Teaching EFL – Idioms Part 14

Idioms: Roof

‘When the final whistle blew, the home fans raised the roof‘. This means they made a lot of noise, cheering and applauding. If, on the other hand, someone hits the roof, they become very angry quite suddenly and start shouting, as in ‘When the manager found out what had happened, he hit the roof‘. The expression go through the roof can be used in a similar way, as in ‘My sister went through the roof when she saw what I’d done to her car’. Go through the roof can also be used to indicate a rapid increase to a very high level, as in ‘Petrol prices have gone through the roof over the last few months’.

A roof over your head means somewhere to live, as in ‘Some people are struggling to keep a roof over their head these days’. If you find yourself under someone’s roof, you are in their house, usually on a relatively long-term basis, as in ‘As long as you are living under my roof, you’ll do as I say’. If you are under the same roof, you are living in the same home as someone else, as in ‘Things got so bad between them that they could no longer bear to live under the same roof‘.

The roof of the world is used to describe the highest mountains in Asia, particularly the Himalayas and the surrounding regions, as in ‘China’s new 1,200-mile railway crosses some of the world’s harshest terrain on its way to the roof of the world‘.


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Idioms: Sailing and the Sea

It is no surprise that the language of an island nation with a rich maritime history should have a number of idioms related to the sea and sailing.

An example of a widely used expression which originated on the sea is to know the ropes or show someone the ropes (to know how to do something or to teach someone to do something, particularly a job), as in ‘It’s a bit difficult at first but you’ll soon get to know the ropes‘.

If you do something at a rate of knots, you do it very quickly, as in ‘He set off at a rate of knots but he soon became tired and slowed down’. If you clear the decks, you do work that you need to do before you can do other things.

By sailing close to the wind, you are taking unnecessary risks and could easily get into trouble, and if you are in the doldrums, you are in a situation in which there is a lack of success, activity or improvement, as in ‘After years in the doldrums, the market is finally picking up’.

If something is described as plain sailing, it is easy to do or achieve, as in ‘The French won the match, but it wasn’t all plain sailing‘.

To give someone or something a wide berth means to avoid them at all costs, as in ‘Dog walkers have been advised to give cattle a wide berth after a woman was seriously injured last week’.

The word sea itself provides us with the idiom all at sea, meaning confused and unsure what to do, as in ‘United were all at sea as they struggled to come to terms with the bumpy pitch’.

Idioms: Sport

Let’s get the ball rolling (make something start happening). Sport plays such a prominent role in the lives of so many people that it is unsurprising that there are a large number of idioms with a sporting connection. Many involve a central term in the world of sport, the word ball. If you are on the ball, for example, you are well-informed and quick to understand what is happening and what must be done. If, on the other hand, you have several balls in the air, you are trying to do a number of different things at the same time.

If the ball is in your court, it is now your responsibility or turn to take action or make a decision rather than somebody else’s and you will no doubt have to do things off your own bat (do them on your own initiative). In that situation, it is rather unlikely that you will be having a ball (really enjoying yourself) or punching the air (celebrating), although it is by no means impossible. It is more likely that you will find yourself on a sticky wicket (in a difficult or embarrassing situation). Whatever happens, don’t pull any punches (express your opinions or criticism clearly) and don’t score any own goals (do something that accidentally harms you when you intended to harm someone else). The most important thing is to know the score (know the truth about something, especially when it is unpleasant) and remember that when things go wrong it is all part of the game (a normal part of a particular activity).



Idioms: Sweep

If a team sweeps the board, it wins everything, as in ‘Last year, Durham swept the board, winning all four domestic competitions’. This achievement can also be described as a clean sweep.

If an individual or a political party sweeps to power, they win an election by a very large number of votes, as in ‘After 18 years of Conservative rule, it was no surprise when Labour swept to power in 1997′. Conversely, if a political party is swept from power, it loses an election by a very large number of votes.

To sweep to victory means to easily win a competition or an election, as in ‘City swept to victory with a powerful first-half performance that saw them score four times in the first twenty-five minutes’.

The expression to sweep someone off their feet has two meanings. If a strong wind sweeps you off your feet, it lifts you up in the air, as in ‘The wind was gusting at up to 80 miles an hour and, at one point, a particularly strong gust nearly swept us off our feet‘. It can also mean to have a strong effect on someone so that they quickly become attracted to you in a romantic way, as in ‘Donald was hoping to sweep Helenoff her feet but she just laughed at him when he asked her to dance’.

If you sweep something under the carpet, you try to avoid dealing with a problem by pretending it does not exist, as in ‘The government was accused of sweeping a whole string of sensitive issues under the carpet’.


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