Head over heels! (Love idioms)

by Kate Woodford

LWA/Dann Tardiff/Blend Images/Getty
LWA/Dann Tardiff/Blend Images/Getty

With Valentine’s Day almost upon us, our attention at About Words has turned to love, or more specifically, the various phrases and idioms that we use to describe romantic love. If love is on your mind, read on…

We’ll begin this post with the start of romantic love. When you fall in love, you start to love someone romantically: They met in the spring of 2009 and fell madly in love.

If you start to love someone from the first time you see them, you may describe the experience as love at first sightAl and I met in a friend’s kitchen and it was love at first sight for both of us. Continue reading “Head over heels! (Love idioms)”

Let’s call it a day. (Everyday idioms in newspapers)

by Kate Woodford

Darrin Klimek/DigitalVision/Getty
Darrin Klimek/DigitalVision/Getty

As regular readers of this blog will know, now and then we like to focus on frequent idioms – that is, the sort of idioms that you are likely to hear or read in current English. One way in which we do this is by looking at the idioms that are used in a range of national newspapers published on the same day. Here, then, are the common idioms that we found in papers on Monday, December 12th.

One broadsheet newspaper has an article on all the ways that companies nowadays try to make their employees happy at work. According to the author, companies go to great lengths (= use a lot of effort) to make the office environment fun. Elsewhere, the same paper reports that a new movie has swept the board at an international award ceremony. When someone or something sweeps the board, they win all the awards that are available. Continue reading “Let’s call it a day. (Everyday idioms in newspapers)”

Turning over a new leaf: idioms and phrases for the New Year

by Liz Walter

Lewis Mulatero/Moment Mobile/Getty
Lewis Mulatero/Moment Mobile/Getty

New Year is a time when we often take stock of our life (think about what is good or bad about it). We may feel that we should draw a line under the past (finish with it and forget about it) and make a fresh start. This post looks at idioms and other phrases connected with this phenomenon.

If we decide to stop doing something we consider to be bad and to start behaving in a better way, we can say that we are going to turn over a new leaf. We might decide to kick a habit such as smoking (stop doing it), have a crack at (try) a new hobby, or even leave a dead-end job (one with no chance of promotion) or finish a relationship that isn’t going anywhere. Continue reading “Turning over a new leaf: idioms and phrases for the New Year”

Mixed feelings. (the language of being unsure)

by Kate Woodford

Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty
Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty

Some of the time we are absolutely certain about our opinions and feelings, but now and then we are not. This post looks at the words and phrases that we use to express the fact that we are unsure, either of the way we feel or the way we think.

Sometimes we don’t understand how we feel about something because we seem to experience two opposite emotions or reactions at the same time. A very common phrase for this is mixed feelings/emotions: I had mixed feelings about leaving home – in some ways sad, but also quite excited.

The same idea can be expressed by the adjective ambivalent:

Many were ambivalent about the experience, expressing both positive and negative views. Continue reading “Mixed feelings. (the language of being unsure)”

Getting into the holiday spirit? Idioms and phrases for family gatherings

by Liz Walter

KidStock/Blend Images/Getty
KidStock/Blend Images/Getty

At this time of year, many people around the world gather with their families to celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, and other festivals. Relatives come to stay with you, share large meals, and give presents. It sounds lovely, doesn’t it? But when families get together, there can be tension, too. This post looks at some common idioms and phrases that we use to describe what can happen when families have a little too much togetherness.

In our dreams, we imagine cosy family meals with the kids on their best behaviour and everyone being careful to steer clear of (avoid) those topics they know will cause Great-Uncle Henry to go off on one (UK )/go off on someone (US). We want our parties to go (UK) / go off (US) with a bang  (be very successful) so that everyone has a whale of a time (enjoys themselves very much) and Great-Uncle Henry forgets his usual complaints and turns into the life and soul of the party (becomes happy and sociable). Continue reading “Getting into the holiday spirit? Idioms and phrases for family gatherings”

The US election in 24 hours of words

Catherine Lane/iStock/Getty
Catherine Lane/iStock/Getty

November 8, 2016, marked the end of one of the most eventful presidential election campaigns in United States history. People across the globe watched closely as American voters turned out to cast their votes for their next president – including the millions of people who use the Cambridge Dictionary to help them understand the language used in the English-speaking media.

The Cambridge Dictionary staff tracked the words that were looked up most frequently in the 24 hours from when the polls opened the morning of November 8 until the morning of November 9. All of the words in this blog post that are linked to definitions in the dictionary were looked up with unusual frequency. The full list is at the end of this post. Continue reading “The US election in 24 hours of words”

Idioms and phrases related to eating

by Kate Woodford

Moretti/Viant/Caiaimage/Getty
Moretti/Viant/Caiaimage/Getty

It is sometimes said that the next best thing to eating food is talking about food. If this is true, we need the vocabulary with which to do it! In this post, we focus on idioms, phrasal verbs and other phrases that we use to talk about eating.

As you might imagine, many of the more colourful phrases in English relate to eating a lot. Someone who has eaten too much may say informally that they have made a pig of themselves: I made a real pig of myself at lunch. Continue reading “Idioms and phrases related to eating”

I slept like a log. (Sleep idioms)

by Kate Woodford

C.Aranega/Moment/Getty
C.Aranega/Moment/Getty

This week, we’re looking at the surprising number of idioms in English that relate to sleep and rest. Try to stay awake till the end!

Starting with the morning, if you say that someone is in the land of the living, you mean that they are awake. This is a humorous phrase, sometimes used of someone who has finally woken up after a lie-in (= a British expression for the time when someone has stayed in bed in the morning later than usual):

I was hoping to speak to Klara. Is she in the land of the living, do you know?

In the US and the UK, this is called sleeping in. Continue reading “I slept like a log. (Sleep idioms)”

Brexit idioms

by Kate Woodford

Andrew Linscott/iStock/Getty
Andrew Linscott/iStock/Getty

Every two or three months on this blog, we look at the idioms being used in a range of daily newspapers in the UK. This week, we thought it might be interesting to look specifically at the idioms used in relation to the UK’s recent decision to leave the European Union, (Brexit). As ever, we have only included frequent idioms – in other words, the sort of phrases that you are likely to hear or read in other places.

One newspaper reports that since the referendum, events have been moving with lightning speed (= extremely quickly). Possibly the most dramatic of those events was Prime Minister David Cameron’s announcement the day after the election that he would resign. This, said one newspaper, fired the starting gun on (= started) his party’s leadership contest. In another newspaper, a journalist writes that he wants there to be a general election in Britain. However, he adds that a general election may only be a sticking-plaster solution for the nation’s very serious, long-term problems. A sticking plaster is a way of dealing with a problem that is only temporary. Continue reading “Brexit idioms”

Surprise, surprise!

by Kate Woodford

Mark Finney/Moment/Getty

Life is full of surprises, so they say. Sometimes the surprises are welcome and sometimes not, but however we feel about them, they are a fact of life. This week, then, we’re looking at the language that we use to talk about things that we are not expecting, and the way that we react to these things.

Something that happens suddenly, happens quickly, often when you are not expecting it: I don’t remember anything about the accident – it all happened so suddenly. Other ways of saying ‘suddenly’ are the phrases all of a sudden and all at once: He was walking along perfectly happily and then, all of a sudden, he collapsed./All at once, there was a loud crashing sound. Continue reading “Surprise, surprise!”