Don’t hold your breath! The language of planning, part 2

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by Kate Woodford

Last month we looked at the language of planning and making arrangements. Sadly, not everything in life goes according to plan (=happens as intended) and it is wise to keep this in mind when making arrangements! This post, then, focuses on planning words and phrases that relate to problems.

A contingency is something that you know might happen in the future which would cause problems and require further arrangements:

We must prepare for all contingencies.

A contingency plan is a plan that can be used if a problem arises (=happens):

Fortunately, a contingency plan was in place for dealing with such emergencies.

A fallback plan is a plan that you can use if your first, preferred plan doesn’t succeed:

We need a fallback plan in case it rains during the picnic.

A slightly more informal way of referring to a fallback plan is Plan B:

If for some reason that isn’t possible, Plan B is to meet after the game.

A plan that will not succeed because it has not been considered carefully enough is sometimes described disapprovingly as half-baked:

The government had come up with a half-baked scheme for training teachers on the job.

The opposite – something that has been planned in an effective and thoughtful way – may be described as well thought out:

The whole course was very well thought out.

If something official that has been planned or agreed fails, it might be said to fall through:

We found a buyer for the house, but then the sale fell through. 

An idiom with a similar meaning is to come to nothing. If plans come to nothing, they fail:

So much effort and planning and it’s all come to nothing. 

There are other useful idioms that exist to describe problems with planning. If someone is making plans that depend on something good happening, but that good thing may not happen, people sometimes warn them, don’t count your chickens before they hatch:

‘I think we should buy a car with the profit.’ ‘Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. We haven’t actually made any money yet!’

To tell someone, humorously, that you don’t think something desirable that is planned will actually happen, you might say, don’t hold your breath:

Clare says the project might be finished by the end of the month.’ ‘Yeah, don’t hold your breath!’

When discussing plans, someone might mention a problem that could happen in the future. To tell them that you will deal with the problem if it happens, but won’t worry about it now, you could say, we’ll cross that bridge when we come/get to it:

‘And what if we don’t have enough staff for all the extra business?’ ‘Well, I think we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.’

I hope all your plans this week come off (=succeed)!

22 thoughts on “Don’t hold your breath! The language of planning, part 2

  1. Maryem Salama

    “The government had come up with a half-baked scheme for training teachers on the job” Oh, my dear, as if you were here and I am one of those teachers, but my plan B was refreshing my mind with a previous TKT exam, otherwise I failed to cross the bridge when I came to teach this school year. Thank you, Kate.

  2. Daniel Lougheed

    In John Steinbeck’s ‘ The Winter Of Our Discontent’,ch.6, 1st. par, he writes, “Then one day, fencing a piece of time to face the problem,”
    Q. Could you explain the use of, the word ‘fencing’, in the sentence.

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi Daniel. Hard to say without more context. My best guess from that line alone would be that he means he’ll set aside a bit of time to deal with a problem?

  3. dingwe

    love this article! 🙂 Definitely would want to print it out and read it for several times. Really helpful to me!

  4. Szilárd

    Thank you for this wonderful compilation of useful phrases! I love them! I have a grammatical question though with the following sentence in the article: “There are other useful idioms exist to describe problems with planning.” Shouldn’t there be a that/which preceding the word exist in this sentence? If not, what part of speech is exist in the sentence?

    1. Kate Woodford

      Thanks for your lovely comment! Yes, you’re absolutely right about the missing ‘that’! My apologies.It’s now been added. Best wishes.

  5. Jorge Alayon

    Thank you very much! This is a very useful article, but I have a question about one paragraph, actually a sentence written in it. “There are other useful idioms exist to describe problems with planning…”
    This sentence seems somewhat not grammatically correct to me. But then again, English is not my native tongue. since I look up to native writers and the way they write to improve my English writing, it would be really helpful to be 100% sure if that sentence is syntactically correct. Thanks!

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi Jorge! Thanks for pointing this out. A ‘that’ was missing, (‘idioms that exist’) which we’ve now added!

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