Common English idioms you should know

Whether you are taking Legal English or Business English courses, it is helpful to learn at least a few English idioms so that you can at least up your “cool index” when you speak with your American colleagues. These idioms are not legal idioms or business idioms. We will look at those in another post. These are just idioms for socializing, chatting and shooting the breeze. (shooting the breeze is an idiom that means relaxed banter and chatter.) Americans particularly appreciate people who are “cool” and “with it.”  Is “with it” an idiom? Arguably, yes. Idioms don’t have to be full on sentences. They can be just a couple of words that strung together have an identifiable meaning. In English, to be “with it” means to be plugged in; to be cool; to know what is going on.

You will find idioms all over the English language, in law, in business, in play, in sports, in crime as well. For example, when you ‘take a contract out on someone” it means you plot to kill the person. When you “blow a deal” it means you caused negotiations to break down within the context of a contract that would otherwise have been good for you. When you “cave in” it has all sorts of meanings. In sports it may mean you lose your confidence; in dating it may mean you “give in” to someone’s desires; in life it could mean you let the stress of something get to you. In negotiations it could mean you let the other side get their way, you give in to their unreasonable demands because it was just easier.

So, how many English idioms do you know? Probably more than you realize. Americans use a lot of idioms in their everyday speech. If you want too interact with Americans, you should try to memorize a few of their idioms. What is cooler than a ‘”foreigner” with a charming accent using American idioms in their communications with Americans?

Oh, wait. First I should have first defined idiom. What is an idiom? Hah. An idiom is a just a quirky thing people say within a “culture” that has a specific meaning to that culture. It is a group of words strung together to create a semantic unit that means something specific to the people within that culture. It is not a phrasal verb. Even though phrasal verbs are also quirky and culturally sensitive in terms of what they mean. Idioms are usually full fledged sentences but not always. As mentioned earlier, just a couple of words can form an idiom.  Basically all languages have idioms.

So for example: it is raining cats and dogs.”Raining cats and dogs” is an idiom. The words are strung together to create a semantic unit that has a meaning separate and distinct from the words taken individually in a different context. Moreover, it cannot “rain” cats and dogs in a literal sense.  idioms have this nuance of being slightly unreal; or maybe the better word is idioms cannot be taken “literally.” So when you say in English that someone has “kicked the bucket” that means the person has died. It is possible to “kick” a “bucket” but kicking a bucket has nothing to do with dying except insofar as in English, it takes an idiomatic meaning. There are no rules for these things. You have to just memorize them.

 

Here are 10 English-American idioms. Do you know what they mean? Match them if you can:

1. On the other hand                                                                                        a. pouring

2.  To come up with                                                                                           b. rendered speechless

3. Piece of cake                                                                                                   c. however

4. raining cats and dogs                                                                                    d. old

5. bite off more than you can chew                                                                 e. to find; to figure something out

6. Over the hill                                                                                                     f. out of place

7. Straight from the horse’s mouth                                                                  g. unable to see

8. Cat got your tongue                                                                                        h.nervous

9. butterflies in your stomach                                                                           i. over-extended

10. Scared as a mouse                                                                                         j. Easy

11. Blind as a bat                                                                                                   k. terrified

12 Fish out of water                                                                                              l. direct

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