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

FatCamera / E+ / Getty Images

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.

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

A glimmer of hope (The language of hope)

Marko Nikolic / EyeEm / Getty Images

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.

The noun ‘hope’ features in a few useful phrases. If you pin (all) your hopes on someone or something, you depend on that person or thing to bring success, usually when everyone or everything else has failed: We’re pinning our hopes on the new technology. If you don’t hold out hope that something good will happen, you don’t expect that it will happen: Few people hold out any hope of finding more survivors. Meanwhile, a glimmer of hope or ray of hope is a very slight sign that something good might happen in the future: Do these sales figures offer a glimmer of hope for the company?

The adjective hopeful means ‘feeling hope’: He’s fairly hopeful that they can reach an agreement. It can also mean ‘giving feelings of hope’: There are one or two hopeful signs that the situation is improving. We use the adjective positive in a similar way: We’re seeing some very positive developments. When a future situation is hopeful, we sometimes describe it as brightThings are starting to look brighter for the UK economy. / She has a bright future ahead of her.

The adjective optimistic describes someone who is hopeful about the future and believes that good things will happen: I remain optimistic about the future of humanity.  People sometimes describe themselves as cautiously optimistic about a particular situation, meaning that they are mainly hopeful but accept that there will be difficulties: I’m cautiously optimistic about the future of the company. The adjective bullish describes someone who feels hopeful that something will be successful and expresses this in a very definite way: The team’s coach was in a bullish mood when we spoke. Finally, a formal word for ‘hopeful’ is sanguine: She is less sanguine about the prospects for smaller companies.

We trust you are feeling hopeful this week.

 

 

 

 

 

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

Janie Airey / DigitalVision / Getty Images

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.

This week’s phrases come from tabloid newspapers. (Strangely, the broadsheets that I read contained few phrases of interest.) Starting off with an idiom that was in two newspapers, a member of the British government, it is said, has been ‘hung out to dry’ over a scandal affecting the whole government. If someone is hung out to dry, they are left to fail on their own, with no one else defending or supporting them.

Elsewhere in the same paper, it is reported that a TV celebrity has ‘set her sights on’ becoming an online lifestyle guru. To set your sights on a goal is to decide that you want to achieve it.

The same paper notes that a serious crime was not widely reported in the media while other, less important events received a great deal of attention. Sometimes, it says, we ‘lose sight of’ what matters. To lose sight of something important is to forget about it because you are focusing on less important things.

The business pages, meanwhile, report on a businessman who is ‘on a roll’, forming a new company and becoming involved in various other projects. The informal phrase to be on a roll means ‘to be experiencing a period of success or good luck’. The same pages also describe a company as being ‘on its knees’, meaning ‘failing’. (The idiom bring someone or something to their knees also exists, meaning ‘to cause someone or something to fail’.) In the same piece, a businessman is said to be ‘at loggerheads’ with the management of a company he used to own. To be at loggerheads with someone is to strongly disagree with them. Another article complains that some groups in society pay more than others for the same goods and services. It is time, they say, to ‘level the playing field’. This is a reference to the phrase level playing field, meaning ‘a fair situation where everyone is treated equally’.

Another tabloid rudely comments that a celebrity chef has been piling on the pounds, meaning ‘putting on weight’. On a different subject, the same paper quotes a British politician as saying that the Prime Minister must ‘get to the bottom of’ a particularly difficult situation. To get to the bottom of something is to discover the truth about it, often when it is hidden.

Finally, a photograph of a famous boxer, it is reported, will soon ‘go under the hammer’. To go/come under the hammer is to be sold at an auction (= a public sale where people make offers for items).

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

Philip Lee Harvey / Cultura / Getty Images

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.

Continue reading “Coaxing, cajoling and roping in (Ways of saying ‘persuade’)”

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

JGI/Jamie Grill/Blend Images/Getty

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.

Continue reading “I’ve searched everywhere! (Words and phrases for looking for things)”

On cloud nine: Idioms and phrasal verbs to express happiness

Flashpop/DigitalVision/Getty Images

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).

Continue reading “On cloud nine: Idioms and phrasal verbs to express happiness”

It broke my heart: Idioms and phrasal verbs to express sadness

JGI/Jamie Grill/Blend Images/Getty Images

by Liz Walter

‘When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.’ So said Claudius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. As a general rule, grief and sadness are more interesting to writers and poets than happiness, and there are many fine descriptions in literature. However, in this post, I want to focus on language that we use in everyday speech.

Firstly, it is obviously very important to use phrases that are suitable for the level of trauma involved. You might describe someone as down in the dumps or down in the mouth if, for instance, they did badly in a job interview or failed an exam. Similarly, the phrase out of sorts is used mainly for someone who is usually cheerful, but simply seems a bit glum at the moment. However, if the sadness is caused by something serious like a bereavement (= when someone dies), those phrases would sound too trivial. Continue reading “It broke my heart: Idioms and phrasal verbs to express sadness”

Staying the course (Everyday idioms in newspapers)

seb_ra/iStock/Getty Images Plus

by Kate Woodford

Every few months, we read a selection of national newspapers published on the same day and highlight common idioms and phrases in their articles and reports. We read all sections of the papers – news, sports pages and gossip columns – and, as ever on this blog, we pick out the most useful, up-to-date idioms.

Continue reading “Staying the course (Everyday idioms in newspapers)”

He really winds me up! The language of annoying others

Tramont_ana/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty

by Kate Woodford

We try hard not to, but from time to time we all annoy each other. It’s just inevitable. Sometimes we annoy each other with things that we say and sometimes with our actions. So how do we talk about this when it happens? Well, there are a lot of phrases to express annoyance, many of them idiomatic. Let’s take a look at the most frequent of them. Continue reading “He really winds me up! The language of annoying others”

Playing second fiddle (Everyday idioms in newspapers)

Mayumi Hashi/Moment/Getty

by Kate Woodford

Every few months on this blog, we like to pick out the idioms that have been used in a range of national newspapers published on the same day. As with previous posts, we include only the most frequent idioms – in other words, the sort of idioms that you might read or hear in current English.

One tabloid newspaper reports that a television celebrity who used to be very concerned about what the public thought about her, at 49, ‘couldn’t give two hoots’. To not care/give two hoots about something is to not care at all. Another paper quotes a celebrity as saying that she and her husband are ‘not in each other’s pockets’ since they work away from home much of the time. If two people live or are in each other’s pockets, they are with each other all the time and depend on each other. The same paper describes the meeting of minds that sometimes happens in school lessons. A meeting of minds is a situation in which two or more people discover that they have the same opinion about something. Continue reading “Playing second fiddle (Everyday idioms in newspapers)”