Using English Idioms
Before using English idioms, it is important to know exactly what they are. English idioms are phrases, words or expressions used in the English language that may be unusual in grammatical terms. English idioms also have meanings that make no literal sense, such as “It’s raining cats and dogs!” An English idiom is a figure of speech.
English idioms can be confusing for people learning English as a second language as they defy all the rules they may have already learnt. They can also be confusing as the same idiomatic term may be a literal term that means something entirely different.
Here we will look at a few of the common English idioms. We will look at the literal meaning and the idiomatic meaning to simply things.
To Break The IceThe idiomatic meaning of “break the ice” is to make it easier to start a discussion or a conversation.
- Literal example – “The bartender broke the ice before he put it in the cocktail maker.”
- Idiomatic example – “Jason broke the ice with a joke.”
A Red HerringThe idiomatic meaning of the term “a red herring” is to throw someone off the scent, or off the line of questioning with a fake clue or a false lead. In actual fact, the reason why this saying came about is red herrings, (a type of kipper) were used to divert hounds from a scent trail when hunting.
- Idiomatic example – “He threw us off the scent of the treasure with a red herring.”
Daylight RobberyThis figure of speech is used to show that the person using it doesn’t agree with the price of something they have purchased. It doesn’t literally mean that a robbery is taking place in daylight.
- Idiomatic example – “That toy we bought for Christmas was so expensive. In fact, it was daylight robbery.”
The Die Has Been CastThis is another figure of speech used to show that a choice has been made that cannot be reversed. The “die” in the saying is the singular form of dice. So, the die (dice) has been cast (rolled). Apparently, Julius Caesar first used this saying when he crossed the Rubicon. Of course, he wouldn’t have said it in English, and there is no way to verify this is true.
- Idiomatic example – “John, the die has been cast. There is no going back now.”
A Knight In Shining ArmourThis idiom is generally used when someone, usually a man, comes to someone’s rescue in some way, usually a woman. Of course, this term is used because of the romantic notion of a knight saving a damsel in distress. There may be some element of truth to the saying, and some truth to the meaning of the idiomatic term. However, it is largely due to fiction and legends of people within places like Camelot.
- Idiomatic example – “He saved my life! He is my knight in shining armour!”
A Wolf In Sheep’s ClothingObviously this doesn’t mean there is literally a wolf in a sheep’s clothing. The term “sheep’s clothing” doesn’t mean actual clothes; it means a sheep’s skin.
The idiom “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” means that someone is hiding something from you. It is normally used to show someone hiding some kind of malicious intent while they pretend to be nice.
The phrase has been used in the bible and in Aesop’s fables. In fact, a translation of Aesop’s fables tells us of a wolf trying to secure food by hiding in the skin of a sheep. Hence the term, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
- Idiomatic example – “Beware of that man, he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
There are a lot of idioms in the English language, some are self explanatory, and others are more complicated. If you are learning English as a second language, it may be worth while leaving the idioms until last. They are easily confused and may give out the wrong message to people you are talking, or writing to.
However, English idioms can be a lot of fun! So, see how many idioms you can fit into day to day life.