Idioms – Part 9

Idioms: Work

A quick look at a list of expressions containing the word work reveals that in a large number of them work is seen as something arduous, even unpleasant. If you have a difficult job to do or a complicated task to perform, you will have your work cut out. You may even work your fingers to the bone if the job is particularly hard.

In British English hard work might mean that you work your socks off, while in American English you wouldn’t work your socks off, you would work your butt off. Monotonous, physical work can be described as donkey work and you might have to work like a dog to do it. If you over-complicate a task or take longer than necessary to do it, you can say that you are making hard work of it. If, on the other hand, you manage to do it easily, you can say that you made short or quick work of it.

All this effort might mean that you work up a sweat and you would probably work up an appetite too. Remember though that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, so don’t be a workaholic – don’t work too hard and take regular breaks because taking a break can work wonders. Some of your ideas might work a treat (be very successful), but if they don’t work out, you can always look at the example of those professional footballers who get paid £100,000 a week for kicking a ball around – Nice work if you can get it!


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Idioms: Worse

‘India’s economic performance has taken a turn for the worse in recent months’. Meaning to deteriorate, the same expression can also be used in a medical context for people, as in ‘After taking a turn for the worse last week, grandad now seems to be making a recovery from his lung infection’.

If a person is described as the worse for wear, this normally means that he or she is drunk, as in ‘I don’t know if you saw Paul yesterday evening but he was definitely the worse for wear at about seven o’clock’.

If you are none the worse after a bad experience, you have come out of it largely unscathed, as in ‘We lost our cat a couple of weeks ago but she came back last night and seems none the worse for her adventure’.

If a situation could be worse, it is better than it might have been, although it is still bad, as in ‘It could be worse. At least they didn’t steal your credit cards too’.

The expression you could do worse is used to say that you think something is fairly good, as in ‘If you are looking for a job that pays well, you could do worse than become a lawyer’.

For better or (for) worse is used to show that you do not know whether an action, situation or change will have good or bad results, as in ‘For better or worse, we are stuck with this manager until the end of the season. Let’s see how results turn out in the end’.

Idioms: Air

In the midst of the chaos caused by the Icelandic volcano, one newspaper led with the headline ‘Travel plans are up in the air for at least a week’. In this sense, up in the air means that the travel plans were undecided or unresolved, although, in a literal sense, of course, the actual planes were clearly not in the air.

If something is simply in the air, it means that people all have a similar feeling, especially a feeling that something exciting or new is happening or about to happen, as in ‘There was a feeling in the air that it was time for a change’ or ‘Spring is in the air’.

Things can appear out of thin air or disappear into thin air, meaning that they have appeared or disappeared in a sudden and mysterious way, as in ‘When I looked around, he seemed to have vanished into thin air‘.

If you are feeling extremely happy or pleased with yourself for some reason, you might be walking on air or even floating on air.

If you clear the air, you discuss a problem or a difficult situation with someone in order to make things improve, as in ‘I think it’s time we cleared the air, don’t you?’

Hot air is something most often associated with politicians who are prone to making statements that sound impressive but are in reality neither sincere nor sensible.

A breath of fresh air is something or someone new, interesting and exciting, as in ‘Wind farms could be abreath of fresh air for the power industry’ or ‘Brown has been a breath of fresh air in a team that had seemed to have lost its way’.




Idioms: Animals

The important contribution that animals have always made to human society is reflected in the number of idiomatic expressions containing references to animals. Many of them have negative connotations: a dog’s life (a life full of misery and troubles), make a pig of yourself (eat far too much food at one time), the black sheep (the odd one out in a family or a group who is disapproved of by the others). Others have more positive associations: to keep the wolf from the door (to earn enough money to buy food and other essentials), to take the bull by the horns (to deal with a problem in a direct and confident way, even though there is some risk in doing this), to break your duck (to be successful after a series of failures).

As the credit crunch dominates the headlines, animal idioms have been much in evidence in the press. Reckless bankers who have made huge personal fortunes out of activities that have hurt millions have been described as fat cats, and the results of their activities as the chickens coming home to roost (the negative results of the actions becoming clear). Many people, however, seem to regard an economic slump as the elephant in the room (something which is obvious but most people choose to ignore) and, indeed, some people don’t give a monkey’s (don’t care) about economics and high finance and say the whole thing is a clear case of the tail wagging the dog (a bad situation brought about when something important is controlled by someone or something less important).


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