Calling it quits and pitting your wits! (Idioms and phrases in newspapers)

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a father and his young daughter sitting next to each other on a sofa and reading a news magazine together
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by Kate Woodford

Today’s post is the latest in my ‘Idioms and phrases in newspapers’ series, which I write in order to provide you with a regular supply of contemporary, frequently used English idioms and phrases. The expressions all come from a range of national newspapers that were published on the same day.

Let’s start with a broadsheet in which there is an admiring obituary for the judge of a TV dance competition who has recently died. The report describes the judge’s eagle eye for detail and reflects that despite his age, he certainly wasn’t a stick-in-the-mud. If someone has an eagle eye, they notice everything, even small details, and a stick-in-the-mud (informal) is someone with old-fashioned ideas who is not interested in trying new or exciting things. The obituary ends by saying that it is with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to the celebrity judge. If you say or do something with a heavy heart, you feel sad as you say or do it.

Elsewhere in the same broadsheet, there’s an article about a politician who has recently lost his job over claims that he bullied his staff. The journalist confesses that she is glad to see the back of him. In UK English, if you are pleased or glad to see the back of someone unpleasant, you are pleased that they are leaving. Another article on the subject of bullying describes a colleague who was so unhappy working for her boss (a bully) that she eventually called it quits. To call it quits (informal) is to leave a situation, especially a job.

In the sports pages of a tabloid, a brilliant young snooker player in a competition is said to believe that the writing is on the wall for the current champion. If the writing (US also ‘handwriting’) is on the wall for something or someone, there are clear signs that they will soon fail or stop existing. In the same pages, it’s written that the manager of one football team will pit his wits against the manager of a rival team and that he will do something to get under the other manager’s skin. If you pit your wits against someone, you use your cleverness to try to defeat them, and if you get under someone’s skin, you annoy them.

Finally, in another tabloid, it’s said that business leaders have taken the UK Prime Minister to task over a proposed policy that they think will harm business. To take someone to task is to criticize them.

I hope you found this round-up of idioms interesting. I’ll be back with another in this series in a couple of months.

9 thoughts on “Calling it quits and pitting your wits! (Idioms and phrases in newspapers)

  1. Ana Rosa García García

    This post is perfect for our 17-year-old students who are doing their advanced exams in English, as they work with newspaper articles for their reading comprehension tests. Thank you very much.


    I find the post really interesting. I am not always concious about the amount of sayings and idioms and their meaning when reading a newspaper. Thanks!!!

  3. Mohammed Adil Tagari

    This was great. I am an orator and have found that sprinkling colloquialisms or idioms onto my lectures adds a layer of relatability, helps to break down stiff barriers with the audience and cements my own standing as a truly, genuine, bona fide, native English speaker.

    Your round-up added to my cache of handy idioms.

    Much appreciated!

    1. Kate Woodford

      That’s so nice to hear! I’m delighted you found this useful. Best wishes to you from Cambridge.

  4. I can’t wait for the next post in this series! Thank you for taking the time to create such informative and enjoyable content. Keep up the fantastic work, and I’ll be eagerly looking forward to the next round-up of idioms!

    1. Kate Woodford

      That’s lovely to read – thank you! As a matter of fact, I’m writing the latest ‘newspaper idioms’ post now!

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