Picking holes and taking a dig (The language of criticizing)

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by Kate Woodford

Even the most positive among us now and then say that we think something is bad. Very often we do it for the right reasons, hoping for improvement or even suggesting ways in which something can be improved. Sometimes, we do it because we are angry, upset or jealous. This week we’re looking at the words and idioms in this area, as ever, focusing on current, useful language.

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Raising your game and squaring the circle (Everyday idioms in newspapers)

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by Kate Woodford

The idioms and phrases in this post come from a range of national newspapers that were published on the same day. We write a post on newspaper idioms every couple of months with the aim of keeping you supplied with up-to-date, frequently used English idioms.

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Common idioms with the word ‘head’

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by Kate Woodford

Last month we focused on idioms that included various parts of the body. This week, we look at idioms featuring the most productive part – the head! As ever, we only cover phrases that are frequent and current.

If there is a problem and you bury your head in the sand, you behave as if there is no problem because you do not want to deal with it: This is an environmental catastrophe and we’re just burying our heads in the sand. Someone or something that is head and shoulders above other people or things is very much better than them: There’s no comparison with the other teams – they’re head and shoulders above them. If you keep your head down, you deliberately try to avoid making someone angry, usually by saying little and keeping busy: He’s in a bad mood this morning. I’m just keeping my head down. A discussion that goes over your head is too difficult for you to understand: I must say, parts of the talk went over my head.

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Twisting arms and sticking your neck out (Idioms featuring parts of the body)

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by Kate Woodford

Parts of the body feature in a great number of English idioms. This week we’re taking a look at some of the most commonly used. How many of these have direct equivalents in your language?

 

Starting with the top of the body, the neck is quite productive! If two people or groups who are competing are neck and neck, they are level with each other and have the same chance of winning: Recent polls suggest the two parties are neck and neck. The strange phrase neck of the woods refers to a particular area. (We usually put the words ‘your’/‘his’/‘her’ etc. or ‘this’ before it): I didn’t expect to see you in this neck of the woods! / Portland – isn’t that your neck of the woods, Gina? If you stick your neck out, you take a risk, often by saying what you think will happen in the future: I’m going to stick my neck out and predict a win for Chelsea.

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Knee-high to a grasshopper: words and phrases that mean ‘young’.

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by Liz Walter

Over the last couple of months I’ve written about words and phrases for being old or old-fashioned, so now it’s time to look at the opposite. I’ll start with expressions connected with being young.

We often describe very young children as small or little: There were lots of little children at the show. A small child sat alone in the corner. However, to talk about someone’s younger brother or sister, you always need to use little, not ‘small’: That’s Brad’s little sister.

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A glimmer of hope (The language of hope)

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by Kate Woodford

For many of us, spring – the season of new beginnings – is a time of great hope. With the flowers and trees in bloom and the temperature rising, it’s a time for feeling positive about the future. With this in mind, we thought we’d take a look at words and phrases related to hope.

Starting with the verb ‘hope’, people sometimes emphasize how much they hope for something by saying they hope and pray that something will happen: I just hope and pray that she’s well enough on the day to take the exam. If you say you hope against hope that something will happen, you very much hope for it, although you know it is not likely: We’re just hoping against hope that the police catch the burglar.

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We’re on a roll! (Everyday idioms in newspapers)

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by Kate Woodford

We like to keep you supplied with frequent, up-to-date idioms on this blog. One way in which we do this is by reading, every few months, a range of national newspapers that were published on the same day. We then pick out the idioms and phrases in use. As ever, we only include common, current idioms and phrases – in other words, the type that will be most useful to learn.

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Coaxing, cajoling and roping in (Ways of saying ‘persuade’)

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by Kate Woodford

This week we’re looking at the many near-synonyms in English for the verb persuade.

Let’s start with the verb convince, which is sometimes used to mean ‘to persuade someone to do something’: hope this will convince you to change your mind.

A number of verbs mean specifically ‘to persuade someone to do an activity’, for example the phrasal verbs talk into and (informal) rope in: Finn is refusing to go camping but I think I can talk him into it. / We needed two more people to make up the team so we roped in a couple of spectators.

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I’ve searched everywhere! (Words and phrases for looking for things)

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by Kate Woodford

What did you last look for? Was it your phone, a key or maybe a book? If you’re anything like me, it was probably a pen that works! Most of us search for something from time to time so let’s take a look at the language of searching.

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On cloud nine: Idioms and phrasal verbs to express happiness

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by Liz Walter

My last post was all about sadness, so it is good to turn to a more cheerful subject: happiness.

Let’s start with the phrase I’ve used in the title: on cloud nine. Nobody really knows the origins of this phrase – one theory is that it refers to the cumulonimbus cloud that was number nine in the ‘International Cloud Atlas’ and rises higher than all other clouds, while another relates to one of the stages of enlightenment in Buddhist thought. Still, it’s enough to know that if you are on cloud nine, you are extremely happy. In fact, you are in seventh heaven (from the belief in some religions that there are seven levels of heaven, the seventh being the highest).

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