A flash in the pan (Newspaper idioms)

Listen to the author reading this blog post:

a smiling woman reading a newspaper on the bus
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by Kate Woodford

Today’s post is the latest in my ‘newspaper idioms and phrases’ series. The aim of this series is to keep you supplied with up-to-date, frequent English idioms. As with previous ‘newspaper idioms’ posts, these expressions all come from a range of national newspapers published on the same day.

Starting with a tabloid newspaper, a journalist writes that a period of warm weather predicted for the UK will be ‘a flash in the pan’ before the rain and cold return. A flash in the pan is something that lasts only for a short time. On the next page, it is reported that two footballers in England’s team had matching tattoos done in time for the Women’s World Cup. The players, it says, ‘bit the bullet’ in Australia. To bite the bullet is to force yourself to do something difficult or unpleasant.

Of course, the Women’s World Cup features prominently in this and all the papers. In the sports pages of the same tabloid, a journalist writes that the English team coach ‘keeps us guessing’ over who exactly will play in the next game. To keep someone guessing is to deliberately not tell them what you are going to do next. Also in the sports pages, it is written that a winning football team ‘gave’ their opponents ‘both barrels’. To give someone both barrels or let someone have both barrels is to attack or criticize them very forcefully.

Another tabloid reports that a celebrity who used to be famous for partying has ‘cleaned up her act’ and now has a very healthy, sensible lifestyle. If someone (informal) cleans up their act, they start behaving responsibly in a way that other people approve of. Meanwhile, a feature on an actor from the past claims that his drinking of alcohol was ‘off the scale’. Something that is off the scale is very great in degree or amount. Still on the subject of health, an article in the same paper recommends that people who can’t sleep at night should ‘up sticks’ to quieter, wealthier neighbourhoods. Up sticks is a British idiom, meaning ‘to go and live in a different place, with all your possessions’. The US equivalent is pull up stakes.

In the broadsheet, it’s the sports articles that provide most of the nice idioms. A brilliant gymnast who has had a difficult two years is once again winning competitions. She is quoted as saying that recently, everything has ‘fallen into place’. When things fall into place, they happen in a satisfactory way, without problems. Meanwhile, the goalkeeper on the winning side of an important football match is so surprised, she says she is ‘at a loss for words’. If you are at a loss for words or lost for words, you are so surprised or shocked, you cannot speak. Finally for this post, one of England’s star football players is in a race ‘against the clock’ to be fit enough to play. If you do something against the clock, you do it as fast as possible in order to meet a deadline.

I hope this post has taught you a few useful idioms. I’ll publish another of these ‘newspaper idioms’ posts in a couple of months.

14 thoughts on “A flash in the pan (Newspaper idioms)

  1. Mamoon

    Hi Kate 👋

    Hope you’re doing well

    Been away of late, will try to catch up and as always glad to read this post.

    Thank you

  2. Alan Evans

    A flash in the pan is not really an idiom for something that takes a short time. It’s etymology as with so many terms relates to the early days of firearms. In the days of matchlock and flintlock muskets a “flash in the pan” was an unsuccessful attempt to fire the piece. The musket had a small pan in which loose powder was placed, with a small hole that went through to the main charge in the otherwise closed end of the breech of the barrel. The operation of the trigger would either apply the slow match, or cause sparks from the flint and steel of the lock, depending on the type, to be applied to the powder in the pan. This powder ignites, hence the flash, but fails to propagate through the hole to the breach. So in this case the flash stays only in the pan. So a flash in the pan is an aborted attempt to start something.

    1. Ansauro

      Excellent explanation for this metaphoric term.
      Also,It is used to mean an effort or person that promises a great sucesos but fails.

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