Idioms

Idioms and How to Use Them

By Dr. Geraldine Polk

An idiom is a well known saying or expression that contains a figurative meaning that is different from the phrase’s literal meaning. For example, if you say you’re feeling “under the weather”, you don’t literally mean that you are underneath the rain. Or if you have to go back and start a process all over again you will need to “go back to the drawing board”.

 Every language has its own collection of sayings and phrases. These expressions often contain meanings that may not be obvious by simply looking at the individual words contained in the expression. Often idioms are unique to a certain languages, regions, or populations. Individuals learning a new language find idioms the most difficult skill to acquire.

Sample Idioms

    • He enjoyed his cup of joe with breakfast(coffee)
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    • I was tickled pink when I heard the news. (very happy)
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    • She saw red when the team lost the game. (very angry)
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    • She was on cloud nine about the wedding. (very happy)
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    • The test was a piece of cake.(very easy)
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    • Dress costs a pretty penny. (expensive)
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    • Break a leg. (good luck)
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    • They always see eye to eye. (agree fully)
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    • That group is really on the ball today. (alert and efficient)
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    • He quit smoking cold turkey. (stop a bad habit immediately)
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    • She spilled the beans about the party.(reveal a secret)
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    • I was in a pickle about my loan. (tough spot)
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    • They hit the nail on the head with their jokes. (precisely correct)
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    • The suit cost him an arm and a leg. (expensive)
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    • He went out on a limb making a tough choice.( guessing carefully)
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    • She jumped the gun finishing her project first. (do earlier)
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    • That phone ringing is driving me nuts. (very frustrated)
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    • They screamed hold your horses we’re not ready,(stop or wait)

Rhyming idioms are fun to use but be careful not to over do

    • Big wigs (very important or powerful people).
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    • Cheerful earful (very good news)
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    • Double Trouble (having two problems at one time)
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    • Dream team (perfect partners often used in business or sports)
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    • Hot shot (person who is exceptionally capable in an area)
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    • Rom com (romantic comedy)
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    • Nearest and dearest (people you are very close to)

 

When to Use Idioms

 1. Summarize big ideas to help understand concepts

      •   Ball is in your court and choice is up to you
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      •   Compare apples and oranges impossible because traits are so different

2.  Add humor

      •   Not the sharpest tack in the box
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      •  Bite off more than you can chew

 3. Stimulate reader

      •  Something in the past that can’t be changed is water under the bridge
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      •  Switch from formal to informal speech or action with characters creates interest

4. Set point of view

      •  Death- can be presented several ways passed away, died or kick the bucket. The way the writer sets the point of view can change how and why the reader reacts to what is read.
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      • Avoid too many idioms. Becomes cliché if used too much
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      • Add more description and detail to characters

 

QUIZ

Test Your Idiom Knowledge

Make a sentence using each idioms below:

    • Left out in the cold (excluded from something)
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    • Brought in from the cold (included in the group or activity)
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    • Chilled out (relaxed, not easy to anger, happy)
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    • Take a chill pill (relax, stop, less stress)
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    • Cold case (unsolved crime)
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    • Cold feet (lose your nerve at last minute)
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    • Comment to person with cold extremities (cold hands, warm heart)
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    • Cold hearted (aloof, unsympathetic, potentially evil)
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    • Cold light of day (look at something in clear emotionless way
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    • Cold shoulder (shun or ignore someone)
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    • Cold war (diplomatic dispute between US and Russia in 2nd half of 20th century
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    •  Blood runs cold (suddenly have fear, panic or horror)
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    • Stop cold (stop movement suddenly)
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    • Cold call (call someone you never met to sell something)
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    • Cold one (slang for beer)
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    • Catch a cold (become ill or sick)
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    • Cold sober (completely sober)

 

References:

A Dictionary of American Idioms, Fourth Edition, Makkai, Adam, Boatner M. T. , and Gates, J. E.

Idiom Connection 
   www.idiomconnection.com

Free Dictionary  
   www.thefreedictionary.com

Geri Polk Headshot
As a 37 year classroom veteran,  Dr. Polk has enjoyed sharing the joys of reading and language with hundreds of students. During those years of experience in journalism, public speaking, yearbook sponsorship, and writing student curriculum at multiple grade levels, she has developed her favorite statement to her students and to herself, “learning is a lifetime achievement”.

Dr. Polk has written a soon to be published Teacher Guide to Flight for Freedom, an adventure book for grades 5-8. This Guide is geared to Homeschoolers and Language Learners.

1 thought on “Idioms and How to Use Them”

  1. Manijeh Badiozamani

    I loved this piece from Hallard Press. As a non-native speaker, I eagerly collect “idioms” and try to find their equivalent phrase that would mean the same thing in another language. I’ve experienced hilarious and/or embarrassing moments when translating exact idioms from another language into English.
    Thanks!

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