Posted by: Jack Henry | April 4, 2023

Editor’s Corner: Idioms

Good day, friends!

Today’s literary term is one I’m sure you’ve heard of, since we talk about it often here in Editor’s Corner, and that is the idiom. Here’s how Merriam-Webster defines idiom:

: an expression in the usage of a language that is peculiar to itself either in having a meaning that cannot be derived from the conjoined meanings of its elements (such as up in the air for "undecided") or in its grammatically atypical use of words (such as give way)

Idioms aren’t just a phenomenon in English. They can be found in most languages, I would suspect. They are certainly one of the hardest things to learn when you are trying to pick up a foreign language, because even if you can translate the words themselves, they mean something different as an idiom. My cousin’s boys in Greece love to teach me new Greek idioms. They enjoy me trying to puzzle out the words to translate them, then they tell me what the idiomatic phrase actually means (and I can guarantee it is usually something naughty).

Whether you are a native speaker of English or it is a second language, here are some examples of common English idioms and their meanings.

Idiom Meaning
A blessing in disguise a good thing that seemed bad at first
A dime a dozen Something common
Beat around the bush Avoid saying what you mean, usually because it is uncomfortable
Better late than never Better to arrive late than not to come at all
Bite the bullet To get something over with because it is inevitable
Break a leg Good luck
Call it a day Stop working on something
Cutting corners Doing something poorly in order to save time or money
Give someone the benefit of the doubt Trust what someone says
Go back to the drawing board Start over
Hang in there Don’t give up
Hit the sack Go to sleep
Let someone off the hook To not hold someone responsible for something
No pain, no gain You have to work for what you want
On the ball Doing a good job
Pull someone’s leg To joke with someone
Pull yourself together Calm down
Speak of the devil The person we were just talking about showed up!
That’s the last straw My patience has run out
To get bent out of shape To get upset
Under the weather Sick
We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it Let’s not talk about that problem right now
Wrap your head around something Understand something complicated

For a selection of idioms in other languages (translated to English) you can check out a few here at FluentU. Donna has also recently graced us with two good collections of English idioms from around the world:

Enjoy your day!

Kara Church | Technical Editor, Advisory | Technical Publications

Pronouns: she/her | Call via Teams |

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