Teaching EFL – Idioms Part 2

Idioms: crime and the law.

A radio reporter recently described her car journey on the notorious M25 (Britain’s busiest motorway) as ‘murder’. If you say something is murder, it is very difficult, unpleasant or uncomfortable, as in ‘The traffic out there is murder‘ and ‘ All this gardening is murder on my back’.

If you get away with murder, you do whatever you want without being stopped or punished, as in ‘Young people get away with murder these days’. If you are feeling particularly thirsty, you might say ‘I could murder a cold drink’, meaning that you want one very much. Murder can be used with food in the same way, e.g. ‘I could murder a hamburger right now’.

If you steal someone’s thunder, you get attention and praise instead of them, as in ‘Mr Sarkozy was asked if he was worried that his wife was stealing his thunder’. If something is described as a steal, it is very cheap, e.g. ‘Those shoes are a steal at that price’.

Of course, if you commit a real crime, you have to make sure that you keep well away from the long arm of the law (the police), otherwise known as the boys in blue or the Old Bill, or you might end up behind bars(in prison).

Some people are a law unto themselves (refusing to behave like everyone else or believing they can do whatever they want to do), while others take the law into their own hands (punish someone in their own way without involving the police or the courts), perhaps because they feel that they are above the law (not affected by it or subject to it).


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Idioms: Drunk

The word drunk is often said to be the English word with the most synonyms. Certainly there are a large number of different ways of saying that someone is drunk, ranging from the euphemistic (e.g. he’s rather the worse for wear), to the direct or graphic (e.g. she’s absolutely paralytic), to some which are downright strange (e.g. he’s three sheets to the wind).

Euphemistic terms for drunk include examples such as She’s had a few, He’s had one too many, She’s had a drop too much and the term tired and emotional, first skilfully applied by the press in the 1960s to describe a politician with a fondness for the bottle without directly accusing him of being drunk. More examples of direct expressions include legless, plastered, hammered, wasted, wrecked, loaded, trashed and tanked up. One of the most common is pissed, which can cause misunderstandings in conversations between British and American speakers of English as it has a different meaning in American English, where it means ‘angry’. The British English equivalent for ‘angry’ is pissed off.

Among the odder ways of saying drunk are half cut (the origin of which is as yet unexplained), the entertaining lit up like a Christmas tree, and Brahms and Liszt, the latter being an example of Cockney rhyming slang. Sometimes the simplest words are the most effective, however. A particular favourite in this context is full, as in ‘Sorry. I don’t want any more. I’m a bit full‘.


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Idioms: Eye

Parts of the body are a rich source of idioms but the one that seems to feature most frequently is eye, probably because it can act as a synonym for the very common verbs look, watch and see. Someone may ask you to run (or cast) your eye(s) over something (meaning to read or look at it very quickly) or they make ask you to keep an eye on someone or something (look after a person or a thing). You might have your eye on something (to have seen it and want to have it or buy it) or you might have an eye for something (have a natural ability for seeing or finding something, as in ‘She has a good eye for detail’).

You could go into some situations with your eyes open (knowing there could be many problems, as in ‘I went into the job with my eyes open’) and, in others, you might be able to do things with your eyes closed(very easily). Of course there is often more to something than meets the eye (it is more complicated than it seems) and, in some situations, you may need eyes in the back of your head (to be able to notice everything that is happening around you). If you are very busy, you are up to your eyes in work, even though you might have one eye on the clock (keep looking at or paying attention to something while you are doing something else).

One day someone might catch your eye (attract your attention) and you might find that you can’t take your eyes off them (you are unable to stop looking at them), especially if you only have eyes for them (like or love them and no-one else).



Idioms: Fire

The events of early August in London and other British cities have seen buildings on fire and young people setting fire to cars and looting shops.

The police have come under fire (been severely criticized) for their handling of the riots and have drawn fire(attracted criticism) from a number of political leaders, in particular. However, senior police officers have hit back and fought fire with fire (criticized their critics) and it is likely that some senior politicians will be next in the line of fire (likely to be criticized for their words or actions).

Sometimes, of course, it is better to hang fire or hold fire (wait before taking action) and opening fire(starting to shoot at) on the rioters would probably have added fuel to the fire (made a bad situation worse) and would surely have had disastrous consequences.

The police have said that they have several irons in the fire (a number of different plans) for dealing with any repetition of this behaviour and that anyone contemplating doing so would be playing with fire (doing something dangerous or risky that could bring them problems).

Clearly, the images of the riots on television fired the imagination of a number of young people (made them extremely excited) and fired with enthusiasm (full of enthusiasm) they joined in the looting and burning. In fact, it seemed that many of the rioters were firing on all cylinders (putting in a lot of energy and effort) as they grabbed armfuls of designer clothes and trainers from the burnt-out shops.


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