The calm before the storm (Newspaper idioms)

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a group of people standing around a man who is reading a newspaper under an umbrella, illustrating a post on the meaning of "the calm before the storm" and other idioms in newspapers
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by Kate Woodford

Readers of our About Words blog often ask us for posts on currently used English idioms. One way that we make sure we give you up-to-date idioms is by looking at expressions used in current newspapers. This week, the idioms come from a range of national newspapers that were published on 5 October 2023.

One broadsheet reports on Paris Fashion Week, writing that the celebrities were ‘out in force’. If people are somewhere in force, they are present in large numbers. (The preposition ‘out’ often goes before this phrase.) A few pages later, the paper reviews a new documentary on a celebrity couple, telling readers not to expect a ’warts and all deep dive into’ the subject. A warts and all study of someone includes all the bad bits, making no attempt to hide them. (If you haven’t heard this phrase before, a deep dive is a detailed examination of a subject.)

Elsewhere in the same paper, an article on artificial intelligence quotes a politician as saying that humanity is ‘at a crossroads’ in relation to AI. If you are at a crossroads, you are at a point where a vital decision must be made that will affect your future. On the same page, a journalist suggests that a UK political party is too confident about winning a local election. She complains that the party is ‘taking’ the victory ‘for granted’. If you take something for granted, you expect it to happen or be the case, without thinking about it properly. Finally for that newspaper, a sports journalist describes the England cricket team’s warm welcome to India as the calm before the storm. This idiom refers to a quiet or peaceful period before a time in which there is great activity or difficulty.

Another broadsheet reports on the UK prime minister’s speech at a conference and describes him as ‘setting out his stall’. In UK English, if you set out your stall, you make your intentions or opinions very clear. In the same paper, a celebrity chef is reported as having said that he regrets his fame because it has ‘taken such a toll’ on his personal life. If something takes a toll or takes its toll, it causes harm or suffering.

In the tabloid newspaper, there is a reference to something that a famous interviewer said before he ‘popped his clogs’. In UK English, pop your clogs is an informal and humorous way of saying ‘die’. The sports pages of this paper provide the last two idioms for this post. A football team who have lost seven games this season are finally, it says, ‘up and running’ with their first win. The idiom up and running is usually said of a system or a machine and it means that it is now operating successfully. Meanwhile, another team are said to be ‘one step forward, two steps back’. If you are or take one step forward, two steps back, you make some progress in a situation but then experience problems that mean the situation is now worse than when you started.

I hope you’ve learnt a few useful idioms here. I’ll be back with another of these ‘newspaper idioms’ posts in a couple of months.

28 thoughts on “The calm before the storm (Newspaper idioms)

  1. shalombresticker

    Nice, I learned a couple of British idioms that were new to me. Let’s see posts like this more often. Thanks!

  2. Jose Rios

    This expression is also used in my country. Thank you very much for the explanation that helps me to practice English better.

  3. Chashka

    That’s great, thank you! I’d love to get to know much more idioms from newspapers it’d amazing if you continue this article

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