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American  Idioms



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Red tape/Cut through red tape   On a high horse
Teacher's Pet Rest on one s laurels
The King's/ Queen's English As black as one is painted
Meet someone halfway A moving spirit
Count sheep In someone's shoes
Blue Monday With a light heart
Play cat-and-mouse game A flight of fancy
Go Bust Rock bottom
Live in a fishbowl / goldfish bowl Starry-eyed
(Like) water off a duck's back Sweat Bullets
Top dog A golden parachute
A golden key opens every door A scandal sheet
An Old Salt In a fix
Save one's breath Have the field to oneself
Stand up and be counted The sticker price
Back to the salt mines Cook the books
Lead by the nose Old as Methuselah
Snatch something from under someone's nose Like the sound of one s own voice
Money does not grow on trees Go straight
Say cheese Go on the stump
Get the hang of something All of a piece with your clumsiness
Live in a vacuum A bag of wind




Teacher's Pet

A teacher's pet is a student who is favoured and given special attention by the teacher. "I am worried that the other kids might get jealous if they think I am teacher's pet," Teddy said. I don't think Teddy has to worry, for even though the students can see that he is teacher's pet, they know there are serious disadvantages to that. "That's because Professor Oxbridge can be pretty difficult to please !" Teddy explained.



The King's / Queen's English

The King and Queen act as though they have just met ! "Actually, we are here to explain the difference between the King's English and the Queen's English, " the King said. "In reality, there is no difference," the Queen added, " because these terms describe the very best and most correct English, and whether you call it the King's English or the Queen's English depends on who is on the throne of England at that moment, " she smiled



Meet someone halfway

When Chief Totem got news that explorers had set sail for his continent, he decided to meet them halfway. Hopping into his boat, he soon found them somewhere in the middle of the ocean. "I'd be ever so happy to show you the way to my lands if you will show me the way to yours," he smiled. There is no record of what the explorers replied, but it is well-known that to meet someone halfway is to cooperate with someone by agreeing to make compromises.



Count sheep

You won't find him counting sheep. He sleeps very well, thank you. I if this sounds odd it's because to count sheep is an old method of trying to get to sleep by counting imaginary lambs jumping over a fence in one's mind. "Poor father. I know I've disappointed him. I hope he doesn't lie in bed counting sheep thinking that I have failed him, " Sal sighed.



Blue Monday

To be blue is to be sad. Many people feel sad returning to work after a weekend of rest -- and that's the meaning behind blue Monday. "The weekend's over," Felix sighed, "and here it is, blue Monday, time to get back to the routine of work."



Play (a) cat-and-mouse (game)

Play a cat-and-mouse (game) is to deliberately confuse someone so that he or she does not know what is happening. "Christopher played a cat-and-mouse game with the management until finally resigning to go to work for our competitors. Until then, no one knew if he would stay or leave." "That fellow was playing a cat and mouse with me!" the boss exclaimed.



Go Bust

When a store or company has no money, it goes out of business. Colloquially, it goes bust. That makes me think of the time Felix sold balloons at the fair. "One by one, my balloons broke!" he said. "In no time at all, my business went bust!" Today, Felix has a much better job working for a large company. "There is no chance of it every going bust!" he said.



Live in a fishbowl / goldfish bowl

A person described as living in a fishbowl ( or in a goldfish bowl ) has absolutely no privacy. His every movement can be observed and he has no place to hide ... just as a fish living in a glass bowl. "I don't think I'd enjoy being a television star. It must be like living in a fish bowl."



(Like) water off a duck's back

Ducks aren't bothered by water because the oil in their feathers keeps moisture from reaching their bodies. Any water that gets on them runs right off. That has given us this expression, which we use to say that we are not annoyed by something. "School doesn't bother Mary. To her, doing homework is like water off a duck's back." Someone criticized Teddy, but he isn't bothered. " What do I care ? It's water of a duck's back to me," he said.



Top dog

A top dog is a person of authority and importance. One's boss, for instance, could be said to be the top dog in a company. Or it could be someone of importance politically. "I'm curious to know who the new top dog will be at the Office of trade," Winnie said.



A golden key opens every door

"Look what I found!" Albert cried. "Why, it's a golden key!" Officer Mutt observed. "It reminds me that a golden key opens every door," Albert smiled. "Yes, I think it will open a door for you at my nice jail, " Mutt replied. Actually, the golden key here is money for it is  assumed that money will let a person do anything he wants.



An Old Salt

"Look, there's an old salt coming off that ship!" Teddy exclaimed. "That looks like a sailor," Angela answered. "An experienced sailor is often called an old salt,"Teddy explained. "Is that because the sea is salty?" Angela asked. "That's right, but we don't call people who sail boats on weekends old salts,"Teddy said. "The term is reserved for sailors who have been to sea a long time.



Save one's breath

"It's too hot to work today," Eddie said. "Why don't we ask the boss if we can have the afternoon off ?" "Save your breath," his co-workers advised. Eddie asked the boss anyway, and she said the same thing. To save one's breath means to say nothing, usually because one's words have no value or will have no effect.



Stand up and be counted

Those who express their private opinions openly have concluded that it is time for them to stand up and be counted. They do this by writing, speaking, or voting on issues they consider important. " Excuse me, what's your opinion ? Why don't you stand up and be counted ? If you want to see some changes made, stand up and be counted !" " How many of you little fellows would like to go to market ? Hurry, stand up and be counted !" Henrietta Hen called.



Back to the salt mines

In Siberia, salt is found deep underground. Many years ago, prisoners were sent there and were forced to bring the salt to the surface. From that, back to the salt mines has come to mean hard work of any kind, and this humorous expression refers to going back to work. "The weekend is over it's time to get back to the salt mines." Oliver sighed as he and his friends walked to work.



Lead by the nose

"I fully understand that people don't like being led by the nose," Timothy said. " Most mice object to that too," he noted. "How do you elephants feel about it ?" I asked. The elephant he was leading didn't reply. To lead by the nose is to control someone. " And make them do what you want, " Timothy added.



Snatch something from under someone's nose

"When I go to bed at night I count sheep, "Angela said. "Where do you put the sheep when you are done counting them ?" Teddy asked. "If I told you, you would probably snatch them from under my nose," Angela replied. They both laughed, because to snatch something from under someone's nose is to take or steal something directly in front of someone.



Money does not grow on trees

William asked his boss for a raise. "I need more money because the cost of everything is going up," he said. The boss looked at William and sighed. "Let me be frank with you, William: Money doesn't not grow on trees." William signed and departed empty-handed because he knew that this expression means that money is not so plentiful that one can pick it off the trees like leaves.



Say cheese

If you look into a mirror and say the word "cheese", you will notice that you appear to be smiling. For that reason, photographers often ask you to say cheese when they are about to take your picture. "If you don't mind, would you look into the lens of my camera and say cheese?" Timothy asked. "And though you may look at my cheese and admire it, you may not have it. Just gaze at it, say cheese, and then I will return to eating it."



Get the hang of something

When Teddy trained for the circus, it took him no time at all to get the hang of being a trapeze artist. "Everything depends on getting the timing right," he explain. Meanwhile his partner has been having trouble getting the hang of working with him. "It's hard to swing and chew gum at the same time," she said. To get the hang of something means to learn how to do something.



Live in a vacuum

Timothy and Tina have moved to a new home. "It's so far from our family and friends that we feel isolated!" Tina said sadly. "We are so remote from everything that someone even accused me of living in a vacuum!" Timothy added. When people are said to live in a vacuum they are unaffected, unaware or don't care about what goes on in the world around them.



On a high horse

Someone on a high horse can be difficult to deal with. "There's an explanation for that," Hallaway said, " because someone on a high horse is haughty and proud -- and he may think he's better than anyone around him." Hallaway should know : he's been on his high horse ever since he got promoted. "Yes, I'm the boss of the riding club now," Hallaway declared.




Rest on one's laurels

The ancient Greeks awarded crowns of laurel leaves to the winners of games and competitions as a symbol of achievement. From that, those who are satisfied with past honors and do nothing to improve upon their successes are said to rest on their laurels. "Several years ago Haliburt won a trophy for excellence, but ever since then he has been resting on his laurels. Some people have said it's because he's lazy !



(as) black as one is painted

In this idiom, black doesn't refer to a color. Instead, it refers to someone's evil or wicked qualities. And the word painted here means 'describe'. Therefore, someone who is ( as ) black as he/she is painted is truly as sinister as he or she is portrayed. "I'm painting a picture of someone who is said to be a very naughty person," Robert said, "but to me he seems rather nice. Surely he can't be as black as he is painted !"



A (The) moving spirit

The spirit in this idiom is a lively, energetic person who plans an action and then sets it in motion. That's why he or she is described as a moving spirit. "If we want to win the championship, our team will have to find a coach who can be a moving spirit." Here's another example of the idiom: "Mr. Becker is the moving spirit behind our company's expansion plans."



In someone's shoes

To understand how someone feels or thinks, we should try to be in their shoes. To be in someone's shoes means to attempt to think as they think, or to put ourselves in the same situation that they are in. It may not be easy, but it's a valuable thing to keep in mind. "My grades aren't very good," Angela said. "If you were in my shoes, what would you do ?" "Well, if I were in your shoes I would discuss the matter with the teacher," Teddy replied.



With a light heart

Angela's teacher asked her to write a paper describing her weekend. "It was with a light heart that I went to the park," she wrote, " and with a light heart I went home. Furthermore, it is with a light heart that I look forward to going to the park next weekend," Angela concluded. This describes being filled with joy.



A flight of fancy

"Do you know what it's called when someone dreams or imagines something highly unusual or imaginative ?" Felix asked Sylvester. "I believe that is called a flight of fancy," Sylvester answered. "Correct," Felix smiled, "and yesterday, in a flight of fancy, I imagined I could fly !" "What good is a flight of fancy if nothing becomes of it ?" Sylvester smiled. "Climb on board and dream no more !"



Rock bottom

(1) Physically or emotionally, rock bottom means the very lowest. "It's like being way, way down at the bottom of the sea," Bighead said. "My spirits have touched rock bottom today and I feel miserable!" "If I were you, I wouldn't worry about him," Eggmont said. "He always says that he hits rock bottom when the tourist boats are due to arrive."

(2) When you visit shops that advertise things at rock bottom prices, you expect to find the lowest prices in town. In money terms, rock bottom means the cheapest price. "A real estate agent told me it was still possible to find land selling at rock bottom on one of the nearby islands."




"I notice that today's tourist boat had some pretty big Hollywood celebrities on it," Petrock said. "How can you tell ?" Bighead asked. "Look over there at Eggmont. The boat may be gone, but he's looking all starry-eyed just thinking about it," Bighead said. When a person is described as being starry-eyed, he or she is dreaming fanciful dreams. "And they are usually impossible ones that are never likely to come true," Petrock added.



Sweat Bullets

"I I have asked Bob and Ben to join me today to demonstrate an American idiom," Manfred said. "The idiom is sweat bullets, and here is an example of it : prior to an examination, a student might say he or she is sweating bullets. What does that mean ?" "It means to be dreadfully worried about something," Bob mumbled. "That or scared silly !" Ben stammered.



A golden parachute

Winston has just been given a golden parachute. He's absolutely thrilled, of course, and I think you'd be thrilled, too, if you were given one because a golden parachute is a large sum of money given to an employee to encourage him to leave his position before retirement age. "Wheeeeee, " Winston whooped.



A scandal sheet

Felix was telling Teddy about a time in his youth when he worked as a reporter for one of the town's leading scandal sheets. "What's a scandal sheet ?" Teddy asked. Felix blushed. He was so embarassed that he didn't want to explain. That's understandable because a scandal sheet is a newspaper that features lots of gossip and sensationalism, but very little real news.



In a fix

The mechanics at Joe's Garage are in a fix. "Our new robot isn't responding to our signals," Joe said. "What's more, I am in a fix because I promised I'd have it ready today !" "What's the robot supposed to do ?" I asked. "Its purpose is to explain English idioms," Joe said. Suddenly the robot began to speak. "If you get me working I will be able to tell everyone that in a fix means to be in trouble !" the robot said.



Have the field to oneself

When the folks from Mars visited Earth they invited Winston to join them on Mars for a friendly game of football. It was a long time before Winston got to Mars, though, and by then it was too late. "There was no one there," he said to reporters when he returned to earth. "I guess you could say I had the field to myself !" This expression means to have no opposition or competition. "I'm selling rocks I brought back from Mars, " Winston said. " Since no one else has any, I have the field to myself."



The sticker price

"This is sensational !" Felix said as he struggled to remove a price marker from a large vase. "I just bought this wonderful vase. The sticker price was $900, but I bought it on sale for $599!" The sticker price is the original or normal selling price of something, and even large items can be said to have a sticker price. "That's true, I have a cousin who can get me a new car much cheaper than the sticker price, "Felix said.



Cook the books

The books referred to here are those used to keep business accounts, and naturally they are supposed to be precise and accurate. "Except, of course, when someone cooks the books !" the boss said. Cooking the books is a very serious matter because when one does that he or she makes false or inaccurate entries to make profits look better, or worse -- or even to hide stolen funds !



Old as Methuselah

One day Methuselah ( meh-THU-zeh-la ) was sitting on a rock waiting for a bus when someone came along and wished him Happy Birthday. Poor Methuselah, he forgot it was his birthday, but when you are as old as Methuselah ( the Bible says he was 969 years old ) you tend to forget things like that. From that, anything or anyone said to be as old as Methuselah is extremely old.



Like the sound of one's own voice

"I have a pretty little bird that sings ail the time," Melissa said. "Maybe it likes the sound of its own voice," Patsy said. I don't think Patsy is being sarcastic, but this idiom is often used in a sarcastic manner when referring to a person who talks on and on and doesn't give others an opportunity to talk.



Go straight

This is the world-famous criminal Dennis Dimwit on the day of his release from prison. He has not exactly enjoyed his stay in jail and that has convinced him to go straight. When someone goes straight - it's usually a criminal - he changes his way of life and becomes an honest, law-abiding citizen. "I'm sincerely glad I have gone straight." Dennis smile.



Go on the stump

In years past, when politicians traveled around the country talking to people they discovered that the stumps of old trees made useful platforms on which to stand to give a speech. That's the origin of this idiom, and it now means to campaign for political office. "Fredrick has decided he'd like to be President and he's gone on the stump to speak to the voters."



All of a piece with your clumsiness

"Chadwick, you silly cat !" Millie cried. "The way you keep bumping into things is all of a piece with your clumsiness !" Millie is saying that Chadwick's actions are consistent with his nature of character. In other words, it is what you would expect from someone such as Chadwick. "Getting caught is all of a piece with me, too," Chadwick complained.




A bag of wind

"I wonder why people say Howard is such an interesting man," Lily yawned. "To me he is nothing more than a big bag of wind." Lily is either very unkind or she is awfully honest because a bag of wind is someone who talks a lot. "Especially if he boasts and tells exaggerated stories that are hard to believe," Lily added.



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