Idioms

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 laurelssleight of hand). Others use recognizable words in strange ways (e.g., cut to the chaserule of thumb). And some are simply metaphors (e.g., in the doghousekick 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.

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18 thoughts on “Idioms”

  1. English language = idioms harvest. It is a particular challenge for a computer translation. How should one classify “at the end of the day”? An epidemic, endemic language abuse?

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  2. There’s no better way to grasp how much we do use idioms and metaphoric phrases in our everyday speech than to have a conversation with someone who’s just learning English. Even a phrase as simple as “how’s it going?” can be puzzling.

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    • Please do not do that. We submit DMCA requests to Google about all sites that copy our content, and most of our requests have led to negative action for the copying sites.

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      • Uh, if you’re too stringent with what you write here, then you surely don’t deserve user contributions like I was just making (and now thinking of stopping altogether).

        Of course we can use the information you present here. Information cannot be copyrighted. Your particular compositions are your own, and these can be protected, but I think you need to take a step back and reconsider how much you want to belong to a community. The way you phrased this here is just chilling.

        keeball wrote to @c892b3e6220082aaa1c3dcf89ae99e94:disqus :

        Please do not do that. We submit DMCA requests to Google about all sites that copy our content, and most of our requests have led to negative action for the copying sites.

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      • How do you copyright general information? If I had written something similar without having visited this site, am I still violating copyrights? It’s like copyrighting a color.

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  3. What about “fixing” meaning getting ready or preparing to leave or do something? I’m fixing to go to Nashville today.

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    • I think it is a shortened form of “I’m fixing up to go out and . . .” “Fixing up” in this case ironically seems to conflate “preparing” and “repairing”. “I’m repairing up to bring in the cattle” might work if you think of the constant repairs to the saddle, chaps, leatherworks, reins, etc. that a cowboy needs to stay on top of. You have to check that everything is repaired before setting out on a new project.

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  4. I have two popular idioms missing from this list… 1) To cut off your nose to spite your face and 2) Throw out the baby with the bath water

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