Idioms (or ‘idiomatic expressions’) are an important part of every language. They are expressions that are used in every day speech to represent common situations, problems or to give advice. Idioms are everywhere in English and can be a bit confusing for learners. Usually if you see an idiom for the first time written down with no context it is impossible to understand its meaning. The words by themselves often don’t really make sense. But if you use a bit of logic and then understand the context they are used the meaning suddenly becomes clear. Some English idioms have been in use for many years, handed down from generation to generation. Here are 5 of the most popular from the British Isles…
Hit the nail on the head
As a British schoolchild, if your teacher said to you “you’ve hit the nail on the head there, kid!”, then you would be very happy with yourself. Because this means you have answered a question exactly correctly. Just imagine a hammer coming down very accurately on a nail and you’ll understand the meaning. This one means you have found the perfect solution or answer.
Best thing since sliced bread
Imagine your British friend turns to you and says “have you heard that new app? It’s honestly the best thing since sliced bread!”. What does she mean? Well as you can guess, it’s a way to describe something as very very good and useful. We use this idiom in English especially to describe a very good new invention, like smartphones or useful apps, because after all, what is more useful than bread that is already sliced?!
Don’t give up the day job
If your dad just heard you sing for the first time and then says to you “I wouldn’t give up your day job, son!”, then it means he probably didn’t enjoy it too much, and you should probably take a few extra lessons, because it’s going to be a long road to fame and fortune. The idea here is that you should not quit your current job to follow your new passion, because you may be making a terrible mistake. This classic, sarcastic idiom is used to advise someone that unfortunately they are not very good at the new thing they are trying.
It’s raining cats and dogs
A lot of people have heard this one actually. The first part is easy enough to understand, but cats and dogs… what do cats and dogs have to do with rain?! The meaning is simple. We say it when it is raining, raining A LOT and heavily. The origin of this phrase has a gruesome beginning. In 17th century England the streets were very dirty, and when it rained very heavily the streets flooded and sometimes brought dead animals along in the water. This idiom is used up and down the UK because, after all it rains a lot in that country.
You can’t judge a book by it’s cover
This is a lovely and inspiring example of a British idiom and the meaning is quite clear from the words. Of course, how can you judge how good a book is from it’s front cover alone? You need to read it and experience it yourself before you decide that! But we don’t just use this expression to talk about books. In English it is applied widely to advise people not to judge a person or thing from the first encounter, because after all, it’s impossible to understand someone or something from a quick glance or a brief meeting.
That’s all for now! Do you know any more English idioms? Write in the comments below!