English in the Pandemic 7 – Idioms are not a piece of cake

(Idioms for English learners B2 +)

Idioms are fun, but dangerous for speakers of English as a foreign language.

They are descriptive and poetic, but unfortunately the literal and dictionary meanings of the words have little to do with the idioms’ meanings.

If you have a chip on your shoulder it doesn’t mean you are an untidy eater. It means that you are angry or upset because you think that you have been unfairly treated.

If something costs an arm and leg don’t go looking for bandages and medicine. It means the item was extremely expensive.

If someone says it is a piece of cake, don’t lick your lips. It means it’s a task or job they can do very easily.

To let the cat out of the bag is to share a secret that wasn’t supposed to be shared.

If you would like to use colourful idioms like these in your conversation, be careful. Get to know them inside out (know them thoroughly) before you start using them. Otherwise they might sound a bit bizarre and leave you with egg on your face (embarrass you and make you look silly).

 

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There is light at the end of the tunnel

Pandemic idioms

 

  1. Some people think that the end (of the pandemic) is in sight.
  2. They say there is light at the end of the tunnel
  3. Others think it is still early days and we are at the tip of the iceberg.
  4. Even some of our brightest minds can’t make head nor tail of this covid-19 pandemic.
  5. It’s certainly thrown a spanner in the works.
  6. What’s certain is that some countries have been slow off the mark.
  7. The number of infections and fatalities have gone through the roof in some countries.
  8. They are definitely sailing close to the wind.
  9. What we do know is that we can’t drag our feet.
  10. We have to keep our wits about us.
  11. We must remain calm and collected
  12. We all need to be on the same wavelength.
  13. If not, we will be skating on thin ice.
  14. Working from home and not going to school is not what it is cracked up to be.
  15. But, it’s not all doom and gloom.
  16. I’d like to finish on a brighter note.
  17. I think it was Nietzsche who said: What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
  18. Humans often only seem to learn the hard way.
  19. It’s time we put our house in order.
  20. I’m not sure about these politicians and companies who claim they have our best interests at heart.
  21. In reality, they have been busy feathering their nest.
  22. They have been spending money and using resources like there is no tomorrow.
  23. I think they have been leading us up the garden path.
  24. We need to step back from life in the fast lane.
  25. We will all pay through the nose if this continues.
  26. Some people say we are at the crossroads.
  27. Time is not on our side.
  28. We should never forget that every cloud has a silver lining.

 

skating on thin ice

 

Idioms come from life experience. They are rich with meaning.

To be slow off the mark – refers to a runner who starts a race slowly and will have to catch up to the other competitors.

Some countries were quick off the mark and introduced social distancing and other measures in early February.

To throw a spanner in the works means literally to throw a tool (clés à molette) into a machine which will disrupt or stop the machine from working.

Feathering your nest comes from a bird making a cosy and warm home (nest). But today it has a more negative meaning: to improve your life at the cost of someone else.

Many idioms are historical, and the origin of the terms have been lost.

To pay through the nose is believed to refer to a medieval practice that if you didn’t pay your taxes you would be punished by having your nose cut. In other words, the price is very high and you will suffer.

The idiom it is not what it is cracked up to be comes from the 18th century meaning of word crack – to brag or praise something.

It means something is not as good as people say.

Crack or craic is commonly used today by the Irish to refer to fun and entertainment or generally having a good time, often with the help of alcohol.

 

to feather your nest

How well do you know your idioms?

Check your answers at the bottom of the page

 

  1. Which two idioms (above) mean that there will be an end to difficult times.
  2. Which two idioms means stay calm and don’t panic.
  3. Which two idioms mean to be in a dangerous or risky situation.
  4. Which two idioms mean that is important to be positive and optimistic, despite the difficulties.

Which idiom means:

  1. to rise to a very high level
  2. when you cannot understand or make sense of something
  3. we need to act now, not later

Idioms with Marvin Gaye

 

The great soul singer Marvin Gaye had a huge hit back in 1968 with the song: I Heard It Through the Grapevine.

To hear something through the grapevine means to learn about something unofficially through rumours or from friends of friends or unreliable sources rather than through an official announcement. Rumours and gossip are spread ‘on the grapevine.’

-I heard through the grapevine that they’re planning to cut jobs

-I heard through the grapevine that we’re going to post a substantial profit

-I heard through the grapevine that Celeste and Jean-Jacques are going to separate

-Where did you hear that?

Oh, I heard it through the grapevine. It’s not official yet.

 

Acapella version Marvin Gaye

 

 

The song was written for Motown Records in 1966. It was recorded by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles and Gladys Knight & the Pips. But the Marvin Gaye version, released as a single in October 1968, became an acclaimed soul classic. In 2004, it was placed on the Rolling Stone magazine list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Creedence Clearwater Revival made a rockier eleven-minute version on their 1970 album, Cosmo’s Factory.

Tragically, Marvin Gaye came to a sticky end (idiom: to die violently). He was shot dead by his father, the Reverend Marvin Gay Sr in a domestic dispute. He was just 44.

So, what did Marvin hear through the grapevine? It wasn’t job cuts; it was romantic loss and heartache

‘I heard it through the grapevine not much longer would you be mine.
Oo… I heard it through the grapevine and I’m just about to lose my mind

So, close the door, sit back, turn up the speakers, or better still, put on your headphones:

 

Original version Gladys Knight and the Pips 1967

 

 

Creedence Clearwater Revival version

 

 

 

Pandemic idioms. Answers:

  1. Which two idioms mean that there will be an end to difficult times.

there is light at the end of the tunnel

the end is in sight

  1. Which two idioms means stay calm and don’t panic.

keep our wits about us

remain calm and collected

  1. Which two idioms mean to be in a dangerous or risky situation.

sailing close to the wind.

skating on thin ice

  1. Which two idioms mean that is important to be positive and optimistic, despite the difficulties

It’s not all doom and gloom

To finish on a brighter note

 

Which idiom means:

  1. to rise to a very high level – to go through the roof
  1. when you cannot understand or make sense of something – can’t make head nor tail of it
  1. we need to act now – time is not on our side.

 

Garry Littman

Garry Littman est le fondateur de The Language House à Genève. The Language House propose des coachings d'anglais à Genève pour les particuliers et les entreprises, ainsi que des cours intensifs d'anglais dans les pays anglophones. Garry a été journaliste en Australie et en Asie, il a travaillé pour World Radio Switzerland.

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