that you can deal with a difficult situation successfully.

16 thoughts on “Raising your game and squaring the circle (Everyday idioms in newspapers)

  1. Ile

    Some of these are just the same in Italian, too, such as to square the circle, many say here it comes from the Medieval time…

    1. Galebahi

      “Square the circle” is also used in french, “chercher la quadrature du cercle”. This idiom comes from a mathematical problem which is impossible to resolve.

  2. Maryem Salama

    Everything you write, dear Kate, is brilliant as usual. I am only still struggling to grasp this idiom” within someone grasp”. Thank you…

    1. Kate Woodford

      Thanks, Maryem! How kind! Re that ‘grasp’ phrase. If a prize/medal, etc. is within your grasp, there is now a good chance that you will win it. It may help to know that to grasp something, literally, is to quickly and firmly take hold of something with your hand. I hope that helps!

  3. F Hossain

    I’m an avid reader of your posts. The posts are unique for its simplified examples with every idioms and phrases. But sadly, examples have been dropped from this writing though I admit the idioms are mostly self-explanatory. Hope we’d see it in the upcoming posts. Nevertheless, thank you so much for producing such a fabulous piece as always.

  4. Galia

    Dear Mrs Woodford
    You cannot imagine how I myself and all of my students
    enjoy all your posts.
    Thanks a million!!!

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