Teaching EFL – Idioms Part 7

Idioms: Thing

‘Terry has a thing about spiders. If there’s one in the bath, he won’t go in the bathroom’. If you have a thing about something, you have strong feelings about it, especially feelings that are unusual or unreasonable. The expression can also be used in a more positive sense to mean to have a craving for something, as in ‘Martin has a thing about strawberry ice-cream. He just can’t get enough of it’. It can also refer to people. If you have a thing about someone, you are obsessed with them in some way, as in ‘I know it sounds crazy but she has a thing about George Michael. She’s got all his albums’.

If something is quite the thing, it is very popular or fashionable, as in ‘Baggy jeans were once quite the thing among teenage boys’. If you know a thing or two about something, you are actually quite an expert, as in ‘Old Tom knows a thing or two about badgers’.

When you are explaining something, the expression for one thing is used for saying that the reason, detail or example you are giving is not the only one, as in ‘I refuse to have a cat in the house. For one thing, I’m allergic to the bloody creatures’.

If you are explaining why something did or did not happen, you can use the expression what with one thing and another to refer to many different events in a way that is not specific, as in ‘What with one thing and another, we didn’t get back to London until four o’clock in the morning’.


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Idioms: Time

Make or do? It’s a frequently asked question. In terms of time, if you make time, you keep some of your time available for a particular purpose, as in ‘I’ll try and make time to deal with it next week’. If you aredoing time, however, you are in prison. Presumably, you pass the time in your prison cell (prevent yourself from becoming bored) by reading or watching TV.

On the outside again, you are more likely to find yourself in the situation of needing to kill time (make it pass more quickly by doing something instead of just waiting), as in ‘Our flight was delayed by five hours so we killed time by having a nice meal’.

Sometime1s, however, you may need more time to prepare for something or decide about something. In that situation you might play for time (cause a delay) and if you are the sort of person who reacts negatively to being nagged to do things more quickly by other people, you might say ‘I’ll do it in my own good time‘ (in other words, when it is convenient for you and not before).

But, naturally, time waits for no one (used when telling someone to do something soon) and sometimes things happen more quickly than you expect, as in ‘We got a taxi from the airport and were in the city centre in next to no time‘.

If you see something unusual, shocking or outrageous, instead of screaming or bursting out laughing, you might react with typical British sang-froid and say ‘Well, there’s a first time for everything‘.

Finally, if you like or admire someone a lot, you might say ‘I’ve got a lot of time for her’ but, if the opposite is true, you would say ‘I don’t have much time for her, I’m afraid’.

Idioms: Trick

‘He’s the type of football manager who will use every trick in the book to unsettle his rivals’. This means that the person in question will try every possible method in order to achieve his objectives.

A person who is up to their old tricks or up to their usual tricks is doing the same annoying or bad things they usually do, as in ‘I see Perkins is up to his old tricks again, phoning in sick on a Monday morning after partying all weekend’.

The oldest trick in the book is a dishonest method of doing something that people know about because it has been used many times before, as in ‘Phoning in sick when the weather is nice is the oldest trick in the book‘.

A person who never misses a trick never fails to exploit an opportunity when one arises, as in ‘This is a company that never misses a trick when a gap appears in the market’.

If you have a trick up your sleeve, you have a plan that you can use if you need to, as in ‘With just five minutes to go, Johnston had one more trick up his sleeve and brought on the last of his three substitutes. Itdid the trick and within two minutes City had scored the equalizer’. Here the phrase do the trick means to do what is needed in order to achieve something.

It can also be used in much the same as hit the spot to describe something that does exactly what you need it to do, as in ‘That cup of coffee really did the trick. I feel wide awake now’.



Idioms: Turn

‘We tried to get the plan accepted but we ran into problems at every turn‘, meaning that problems were encountered every time they tried to do something. If you speak (or talk) out of turn, you say something that you should not say because you have no right to say it or because it upsets someone. The expression is often used when people want to say something that others might find controversial, as in ‘I hope I’m notspeaking out of turn but I think you’re all missing the point’.

If you do someone a good turn, you help them in some way, as in ‘You could do me a good turn by taking all that stuff that’s piled up in the garden to the rubbish dump’, and the expression one good turn deserves another is used for saying that you should be kind to someone who has been kind to you.

A turn of phrase is a way of saying something, as in ‘That’s a rather unfortunate turn of phrase, if I may say so’. It can also mean a particular way of expressing yourself, particularly in writing, as in ‘As a letter writer she has a neat turn of phrase‘. The expression turn of speed, meaning the ability to go very fast, can be applied both to people and to vehicles, as in ‘In the last 400 metres, he produced a sudden turn of speed, which left his rivals standing’ or ‘The latest model has an amazing turn of speed, going from 0 to 60 miles per hour in seven seconds’.

In cooking, if something is done to a turn, it is cooked for exactly the right amount of time.


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