Kept under wraps: Idioms that describe secrets

by Kate Woodford

secretAs part of our series on English idioms, we’re looking this week at common expressions for describing secrets and secretive behaviour.

A lot of expressions refer to secret situations or information. If someone keeps a new piece of work or information under wraps, they keep it secret: They didn’t know whether to make the announcement immediately or keep it under wraps for a few weeks. Someone who has something up their sleeve has a secret plan: Who knows what she has up her sleeve. If a situation is cloaked or shrouded in secrecy/mystery, it is deliberately kept secret: Very little was known about the incident. For years it was shrouded in secrecy. Meanwhile, something that happens behind closed doors happens in a place where most people cannot see or hear it: These deals take place behind closed doors. Continue reading “Kept under wraps: Idioms that describe secrets”

‘You could always email him’ – how to make suggestions sound nicer.

by Kate Woodford

politeThese two speakers are giving the same piece of advice to a friend. Compare the words that they use to make the suggestion:

Speaker A: You should go to a different hairdresser.

Speaker B: Have you thought of going to a different hairdresser?

How does speaker A sound to you? Direct? Bossy? Perhaps a little rude? How about speaker B? Polite? Kind? Careful not to upset someone? If you want to sound more like speaker B when giving advice to your friends, read this post. It will tell you simple ways to make your suggestions sound ‘softer’ and more polite.

The first thing to say is that suggestions that start with ‘you should…’ sound very definite. Of course, there will be times when you need to give people very definite advice, but for situations in which you want to suggest something in a gentler, less forceful way, it is best to avoid this phrase. There are a number of ways of making your suggestion sound less certain (and therefore more polite). For example, try making a suggestion by using one of the following question phrases: Continue reading “‘You could always email him’ – how to make suggestions sound nicer.”

Money for Old Rope! (Money idioms)

by Kate Woodford​
money_old_rope
Continuing our occasional series on idioms that relate to the world of business, we look this week at phrases that express something about money.

There are a number of phrases relating to making money (and not all are admiring). A cash cow is a product or an area of a business that a company can rely on because it always makes money. The money made is often used to support other business activities: The credit card had become the bank’s cash cow. A person or company’s main way of earning money may be described as their bread and butter: They provide legal advice for companies – that’s their bread and butter. In UK English, a way of earning money that is very easy, needing little effort, may be referred to as money for old rope or money for jamA lot of people assume that buying and selling property is money for old rope. Similarly, on hearing about an easy job that earns a lot of money for someone else, someone might say humorously, Nice work if you can get it! Eighty pounds an hour for rubbing someone’s shoulders? Nice work if you can get it! Continue reading “Money for Old Rope! (Money idioms)”

I appreciate that this is hard for you. (Other ways of saying ‘understand’)

by Kate Woodford​
understand_1
Following on from last week’s post on near-synonyms, we’re looking this week at various ways of saying that we understand things. Starting with a very common near-synonym, the verb ‘realize’ is often used for talking about the state of understanding and knowing things: I realize this is difficult for you. It is also used to say that we start to understand something: As she was speaking I suddenly realized that we’d met before. The verb ‘grasp’ also means ‘understand’ but is used to mean ‘to succeed in understanding something’ and is often used to talk about understanding difficult things: It was quite a high-level talk but I think I managed to grasp the main points./She couldn’t seem to grasp the concept. (The noun ‘grasp’ is also used: His grasp of grammar is very impressive for a seven-year-old.)

A phrase which is used for succeeding in understanding is ‘get the gist’. If you get the gist of something spoken or written, you manage to understand the main points though you may not understand or remember the precise details: I think I got the gist of what he was saying. Another such phrase is make sense of. If you make sense of something complicated or unclear, you manage to understand it: I’ve read the paragraph three times now and I still can’t make sense of it! Appreciate’ is used in a similar way. If you appreciate something serious about a situation, you understand it or you understand the reasons for it: I appreciate that this is a very difficult decision for you to make.

As we mentioned in a previous post (There is no such thing as a true synonym in English), ‘comprehend’ is a formal near-synonym for ‘understand’. We comprehend serious, difficult things, usually situations rather than subjects: They evidently failed to comprehend the seriousness of the threat.

An informal word for ‘understand’ that is very commonly used in conversation is ‘get’. It is often used in the phrase ‘get it’: Everyone’s going crazy for him. I don’t get it – what do they see in him? Note that we often say that we ‘get a joke’ when we understand what is funny about a joke. We use this sense of ‘get’ in other phrases too. For example, you might say ‘I get the message’ to someone who is asking you to do something but is saying it in an indirect way, usually because they don’t want to offend you: Oh, I get the message – you want to go without me, right? Similarly, you might say ‘I get the picture’ to a person who is describing a bad situation in a slightly indirect way to let them know that you understand what they are saying: ‘He’s not the most organised person and he can be a bit forgetful.’ ‘I get the picture. I’ve worked with people like that.’

Sometimes it takes a while to understand something. In British English, the phrase ‘the penny drops’ is used to say that you or someone else finally understand what is being said or what is happening: Then I saw them together at Sophie’s party and the penny dropped. I had no idea that they were a couple!

I’ve known Sara for years (Talking about friends)

by Kate Woodford​
Talking_about_Friends
Our friends are important to us so we tend to talk about them. And what sort of things do we say? We might talk about how strong a friendship is. If we say that we are close to someone, we mean that we know and like them a lot: I’ve known Sara for years – we’re very close. / She’s very close to her brother. You might instead describe someone as a good friend (of yours): Paolo’s a good friend of mine. You could also use the phrasal verb get on (UK) / get along (US), meaning ‘to like someone and have a good relationship with them’: I like James – we’ve always got on / gotten along.

Sometimes we talk about how a friendship started. You may say that you met a friend through another person: I met Alice through a work friend of mine called Lucy. (The friend who introduced you – a friend of two people – is known as a mutual friend). Perhaps you were at a party and you started talking with someone although you didn’t know them. For this, you could say you struck up (= started) a conversation: We were both waiting to get a drink and struck up a conversation. If you liked the person immediately, you could use the informal phrase hit it off: Jamie introduced us at a party and we hit it off immediately. Of course, as we spend more time with a person, we gradually learn more about them. To describe this process, you may say that you get to know someone: He seemed so nice. I thought I’d like to get to know him. / We worked together on a six-month project so I got to know her quite well. If you have known someone for a long time, you might use the phrase to go back a long way: Claire and I met at college twenty years ago so we go back a long way. Continue reading “I’ve known Sara for years (Talking about friends)”

We’re making headway! (Idioms and phrases used to talk about progress)

by Kate Woodford​
were_making_headway
As part of our occasional series on idioms used in or in relation to business, we look today at the important area of making projects happen – getting projects started, making progress with those projects and, as sometimes happens, failing to make progress.

Starting at the beginning, if a plan gets or is given the go-ahead, permission is given for it to start: Plans for a new building at the university have been given the go-ahead. Another idiom which means much the same is to give the green light to something: The council has given the green light to the new development. You can also say that you get a project off the ground. If you get a project off the ground, you manage to make it start successfully: A lot more money will be required to get the project off the ground. Similarly, to start/set/get the ball rolling is to start to make something happen: Once we have permission for the project, we can start the ball rolling. Meanwhile, if a project is in the pipeline, it is being planned, though has not yet started: We have a number of projects in the pipeline, though none are due to start immediately. Continue reading “We’re making headway! (Idioms and phrases used to talk about progress)”

Take the rough with the smooth (Idioms to describe dealing with problems)

by Kate Woodford​
rough_with_the_smooth
Readers of this blog will know that from time to time, we focus on frequent idioms. This week, we’re looking at idioms that we use to describe the way we deal with – or fail to deal with – problems and difficult situations.

Starting with the positive, if you are in a difficult situation and you take it (all) in your stride (UK)/take it in stride (US), the situation does not upset or worry you: Sarah often has problems with staff but she takes it all in her stride. Someone who weathers the storm or rides the storm is not harmed during a difficult period. You might say this of a person whose reputation is not damaged despite difficulties: For a while, the scandal threatened to destroy the president, but somehow he weathered the storm. Meanwhile, to get/come to grips with a difficult situation or task means to succeed in starting to deal with it: This is a problem that the government really needs to get to grips with. Continue reading “Take the rough with the smooth (Idioms to describe dealing with problems)”

Lectures, lessons and seminars: words and phrases for talking about studying (2).

by Liz Walter​
I passed my exams
As promised last time, this post continues the theme of study, and once again there are many differences between British and American English.

In the UK, the school year is divided into three periods, called terms. In the US, the school year can be divided into two periods, called semesters, or three periods, called trimesters. Many US universities have summer periods, so their year is divided into quarters. Students have a timetable (UK)/schedule (US) to tell them the times of their classes. To talk about what is taught in a particular subject area, we use the words syllabus or curriculum.

The person in charge of a school is called the headteacher in UK English and the principal in US English. Continue reading “Lectures, lessons and seminars: words and phrases for talking about studying (2).”

I passed my exams!: words and phrases for talking about studying (1).

by Liz Walter​
studying_part1
Almost everyone needs to talk about education now and then, so this blog post looks at some useful words and phrases connected with studying. It describes the most typical systems in the UK and the US, and explains some important differences between UK and US vocabulary.

The very youngest schoolchildren have a reception year in the UK and a kindergarten year in the US. After that, Brits talk about year 1, year 2, etc., while US children are in first grade, second grade, etc. The word grade is also used in US English to talk about scores in exams or written work. British English uses mark: He always gets good grades/marks.

In general, the UK has primary schools for ages 5-11 and secondary schools for ages 11-16, followed by sixth form colleges for ages 16-18. In the US, elementary schools teach grades 1-5 or 1-6, middle schools grades 6-8 or junior high schools grades 7-8, and high schools grades 9-12. Continue reading “I passed my exams!: words and phrases for talking about studying (1).”

Queen Elizabeth ll – Britain’s longest-reigning monarch

by Kate Woodford​
queen

At around 5:30 p.m. this afternoon (September 9th, 2015), Queen Elizabeth II will become Britain’s longest-serving British monarch. She will break the record established by her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria, (b.1819 – d. 1901), having so far reigned for an impressive 63 years and seven months. To mark the occasion, we are posting a short piece on the subject, including dictionary-linked words and phrases that we hope you will find interesting.

Queen Elizabeth came to the throne in the February of 1952, aged just 25, on the death of her father, King George VI. Her coronation at Westminster Abbey took place a year later, in June 1953, to allow an appropriate period of mourning for the King. It was the first coronation to be shown on television and was broadcast at the Queen’s insistence. It is often observed that in the years since the Queen’s coronation, the world has changed massively. Queen Elizabeth, with her husband at her side (Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh), has remained the one constant. (Interestingly, Prince Philip is himself the longest-serving consort of a British monarch). Just today, British Prime Minister David Cameron said the Queen had been a “rock of stability” in an era when so much had changed, and that her reign had been the “golden thread running through three post-war generations“. Continue reading “Queen Elizabeth ll – Britain’s longest-reigning monarch”