Teaching EFL – Idioms Part 13

Idioms: Money

Money talks‘ as the old saying goes, meaning that money brings you power and influence. There are a number of idioms that describe people who have a lot of money or waste a lot of money on things they don’t really need. They spend money like water or throw their money around. They have money to burn and have more money than sense.

For such people, money is no object (they have a lot of money and can buy what they want). Perhaps the money they have is dirty money (money earned through crime) or they may be in the money (suddenly rich through money they have won or been given). Maybe they are in the fortunate position of earning money for old rope (earning money very easily without much work or effort).

If, on the other hand, you do not have much money and someone asks you to buy something expensive, you might say ‘Hold on – I’m not made of money, you know’. If you are a bit short of money (you don’t have enough), you probably want to make sure you get your money’s worth (feel that what you have got is worth the amount you paid for it), as in ‘Get there early to make sure you get your money’s worth‘.

If you are completely sure that something will happen, you can put your money on it, as in ‘She’ll be late. You can put money on it‘. And if you want someone to actually do something to show that they mean what they say instead of just talking about it, say ‘Put your money where your mouth is‘.


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Idioms: Music

If someone says something that you are very pleased to hear, you can say that it is music to your ears, as in ‘Their offer of help was music to my ears‘.

It would be quite a different matter however, should you be required to face the music, as this would mean that you have to accept punishment or criticism for something you have done wrong. If that happens, it’s probably better not to make a song and dance about it (complain a lot about something in an annoying and unnecessary way).

Sometimes it’s difficult to strike the right note (create a particular mood by the way you speak or behave) but, if you do so, you might touch or strike a chord with someone (produce a particular emotion in them), as in ‘Her tale of woe struck a chord with Edward’.

If you change your tune, you change your opinion or attitude, as in ‘Is that your dog? You’ve changed your tune. You always used to hate dogs!’

If you dance to someone’s tune, you do what they tell you to do and, in that situation, it’s that person who calls the tune (is in control), as in ‘At the moment the money markets are not sure who is in charge and who is calling the tune‘.

The expression to the tune of is used to emphasize how large a sum of money is, as in ‘The company is in debt to the tune of £1.2 billion’, and if something goes for a song, it is sold at a very cheap price, as in ‘Video recorders are going for a song these days’.

Idioms: Nail

If you fight tooth and nail over something, you fight or argue with great energy and determination, as in ‘Ministers have been fighting tooth and nail over the issue of budget cuts’.

A person who is described as being as hard as nails is very tough and is not usual affected by emotions such as sadness or sympathy, as in ‘You’d have to be as hard as nails not to shed a tear at the end of this movie’.

A nail in the coffin is one of a series of events or actions that seriously harm someone or something, as in ‘The closure of the factory is another nail in the coffin for industry in this area’.

If you hit the nail on the head, you say something that is exactly right or very true, as in ‘Peter hit the nail on the head when he said that what this company lacks is ambition’.

If you nail your colours to the mast, you say clearly and publicly who you support or what you think about something, as in ‘In backing the spending cuts, the prime minister has nailed his colours firmly to the mast‘.

If you nail a rumour or a lie, you show that it is not true, as in ‘I think it’s time to nail these rumours about a secret deal once and for all’.

A nail-biting situation is one that makes you very worried, as in ‘When we were leading 3-0 at half-time, we didn’t expect such a nail-biting end to the match’. The match in question could also be described as a nail-biter, e.g. ‘It was a real nail-biter‘.



Idioms: Popping your clogs

Euphemisms are a rich source of idioms as people try desperately to avoid calling a spade a spade or, worse still, causing offence. One of the great taboo subjects in Western culture is, of course, death, and various linguistic strategies are used to get around actually saying that someone has died. One of the most common is to say that someone is ‘no longer with us’, as in ‘I’m sorry to say Uncle Peter is no longer with us’. This can, of course, lead to misunderstandings; in a business context it can mean that he no longer works for us, and it may also prompt the inappropriate (and potentially insensitive) response ‘Why? Where is he?’ It may be better to say that poor Uncle Peter has ‘passed away’ or ‘passed on’ or ‘gone to a better place’.

More colloquial non-euphemistic ways of saying die include kick the bucket (‘You’ll kick the bucket before long if you don’t stop smoking’), pop your clogs (‘When I pop my clogs you’ll get all my money’) and snuff it(‘If I snuff it before you do, remember to put flowers on my grave, won’t you’).

Back in the world of euphemisms, you can break the news to a child that his/her favourite dog has died by saying ‘Blackie’s gone to the great kennel in the sky’. Depending on the previous interests of the dead person (or animal) concerned, the word kennel can be substituted by an almost limitless list of other locations (e.g. stadium, theatre, classroom, library or even pub).


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