English Idioms Daily Blog

... your resource for English idioms, ESL and more!


Play Dirty

The English idiom to play dirty means to behave in a dishonest or unfair way. It can be used in many contexts, e.g. business or politics, but is often seen in connection with cheating in games.

Michigan Football: State Plays Dirty, but Still Plays Better

- heritage.com, 15 October 2011, Mike Larson
Samsung Plays Dirty, Ambushes Apple’s iPhone 4S Launch in Sydney
- thenextweb.com, 12 October 2011, Matt Brian
When Co-Workers Play Dirty
- edition.cnn.com, 28 November 2007, Mary Lorenz

The third headline
When Co-Workers Play Dirty refers to employees who lie, cheat and don’t behave fairly within the workplace. In what ways, can co-workers play dirty? And what can you do to deal with people who don’t play by the rules? Read the cnn article to find out.


Image: posterize / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


One-Hit Wonder

One-Hit Wonder

Today’s idiom is the term one-hit wonder. It refers to a band, musician or singer who is famous for only one album or song.
Some people refer to Bobby McFerrin as a
one-hit wonder. Do you remember his song Don’t Worry be Happy from 1988? Or what about the band Los Del Rio who sang the 1996 hit, Macarena? Can you think of any other bands or artists who only had one big hit? Check this wikipedia.org link to find some more one-hit wonders.


Feel the Pinch

Feel the Pinch

Have you ever heard the expression to feel the pinch before? Look at these news headlines and, then, tell me what this English idiom means:

Charities Still
Feeling the Pinch from Economic Downturn
- seattletimes.nwsource.com, 18 December 2011, Donna Gordon Blankinship
Consumers, Businesses Starting
to Feel Pinch of Gas Prices
- m.courierpress.com. 15 April 2011, Katie Reineke
Feeling the Pinch, Thanks to Rising Food and Gas Prices
- citytv.com, April 12 2011, Ashleigh Smollet

What does
to feel the pinch mean?

a) to worry
b) to suffer
c) to have money problems
d) to be afraid

Find the definition of
to feel the pinch here.


Get Cold Feet

When you get cold feet, you become too afraid to do something that you planned to do. This English phrase is often used in connection with weddings or other significant planned events, as you can see in the following examples:

10 minutes before her job interview, Maria
got cold feet and went home
got cold feet and didn’t show up for his wedding.
I am worried that he
is getting cold feet about starting a new business with me.

In each of these examples, the subjects became too frightened to do something - to attend a job interview, to get married and to start a new business. In what other situations could someone
get cold feet?


Image: graur razvan ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Hit the Hay


Test your knowledge of English idioms! Hay is what you see in the picture above....so what does the English idiom to hit the hay, as in in the sentence I am going to hit the hay, mean?
a) to leave
b) to wake up
c) to give up
d) to go to bed

Which of the following idioms has the same meaning as
to hit the hay?
a) to hit the road
b) to hit the mark
c) to hit the roof
d) to hit the sack

Find the answers to these questions and learn more about the idiom
to hit the hay here.


Claim to Fame

Claim to Fame

A claim to fame is a reason why someone or something has become famous or well-known. You can see how this English idiom is used in the following examples:

Ralf Möller’s
claim to fame was a role in the movie Gladiator.
claim to fame is its renowned university.
The iPhone is, arguably, Apple’s greatest
claim to fame.

Let’s see what you know about famous people and their
claims to fame! What are the following individuals’ claims to fame?

a) Karl Benz
b) J.K. Rowling
c) Yoko Ono

Find their
claims to fame here.


Snowed Under

Snowed Under

Have you ever heard someone say that he or she is snowed under before? If you have, the man or woman who said it probably looked like the person in the picture above - very stressed. Not a pretty picture, that’s for sure! A person who is snowed under with something, e.g. work, problems, etc..., has so much of that something that he or she has problems dealing with it. Look at these recent headlines for some examples of how the English idiom to be snowed under with something can be used:

Auto Shops Snowed Under with Work
- the chronicleherald.ca, 24 November 2011, John Demont

Santa Gets Snowed Under with Mail; 20 Millionth Letter Expected to Arrive Soon

- ca.news.yahoo.com, 2 December 2011, The Canadian Press
With Christmas Approaching, Are You Feeling Snowed Under?
- nicolepinpointmarketing.wordpress.com, 28 November 2011

These headlines refer to people or businesses that are
snowed under with work, mail and stress. They are having difficulty managing these things and feel like they are too much for them.
My question for you today: With Christmas approaching, are you feeling
snowed under? And what is it that makes people feel snowed under at this time of year in the first place?



Today's idiom is diddly-squat

Test you knowledge of English idioms! What do you think the English expression diddly-squat, as in the sentence I know diddly-squat, means?

a) nothing
b) something
c) everything
d) anything

here for the correct answer.


Cash Cow

Cash Cow Idiom

The English idiom cash cow refers to a business or part of a business that always makes a profit. Another good definition for the expression would be a consistent moneymaker. Look at these headlines to see examples of how the idiom cash cow is used:

Michael Jackson Music Still a Cash Cow for Sony
-eurweb.com, November 18 2010
Cheaper, Smaller Apple iPhone Will Be a Cash Cow: 10 Reasons Why

-eweek.com, February 14 2011, Don Reisinger
Google’s Android Is Microsoft’s New Cash Cow
-techdreams.org, July 7 2011, Gopinath

According to these articles, Michael Jackson, the iPhone and Google’s Android are all
cash cows, i.e. moneymakers, for Sony, Apple and Microsoft.
What do you know about the following companies? What do you think their
cash cows could be?

1. The Walt Disney Company
2. Yamaha
3. General Motors


Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Actions speak louder than words is an English proverb that means the things that are done are more important than the things that are said. Here is a dialogue to demonstrate the use of the English idiom actions speak louder than words:

Luigi: I love you, Dora. You are my sun, my moon and my sky. I would do anything for you.
Dora: If that’s true, Luigi, move out of your Mother’s house and marry me. Actions speak louder than words.

In the dialogue above, Dora is not happy with
nice words - she wants to see her Luigi take action and marry her. Poor Luigi!
Look at the following quotes and proverbs that have the same meaning as
actions speak louder than words:

Well done is better than well said.
- Benjamin Franklin
Never mistake motion for action.
- Ernest Hemingway
A promise is a cloud; fulfillment is rain.
- Arabian proverb
As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.
- Andrew Carnegie
Talk doesn’t cook rice.
- Chinese proverb

Which quote do like best? Do you know any other similar quotes?



No-go is an expression that you can use to say that something is not going to happen. Usually, something is a no- go (or no go ) because of difficulties that get in the way or stop it from happening. The expression can be used as a noun or as an adjective. You can see examples of both in the examples below:

Bad weather conditions made Mr. Snow’s scheduled flight to Alaska a no-go.
Due to safety issues, the launch of the new X-Plode smartphone was
Technical problems made Michael’s start in the Formula 1 race a

In these three examples, planned events did not take place because of problems - i.e. bad weather, safety issues and technical difficulties. Anytime something is not able to proceed as planned due to problems, you can refer to it as a no-go.

Has anything been a
no-go for you recently?


Image: Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net



Have you ever heard something called a no-no? A no-no is something that people feel is not acceptable. Let’s look at a few sample sentences to see how the idiom no-no can be used:

Unfortunately, Mr. Puffin didn’t know that smoking on airplanes was a
no-no until he lit his first cigarette on Flight 102 to Boston.
As we were setting up our instruments, the librarian kindly informed me that loud music was a
no-no in the library.
Most parents tell their children that eating with their mouths open is a
no-no, but Frieda had never had this lesson.

What do you think is an absolute
no-no? And what is the difference between a no-no and a no-go? Find out here.


Image: Grant Cochrane / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


A Hard/Tough Nut to Crack

Today’s English idiom is a hard/tough nut to crack. What do you think this idiom refers to?

a) an angry person
b) a difficult person or a difficult problem to solve
c) an intelligent person
d) a secret or a secretive person

here for the answer.

Image: Grant Cochrane / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Come Under Fire

The English expression to come under fire means to be criticized. Since there are a lot of things in this world that people don’t like, there are also a lot of things that come under fire. Let’s look at some recent headlines to see some examples:

Cost of Pope’s Visit Comes Under Fire in Crisis-Hit Spain
- newsinfo.inquirer.com, 9 August 2011, Daniel Silva
Romney Comes Under Fire from Gingrich, Democrats
- realclearpolitics.com, 18 November 2011, The Associated Press
SpongeBob Comes Under Fire
abcnews.go.com, September 12 2011, video, ABC News

I was particularly interested in watching the video referred to in the last article
Spongebob Comes Under Fire. In it, the famous children’s television show, Spongebob Squarepants, comes under fire. According to the television report, a study presented by a pediatrics journal criticizes the show and questions its value for small children. Can you think of reasons why Spongebob Squarepants would come under fire? Click on the ABC News link above to find out why some experts find this show harmful. Do you agree with their opinions?

Image: photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Out of Sight, Out of Mind

The English proverb out of sight, out of mind means that when someone isn’t there, you forget about him or her. Usually, this saying is used in connection with relationships. Look at this short dialogue to see how the phrase out of sight, out of mind can be used:

Last week, Fred’s wife was away and it didn’t look like he missed her.
Well, what do you expect? Out of sight, out of mind.

With the statement
out of sight, out of mind, Gertrude is saying that Fred forgot about his wife because she wasn’t there.

Do you know an English proverb that has the opposite meaning of
out of sight, out of mind? It’s a proverb that means that when someone is away, you love him or her even more. I can give you a clue:

Absence makes....

here for the full answer. Below, you can see Forget-Me-Not flowers:

Forget Me Not Flowers