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.

One tabloid, commenting on the plot of a well-known television soap opera, writes about the ins and outs of life on the fictitious square where the characters are supposed to live. The ins and outs of a situation or process are the detailed or complicated facts relating to it.

The television critic of another tabloid reviews a show that he thinks fails in its ambitious aims. He uses the British idiom to square the circle, meaning ‘to try to do something that is impossible’. In this paper, as with so many, it is the sports pages that contain the most idioms. A Welsh cyclist, it is reported, has the greatest prize in cycling within his grasp. To have something desirable within your grasp is to be in a position where you might now achieve it. A footballer says of his team that they are going to have to raise their game. To raise your game is to make an effort to improve the way you do something. The same footballer has his career described as a rags-to-riches football story. He started in low-level clubs and now plays in the top football league. Rags-to-riches usually describes a person who was poor but has become rich. Later, in the same sports pages, a much criticized young footballer is said to give short shrift to his critics. If you get or are given short shrift by someone, they give you little attention or sympathy.

The main pages of a regional freesheet report that the US president’s daughter has arrived in the UK hot on the heels of her father’s UK visit. To do something hot on the heels of something else is to do it very soon after. (American English uses the phrase hard on the heels.) The business pages of the same paper describe a company as being on the up. The British idiom on the up means ‘to be improving all the time’. In the sports pages, a cyclist’s ambitions to win a race are said to hang by a thread. If a situation hangs by a thread, a bad result is likely.

Finally, a journalist in a broadsheet expresses frustration with a political party and writes that they must rise to the occasion. To rise to the occasion/challenge is to prove that you can deal with a difficult situation successfully.

Day in day out: phrases with ‘day’

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by Liz Walter

Back in March, I wrote a post about phrases containing the word ‘time’: https://dictionaryblog.cambridge.org/2018/03/07/having-the-time-of-your-life-phrases-with-time/. Today, I’m going to look at another set of phrases connected with time, all of which contain the word ‘day’.

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Getting the hang of it (Words and phrases for getting used to things)

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by Kate Woodford

Getting used to things is a part of life. We all deal with situations, tasks or tools that are new to us. At first, they may seem difficult or strange. With time or practice, they become familiar and normal.  In this blog, we look at the language for expressing this idea.

Starting with single words, if you familiarize yourself with something that you don’t know about, you intentionally learn about it, usually to prepare for something: I need to familiarize myself with the new software. If you acclimatize, you become familiar with different weather or surroundings so that you are able to deal with them: More time will be needed for the troops to acclimatize to the desert conditions.

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Breaking the mould: words and phrases for things that are new or modern.

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by Liz Walter

Last month I wrote about ways of talking about people or animals that are young. This post looks at a related set: words for things that are new or modern.

Firstly, if we want to emphasize that something is very new, we say it is brand new: She bought herself a brand new sports car. This phrase means that something has just been made, but the thing itself does not necessarily have to be modern.

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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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The group of death and the underdog (The language of the World Cup)

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by Kate Woodford

With the FIFA World Cup just one day away, we thought you might like to brush up on (=improve what you know about) your tournament vocabulary.

Let’s start by getting up to date. The qualification phase ended in November 2017. In this period, the various countries’ national teams played against each other in order to qualify for (= succeed in getting into) the tournament. From a field of 211, a total of 31 teams qualified, ‘field’ here meaning ‘all the people or teams in a competition’. As always happens, the host nation (= country where the World Cup takes place – this year, Russia) qualified automatically. The resulting 32 teams were put into eight groups of four teams.

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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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It’s out of the ark! Talking about old-fashioned things

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by Liz Walter

My last post looked at words and phrases for describing people or things that are old. Today I am looking at a closely-related idea – that of being old-fashioned.

The word old-fashioned itself is used to refer to objects or people who look as if they come from the past, though are not necessarily old in reality: Those old-fashioned glasses are popular again now. It can also refer to ideas and attitudes: They have old-fashioned ideas about the role of women. Interestingly, ‘old-fashioned’ can also be used in a positive way: We had a good, old-fashioned roast dinner.

The words retro, vintage and antique are also positive. They are used to describe objects or styles that are old or look old in a way that we find attractive: He collects antique furniture. She has a retro hair style.

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A bit long in the tooth: words and phrases for talking about old age

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by Liz Walter

The Bible says that most of us will live for ‘three score years and ten’ – in other words, 70 years. Nowadays however, most people consider 70 the beginning of old age. This is probably why although the word sexagenarian (person from 60-69) exists, we rarely use it – being in your sixties is nothing remarkable. However, the slightly formal terms septuagenarian (70-79), octogenarian (80-89), nonagenarian (90-99) and centenarian (100 or over) are used both as adjectives and nouns: The dinner party included several octogenarian men.  She was a nonagenarian when she found fame.

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