Tricks of the Trade*: Idioms
Hello there …
… and welcome to this week’s Englisch Macht Spaß! We took a little break last week, because I was off gadding about the Czech Republic. I have no doubt you used the break wisely to catch up on previous English Macht Spaß posts. Right? Good.
This week, I thought we’d talk about idioms, those strangle little expressions that pepper conversations and can cause a lot of confusion.
What is an Idiom?
An idiom is an expression that’s meaning does not reflect, or cannot be deduced from, the individual words it contains. It has a figurative meaning, not a literal meaning. Eg: I am over the moon with my exam results. (I am thrilled/really happy/very pleased with … etc etc.)
Why do we need to know about them?
A few reasons …
- There are thousands upon thousands of idioms in any given language, and English is no exception. Courtesy of English being spoken by many and varied countries, its idiom collection is a rather full one.
- Native speakers use idioms often, without even thinking about it, because idioms can express something quickly and easily. It’s therefore useful to be able to 1) identify them as idioms – and so things you won’t be able to understand literally and so don’t try – and 2) understand what they mean.
- Knowing a few idioms that spring from the country you may be learning/speaking English in, helps you understand the language on a deeper level, and also afford greater insight into the culture. (Eg: German idiom will reveal a deep love of the pig.)
Some Useful English Idioms
It isn’t possible to learn every single idiom that exists, nor should you become so bogged down in looking for them that you begin to think every single sentence spoken to you is an idiom. But knowing a handful is a good place to start, both for your comprehension and conversation skills. So I’ve put together a list of some very common idioms that you can start trying to use in your day to day conversations.
– You’re pulling my leg. // You aren’t telling me the truth –> You speak ten languages fluently? You’re pulling my leg.
– She’s as a sick as a dog. // She’s very, very sick. –> Jo will be off work for a week, she’s as sick as a dog.
– Once in a blue moon // Not very often. –> I got to the dentist once in a blue moon, because I hate it.
– It’s raining cats and dogs. // It’s raining very heavily. –> I am not going outside today, it’s raining cats and dogs.
– To change your tune. // To change your mind. –> Oh you like pumpkin spice lattes now, do you? You’ve changed your tune.
– Drop me a line. // Contact me. –> I’d love to hear about your trip to Italy. Drop me a line when you get the chance.
– To kick the bucket. // To die. –> Didn’t I tell you? The cat kicked the bucket last year.
– It takes two to tango. // More than one person has caused the problem. –> John was wrong to have an affair with his colleague, but it takes two to tango.
– By the skin of your teeth. // Just! –> You handed in your assignment two minutes before deadline – you made it by the skin of your teeth.
– To bite the bullet. // To do something you have always wanted to do, or have been avoiding. –> I have always wanted to go to South Africa, so yesterday I bit the bullet and booked tickets.
– To beat around the bush. // To take a long time to get to the point. –> Stop beating around the bush and just tell me what you want.
* Tricks of the trade? Tools and techniques that make people very good at their craft or profession.
Check out these sites for some more examples of common idioms:
- Your Dictionary
- Wikipedia (has some great idioms from around the world, translated into English. Very interesting!)
- About.com (has the German idiom with its English counterpart!)
Some of my Favourite German Idioms in English
Not a day passes where SG doesn’t translate a German idiom directly into English, thus confusing me greatly by saying things like, ‘well, that was always hiding in the bush.’
I asked the good people on Twitter what some of their favourite German idioms are, that sound extremely funny when translated into English. Here’s what we came up with.
— It goes DE // Direct Translation // EN Idiom Counterpart —
* Um den heißen Brei herumreden. // To talk around the hot soup. // To beat around the bush.
* Sich in den Arsch beißen. // To bite oneself in the arse. // To kick oneself.
* Sich auf die Socken machen. // To make the socks. // To make tracks.
* Sie spielt die beleidigte Leberwurst. // She’s playing the affronted sausage. // She’s in a huff.
* Arschgeige. // Arse violin. // Arsehole.
* Dumm wie Bohnenstroh. // As dumb as a bean straw. // As thick as a brick, or as dumb as a post.
* Daumen drücken! // To press your thumbs. // To cross your fingers.
* Die Kirche im Dorf lassen. // To leave the church in the village. // To not get carried away.
What are some of your favourites? Leave them in the comments below.
Leaving it there because I have just been asked to do something and, upon not responding fast enough, told, ‘the music’s over here!’ So I am off to face the music, wherever and whatever it may be.
*** Any questions, ideas, comments? You know the drill; email me firstname.lastname@example.org,
Tweet me or leave a comment below. ***
And here are the previous EMS posts to catch up on.