Green shoots and fertile ground (Idioms with nature words, part 2)

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by Kate Woodford

Part 1 of this ‘nature idioms’ post looked at flower idioms. Today, we’re lowering our gaze to the ground and looking at idioms that feature mud and grass. We’ll start, appropriately enough, with phrases that include the word ‘seed’, (= the tiny thing from which a plant grows).

If you sow / plant the seeds of something, (often something bad), you cause it to start and develop: The politician was accused of sowing the seeds of hatred and division. When older people stop looking attractive and youthful, people sometimes say (rather unkindly) that they have gone to seed, especially when they look as if they are not taking care of themselves: He plays the part of an ageing, unemployed actor who’s gone to seed.

Following on from the seed, the shoot is the first part of the plant to appear above the ground. You often hear the phrase the green shoots (of recovery), meaning ‘the first signs of improvement in the economy, after a recession’: These figures would suggest that we’re starting to see the green shoots of economic recovery.

While we’re thinking about growth, we say that a situation or place is fertile ground for something when it tends to produce a lot of it: Dysfunctional families, of course, have long been fertile ground for comedy.

Mud (= wet earth) features in a few nice idioms. If something is difficult to understand, you might say, humorously, that it’s as clear as mud: The law on this is as clear as mud. Someone whose name is mud is not liked by a group of people who are angry about something that he or she has done: To many in the community, his name is mud. To drag someone’s name through the mud, meanwhile, is to damage their reputation by saying insulting things about them, often unfairly: My name has been dragged through the mud in these courts.

Still looking at the ground, ‘grass’ features in the common saying, The grass is always greener on the other side. This saying refers to the human tendency to believe that other people’s situations are better than our own (even when they’re not): I sometimes look enviously at other people’s careers. I guess the grass is always greener on the other side.

In British English, if a matter is kicked into the long grass, especially by politicians, it is delayed, often in the hope that people will forget about it: She complained that the issue had been kicked into the long grass.

Finally for grass, someone who is put out to grass is forced to leave their job because they are considered too old: He couldn’t help feeling that he’d been put out to grass.

Pasture (= grass-covered land for cows) features in the idiom greener / new pastures, meaning ‘a new place or activity, offering fresh opportunities’. In British English, the slightly literary phrase pastures new is also used: I’d been in the same job for years and it was time to seek greener pastures. / I hear James is leaving the company for pastures new.

My third and final post on nature idioms will feature trees and bushes. I hope you’ll be back to read it!

8 thoughts on “Green shoots and fertile ground (Idioms with nature words, part 2)

    1. Kate Woodford

      Richard, many thanks for highlighting that. ‘Pasture’ is used in this phrase in British English too. Best wishes from Cambridge.

  1. vita

    I had some difficulty finding this post.
    why have they left out the posts from the front page?
    I hope they will bring them back.

    1. Thanks for getting in touch! We had a brief technical issue that prevented blog posts from being featured on the Cambridge Dictionary website. This has now been fixed, and you should be able to see them again as usual.

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