Idioms – Part 5

Idioms: Music and Song

If you say that something is music to your ears, you are very pleased to hear it, as in ‘Their offer of help was music to my ears‘. On the other hand, if you have to face the music, you accept punishment or criticism for something you have done wrong, as in ‘Many MPs will have to face the music over their expenses claims’.

If you make a song and dance about something, you complain a lot about it in an annoying and unnecessary way, as in ‘It’s only a minor operation and a very simple procedure but she’s making a real song and dance about it.’ When you dance to someone’s tune, you do what they tell you to do because they call the tune (they are in control).

People who change their opinions or attitudes can be said to have changed their tune, as in ‘He always used to be pro-smoking but now he’s changed his tune‘. If you understand the feelings, opinions, or needs of a group of people, you can be said to be in tune with them. A failure to understand such feelings, however, would mean that you were out of tune with them, as in ‘The government is often accused of being out of tune with the aspirations of young people’.

In many situations, it’s important to strike the right note (create an appropriate mood by the way you speak or behave), as in ‘He struck the right note by praising their work’, and if you strike a chord with someone, you produce an emotional reaction in them, as in ‘Her tale of woe struck a chord with Edward’.


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Idioms: Names

‘At the moment, the provisional government exists in name only‘. Something that exists in name only has an official name but nothing else. Conversely, if something exists in all but name, the only thing it lacks is an official title, as in ‘He was leader of the opposition to the official government in all but name‘.

If someone’s name is mud, they are extremely unpopular because of something they have done, as in ‘I wouldn’t tell anyone you know him. His name is mud around here’.

If something has someone’s name on it, it is destined for them although they haven’t yet got it, as in ‘After all the luck they’ve had this season, Chelsea’s name is clearly on the Champions League title’.

If you name and shame a person or organization, you publish embarrassing facts about them, especially in order to persuade them to change their behaviour or policies, as in ‘We intend to name and shame companies which use child labour’, and if you name names, you state publicly the names of people involved in something dishonest or illegal, as in ‘The police are expected to name names at this afternoon’s press conference’.

If you make a name for yourself¸ you gain a reputation for doing something, usually something positive, as in ‘He first made a name for himself as an actor in the late 1970s’. A household name is someone who is known by everyone, as in ‘After years of performing before a handful of people, he has now become a household name and his concerts sell out within minutes.

Idioms: Raining cats and dogs

Most learners of English will be familiar with the idiom It’s raining cats and dogs. Indeed, many people remember it because it’s such an odd expression and one which can conjure up quite entertaining images. There is, however, one small problem attached to this idiom: native speakers of English rarely use it and, if they do, it sounds rather old-fashioned. So, what do they say? Well, as with so many things, it depends on the context and who you are addressing your remarks to. In a polite, formal situation one might simply say It’s pouring, with the optional addition of the slightly superfluous words with rain: It’s pouring with rain or It’s pouring down. Less formal alternatives are It’s chucking it down or It’s bucketing down, neither of which would be considered impolite in any way. If the rain is particularly heavy, the verb lash down can be used, as in ‘It’s been lashing down for an hour now’. In British English one of the most common expressions is It’s pissing down, although caution should be exercised when using this expression as some people may consider it impolite or even offensive. To be on the safe side it might be better to stick to It’s pouring down or the entertaining expression It’s pouring with rain out there, which suggests that it sometimes rains in here.



Idioms: Run

A recent survey in the UK showed that traffic peaks during the morning rush hour are greatly exacerbated by the school run (the journey by car to school each morning). Some school run journeys are as short as 200 metres. One wonders whether the drivers shorten their journeys even more by using a rat run (a small road drivers use at busy times to avoid traffic on main roads).

In the normal run of things (as things usually happen) such journeys are probably not a dry run (something you do as a practice before the real event) and it is unlikely that the gas-guzzling drivers will have a clear run (be in a situation where nothing stops their progress). In the long run (not immediately but at some point in the future), such journeys will be counter-productive as it will clearly be quicker to walk than sit in a traffic jam.

In a different context, a run on something is when a lot of people want to buy a particular product at the same time, as in ‘There’s always a run on sunglasses at this time of year’, or a situation when a lot of people take their money out of a bank at the same time, as in ‘Nervousness from investors has led to a run on some banks’. There can also be a run on a particular currency if large institutions or governments start selling it in large quantities, as in ‘Fears that Greece may default on its debts have led to a run on the euro’.


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