Idioms – Part 6

Idioms: Sleep

It is said that humans spend a third of their lives asleep. The fact that sleep occupies such a large part of our existence might explain why there are so many idioms and expressions containing the word sleep.

If you are able to enjoy a good night’s sleep, you might say the next morning that you slept like a log. If, on the other hand, you spent an uncomfortable night tossing and turning, you might complain the next day that you didn’t sleep a wink. If there is a problem or decision that you wish to put off till later, you can say you will sleep on it, and if there is a problem or situation that others might regard as important, but which you regard as trivial, you could say that you won’t lose any sleep over it. If, on the other hand, there isn’t a problem with a particular aspect of your life or job, it’s probably better to let sleeping dogs lie, rather than resurrect an old problem or create one where there wasn’t one. Some things are so easy that you can do them in your sleep, while others are so difficult that they can give you sleepless nights.

If you want to remain healthy and attractive you should make sure you get your beauty sleep every night (in other words, enough sleep). If, on the other hand, you overindulge at a party and drink too much, you might have to go to bed to sleep it off (get over the effects). Make sure though that when you talk about sleep you don’t translate directly from some other languages and say you slept like a baby. We don’t normally say this in English as babies do things in their sleep which adults probably shouldn’t.


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Idioms: Stuff

‘You ought to listen to Pete. He really knows his stuff‘, means that he knows a lot about a particular subject and is able to use that knowledge. If you do your stuff, you do what you have prepared to do, as in ‘Now get out on that stage and do your stuff!’

If something is described as hot stuff, it is particularly good or popular at the moment, as in ‘Have you heard this new band? They’re really hot stuff‘. The hard stuff, on the other hand, is strong alcohol such as whisky or vodka, as in ‘I’ll have the odd beer from time to time but I never touch the hard stuff‘.

The expression the stuff of dreams can be used to refer to the type of things usually found in dreams, as in ‘Sixteen-year-old Johnson came on as a substitute and scored the winning goal with his first touch. It was the stuff of dreams for the young man’. The expressions the stuff of legends and the stuff of nightmares can be used in much the same way, as in ‘The pictures of the massacre were the stuff of nightmares‘.

If you stuff yourself or stuff your face, you fill yourself with food until you are no longer hungry or you fill ill, as in ‘He just sat there stuffing his face with pizza’.

Finally, if you tell someone to stuff it, you let them know that you are angry and that you are not interested in them or their suggestions, as in ‘When she told me what the job involved, I told her to stuff it‘.

Idioms: Teeth

The recent decision to award the contract to build new British trains to a foreign company has been described as a kick in the teeth for workers in the city of Derby (a huge disappointment at a time when they were trying hard to achieve success). The decision was made in the teeth of (in spite of) fierce opposition.

One member of the workforce said that the company that won the contract had only done so by the skin of their teeth (succeeded but only narrowly). Another warned that it was time for trade unionists to show their teeth (show that they have power and that they intend to use it) because they were fed up to the back teeth (extremely annoyed) with politicians who failed to keep their promises. In the current situation, however, his colleagues would now simply have to grit their teeth (show determination in a difficult situation) and move on.

In various industries and professions, people cut their teeth (gain their first experience) in a particular job or activity, as in ‘Many famous actors cut their teeth in regional theatre before moving on to television or film’.

If you put a lot of time and energy into something that is interesting because it requires a lot of effort and skill, you can be said to get your teeth into it, as in ‘I’d like a project that I can really get my teeth into‘.

If a sound sets your teeth on edge, it is very unpleasant or annoying, as in ‘That whining voice of his always sets my teeth on edge‘.



Idioms: The moon and the stars

Opponents of the recent austerity measures introduced by the British government were described by one politician as ‘living on a different planet‘, meaning that they were either out of touch with reality or had ideas that were neither reasonable nor practical. Perhaps such people were asking for the moon (wanting something that is impossible to get or achieve) or living in cloud-cuckoo land (believing naively that there was no problem).

Of course, the sky is the limit for some people (meaning that there is no limit to what they can do or achieve), although others may simply have stars in their eyes (be hopeful and enthusiastic about what may happen to them in the future, even though this is not a practical or sensible way to behave).

If they do succeed in achieving their aims they will probably be over the moon about it (extremely happy). Their fate may be written in the stars, in other words certain to happen, as in ‘It was written in the stars that we would never see each other again’.

One thing that is certain is that sooner or later they will depart for that great … in the sky, an adaptable euphemism as the chosen noun can reflect a particular idiosyncratic aspect of the life of the person you are talking about, as in ‘I’m afraid Patrick has gone to that great pub in the sky‘. He’s dead, of course, but he obviously enjoyed a drink or two while he was alive.


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