An idiom is a word or phrase whose meaning can’t be understood outside its cultural context. These expressions are usually figurative and would be nonsensical if read literally. Although most of us only use a few idioms in our everyday speech, it’s believed that there are tens of thousands of them in the English language.
Some idioms are expressions that keep their meanings even after their origins have been forgotten. Others include words or phrases that are rare outside their idiomatic uses (e.g., rest on one’s laurels, sleight of hand). Others use recognizable words in strange ways (e.g., cut to the chase, rule of thumb). And some are simply metaphors (e.g., in the doghouse, kick a hornet’s nest).
Idioms generally convey a casual tone, and it’s risky to use them whenever there’s a possibility that a substantial portion of your readers won’t understand. For example, using the American idiom like gangbusters may be a bad idea if you are likely to be read by British or Australian readers.
Below is a list of all our posts on idioms.