Students who are studying English as a Foreign Language (EFL) are always asking me about idioms. They seem to have a strange and unexplainable obsession with them.
"Tea-cher, can you teach about idiom? I want to learn about idiom."
It's not easy, particularly because even native English speakers don't use idiomatic language until they have totally mastered English. How then, with only the rudimentariest of know-how, could a foreign student hope to learn the nuance required to use idiomaticry in a subtle and successful way?
For novices, it's fair to say, idioms are a tough cookie.
I do my best, however. Having studied Idiomatics, and being a skilled Idiomatician, I put together a list of the most popular idiocies.
Here are a few I've managed to be able to teach them:
A penny for your thoughts ... meaning you don't think very highly of another person's reasoning or opinions on a given subject, and would value them very lowly - even so far as to offer them a measly penny for them.
Beat around the bush ... a phrase with a double meaning. Firstly, a way of exciting a female by patting her gently with the palm of your hand in her 'sensitive area'. Secondly, and more widely-used, to lustily thrash the same area with your tongue.
Bite off more than you can chew ... a common phrase in brothels. When a working girl orally entertains an unusually-endowed man, and realizes, at the choking stage, that this was a mistake.
"He's a big lad. I think she's bitten off more than she can chew."
Can't judge a book by its cover ... Literary usage. When one is interested in buying a book, but is unable to make one's mind up about it, due to there being no 'blurb' notes on its back cover. Uncertain, confused.
Caught between two stools ... medical term for when one is experiencing diarrhoea at regular, say, ten-minute intervals, but then an unexpected, and sometimes watery attack, catches the victim off his guard. Or her guard, which is worse.
Cut a long story short ... editors' parlance meaning 'to trash most of what has been written'.
Don't count your chickens before the eggs have hatched ... it's always easier to count the chickens after they've emerged from the eggs and are running around the farmyard, than when they are still inside the shells, because all eggs tend to look similar and it's easy to make a mistake whilst counting.
Don't put all your eggs in one basket ... basketware manufacturing is not what it used to be in the Industrial Age, and quality is often a problem these days. In short, don't trust modern baskets.
Elvis has left the building ... related to the singer-songwriter Elvis Costello who used to regard it as funny to just walk out of buildings without telling anyone. In other words, 'rather rude'.
Glad to see the back of ... during sex, if the female partner turns around, so that 'doggy style' may be executed, the male protagonist could be said to be 'glad to see the back of her', meaning 'he's up for going in from the rear of the property'.
It takes two to tango ... in dancing circles, an explanation of the number of particpants required for the South American jig.
Kill two birds with one stone ... a phrase which originated with Australian badboy singer, Nick Cave, who tried to get Kylie Minogue into two of his music videos, but was unsuccessful when she would only agree to appear in 'Where The Wild Roses Grow'. To 'fall short by one'.
Let the cat out of the bag ... stern piece of advice to a young thug: cats should not be in bags!
Missed the boat ... originally a submarine-gunner's lament, now used to describe how someone arrived at the port too late.
Off your rocker ... to be temporarily fed up with one's favorite singer.
Piece of cake ... a simple description of a slice or segment of a cake, such as a birthday cake. Not to be confused with 'a piece of piss'.
Sit on the fence ... to take up a precarious position, to be rebellious, to invite danger.
Straight from the horse's mouth ... descriptive of anything messy, sticky or disgusting. Reminiscent of that horrible froth that appears around the mouth of a Grand National runner as it's coming down to the last two furlongs on its last legs. Something you wouldn't want to get on your hands. Or your face.
Your guess is as good as mine ... in a world where equality means so much, a refreshing term meaning that 'neither of our opinions, guesses or choices is any better than anyone else's', and that showing tolerance towards others is best. Even if we KNOW we are right.
Well, this was just a small selection of idioms that I regularly get asked about. I hope that you enjoyed reading them, and will find them useful if your own students ask you about idiots. But, as I always say to my students,:
"Thank you very much for the Aintree Iron."