Teaching EFL – Idioms Part 11

Idioms: Family

The death was announced recently of the former president of Sony, Norio Ohga, who was credited with developing the compact disc and was known as ‘the father of the CD’. If you are the father of something, you are the person who started something or first did it successfully, as in ‘He is often seen as the father of British television comedy’. 

Used in a similar way, the expression the mother of is not normally used with people but rather with institutions to denote the first institution of its type, as in ‘The British parliament is sometimes known as the mother of all parliaments’. Unfortunately, although the expression is commonly used, it does not coincide with the facts as the Icelandic parliament is a much older institution. Usually in American English, the word granddaddy(with two double d‘s in American spelling) can be used in a similar way to denote the oldest or most famous example of something, as in ‘The Dow Jones, the granddaddy of Wall Street indexes’.

The expression the mother of can also be used to emphasise that something is very big, serious or exciting, as in ‘That was a mother of a storm!’ or ‘The mother of all battles took place here in 1683′.

If someone is described as ‘like a brother to me’, it means that a person is such a good friend that they are almost a family member. Again in American English, the word brother can be used as an interjection to show that you are surprised or annoyed, as in ‘Oh brother, what a mess!’


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Idioms: Food

As food plays such a central role in human existence it is not surprising that there are a large number of idioms and expressions based on items of food. The word food itself provides us with the expression food for thought, meaning something that makes you think a lot about a particular subject, as in ‘Thanks for your comments – they have given us plenty of food for thought‘.

Most people dream of finding a plum job (a very well-paid job) and might be accused of sour grapes(criticism of something because you are annoyed that you cannot have it) when they don’t get it. Even if a particular job is not your cup of tea (not something you enjoy), at least it will enable you to bring home the bacon (earn money to support your family) but you should always be careful not to put all your eggs in one basket (depend on only one thing) because if you do, you might end up with egg on your face(embarrassed because something you did has gone wrong).

You might think that something is a piece of cake (very easy) or meat and drink to you (something you enjoy because you can do it very easily), but things could go pear-shaped (go badly wrong) and your boss (the big cheese) might go bananas (get very angry) because what you did takes the biscuit (is the most silly, stupid or annoying thing in a series of things). If this happens, don’t rub salt into the wound (make matters worse) by saying something you might regret later and remember which side your bread is buttered(who to be nice to in order to gain advantages for yourself).

Idioms: Furniture

‘Manchester City’s dramatic victory brought down the curtain on an amazing season.’ Another expression used to indicate the end of something, or even death, is the final curtain, as in ‘It seems that his death did not spell the final curtain for the King of Pop as millions of his records are still being sold’. The expression be curtains for can be used to say that someone or something will die, end or be in serious trouble, as in ‘One more mistake and it’ll be curtains for him’.

If you roll out the red carpet for a guest, you give them very special treatment, but if you sweep something under the carpet, you try to avoid dealing with a problem, as in ‘You can’t just sweep important issues like these under the carpet‘.

If the cupboard is bare, there is no money left, as in ‘I’d love to lend you some money but I’m afraid the cupboard is bare at the moment’. If someone has a skeleton in the cupboard, they have an embarrassing secret about their past that they do not want anyone to know about.

To turn the tables on someone means to succeed in gaining an advantage over someone who until now had an advantage over you, as in ‘Ten years ago the developed world dominated the world economy but now the tables are turning‘.



Idioms: Heart

The British and Irish Lions rugby team is currently touring in South Africa and, despite the fact that they have lost their two international matches against the world champions, South Africa, their coach insists that the players can take heart from their performances (feel encouraged by them). The players should not lose heart (feel disappointed and try less hard) before the final match because, if they play as if their hearts are not in it (they do not really care), they will lose heavily.

To many people, it seemed that the players played their hearts out in both matches (put a terrific amount of effort into them) and you would have to have had a heart of stone (be extremely unsympathetic) not to feel sorry for them.

In the weeks before the tour, they had set their hearts on winning the series (decided they wanted to do it very much). In the second match in particular, Lions fans had their hearts in their mouths (were feeling extremely apprehensive and worried) when their team held a narrow lead just before the final whistle and their hearts sank (they felt very disappointed) when South Africa scored in the last minute. But in the end, even the most ardent Lions supporter would have to admit in their heart of hearts (admit their secret feelings) that their opponents were excellent.

It was regrettable, however, that one or two members of the winning side resorted to foul play in the match and one has since been banned from playing for eight weeks. My heart bleeds (taken at face value, this expression means that you feel sympathy for someone, but it is usually used to indicate the opposite – that you do not feel any sympathy for them whatsoever).


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