An idiom is a phrase that may mean something quite different than the words of the phrase normally mean. Idioms occur in many languages, and when you examine the translations, it’s easy to see why the idioms we use in English leave ESL folks shaking their heads in confusion.
From Armenian: Stop ironing my head means stop annoying me!
From Mandarin: breathing through the same nostril means singing from the same hymn sheet.
From Czech: to walk around the porridge meaning to beat around the bush.
From Hebrew: At the end of the world turn left meaning it’s in the middle of nowhere
From Hindi: Losing all my body parts meaning to get very tired
From Japanese: Even monkeys fall from trees meaning even experts get it wrong
I have enough trouble with English when it’s presented in a straight-forward way, never mind idiom phases. Idioms can be quite entertaining though, so without further adieu, I present an array of idioms just for you idiomaddicts.
Cat got your tongue: It’s generally asked of someone when they are unable to speak, perhaps because the individual can’t come up with a believable excuse for arriving home at 3:30 am. Reportedly the phrase comes from the middle ages when people believed that if you saw a witch, her cat could “steal” your tongue so you couldn’t tell anyone about her.
Chew the fat: What a great descriptive for a social gathering to chat, share news and gossip.
Comes from a time when sailors while working or relaxing together would chew on salt-hardened fat as they chatted. If you got a little too ambitious and got too much of this stuff in your mouth would they accuse you of biting off more than you could chew? Another idiom for taking on more than you can handle.
After the tedious and tiring work of chewing the fat, any sailor worth his salt would get into his PJs (pajamas) and hit the sack (go to bed). It probably arose from literally hitting or beating a sack containing rice, flour, or some other commodity that could double as a mattress. If you get sea sick and long for those good old farm days instead, the variation is to hit the hay. Conjures up sensual memories of warm fragrant places Just be sure the horse hasn’t left any apples behind before you bed down
Rule of thumb: a principle with broad application that is not intended to be strictly accurate or reliable for every situation. Just as the “cubit” measurement was the length of one’s forearm, or about 18 inches, so the distance from the first knuckle to the end of the thumb is about an inch in length and was a useful built in measuring device. Definitely it’s better than spending half the day searching for your tape measure. Another historical explanation comes from the design of the English longbow. When the bow is strung the space between the string and the center of the bow should be wide enough for the archer’s fist and thumb to fit sideways in between them.
Cool as a cucumber: Unlike a CNN reporter facing the scorching wrath of Donald Trump, behold the cucumber, a humble vegetable which, no matter the verbal onslaught, just lies there cool and green and unruffled. Emulate the cucumber – be cool.
Kick the bucket: means to die. The origin of this phrase remains in mystery, though one theory says that a man would be hung by being stood on an overturned bucket. When the noose was applied the bucket would then be kicked out from under the condemned. Such a let-down!
Frog in your throat: refers to the gravel-like croaking sound caused by phlegm in the back of the throat, and shows up at the most inopportune times like speaking on air, starting your job interview. Confidently taking a deep breath, opening your mouth, then croaking like a frog. Rrrribbbitt!
Fish or cut bait: Obviously not a term from nuclear physics, it refers to people who dither uncertainly about what they are going to do. Cutting bait is about preparing to fish. Fishing of course is taking action – doing it! (I love being profound!).
Alright! I’m fishing already!