10 English Idioms

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10 English Idioms


  • Play it by ear
  • Raining cats and dogs
  • Can’t do something to save my life
  • Turn a blind eye
  • Pot calling the kettle black
  • Once in a blue moon
  • Head in the clouds
  • Mad as a hatter
  • Driving me up the wall

Native speakers use them without even thinking about where they come from ; But for a student trying to get their English degree , they can be deeply confusing. Knowing a little about the origin of these sayings is useful to cement these nuggets of language in the mind. In this article, we’ll look at several of these interesting idioms and show you where the expressions come from and, more importantly, how you should use them.

Play it by ear. (Tócala de oído)

Meaning : Touching something by ear means that instead of sticking to a definite plan, you will see how things are going and decide on a course of action as you go.

Example :  “What time shall we go shopping?” “Let’s see how the weather looks and play it by ear.”

¿A qué hora vamos de compras?” “Veamos cómo se ve el clima y toquémoslo de oído”.

Origins : this saying has its origin in music, since “playing something by ear” means playing music without referring to the notes on a page . This sense of the phrase dates back to the 16th century, but current usage only emerged in the mid-20th century in the United States, primarily in reference to sports. These days the expression has lost this focus in sports and can be used in any context.

Raining cats and dogs. (Lloviendo gatos y perros)

Meaning : The British are known for their obsession with the weather, so they couldn’t leave out a rain-related idiom from this list. It’s “pouring down” when it rains particularly hard.

Example : “Listen to that rain!” “It’s raining cats and dogs!”

“¡Escuche esa lluvia!” “¡Lueve a cántaros!”

Origins : The origins of this strange phrase are obscure, although it was first recorded in 1651 in the Olor Iscanus collection of the poet Henry Vaughan. Speculation about its origins ranges from medieval superstition to Norse mythology, but it may even be a reference to dead animals being washed away by floods.

Can’t do something to save my life. (No puedo hacer algo para salvar mi vida)

Meaning : “I can’t do something to save your life” is a hyperbolic way of saying that you are completely inept at something. It is usually used in a self-critical way or to indicate reluctance to perform a requested task.

Example: Can’t do something to save your life

“No me elijas; no puedo dibujar para salvar mi vida”

Origins : Anthony Trollope first used this expression in 1848 in Kellys and O’Kellys, writing:

If it was to save my life and theirs, I can’t get up small talk for the rector and his curate.

“Si fuera para salvar mi vida y la de ellos, no puedo levantar una pequeña charla para el rector y su cura”.

Turn a blind eye . (Volver ciego a tu ojo)

Meaning : “to turn a blind eye” to something means to pretend not to have noticed it.

Example: She took one of the cookies but I turned a blind eye

“Ella tomó una de las galletas, pero yo hice la vista gorda”.

Origins : Interestingly, this expression is said to have arisen as a result of the famous English naval hero, Admiral Horatio Nelson, who, during the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, allegedly deliberately raised his telescope to a blind eye, thus ensuring that he would not see any signs of his superior giving him discretion to withdraw from the battle.

Fat chance. ‘Gorda’ oportunidad

Meaning : The expression “great opportunity” is used to refer to something that is incredibly unlikely. Interestingly, and contrary to what one might expect, the related expression “slim chance” means the same thing.

Example: “We might win the Lottery.” “Fat chance.”

“Podríamos ganar la lotería”. “Posibilidad de grasa.”

Origins : The origins of this expression are not clear, but it is likely that the use of the word “fat” is a sarcastic version of saying “slim chances.” A similar expression is “Chance would be a good thing,” which refers to something that one would like to see happen, but which is highly unlikely.

Pot calling the kettle black. Olla llamando a la tetera negra

Meaning : “the frying pan said to the saucepan” This expression is used to refer to someone who criticizes another person, for something they are guilty of.

Example: “You’re greedy.” “Pot calling the kettle black?”

“Eres codicioso”. “Le dijo la sartén al cazo…”

Origins : First used in 17th century literature, particularly Don Quixote de Cervantes, this expression has its origin in medieval cooking, when both pots and teapots were made of sturdy cast iron and both were blackened by soot of open fire.

Once in a blue moon. Una vez en una luna azul

Meaning : The phrase refers to something that happens very infrequently.

Example : “I only see him once in a blue moon.”

“Solo lo veo una vez en una luna azul”.

Origins : confusingly, a blue moon does not refer to the actual color of the moon; refers to when we see a full moon twice in a month. This happens every two to three years. It is believed that the word “blue” may come from the now obsolete word “belewe”, which means “to betray”; the “treacherous moon” was an additional spring full moon that would mean that people would have to fast one more month during Lent. The saying in its current meaning was first recorded in 1821.

Head in the clouds. Cabeza en las nubes

Meaning : used to describe someone who is not being realistic, the expression “head in the clouds” suggests that the person is not based on reality and is prone to flights of fantasy. The opposite expression would be something like “down to earth”, that is, someone who is practical and realistic.

Example : “He’s not right for this role, he has his head in the clouds.”

“No es el adecuado para este papel, tiene la cabeza en las nubes”.

Origins : In use since the mid-17th century, the origins of this expression are unclear beyond the obvious images of someone who is a bit fanciful (having your head in the clouds is clearly impossible, or at least it was in the days above). aviation!).

Mad as a hatter . Loco como un sombrerero

Meaning : “Mad as a hatter” refers to someone who is completely insane. A similar expression is “maddening.”

Example : “You could ask him, but he’s mad as a hatter.”

“Podrías preguntarle, pero está loco de remate”.

Origins : this one is interesting. While “hatter” refers to Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter character in Alice in Wonderland, the expression stems from the effects of chronic mercury poisoning commonly experienced by 18th and 19th century hat makers. due to the use of mercurous nitrate in felt hats. “Crazy as a March Hare” comes from the behavior of hares during the breeding season, when they run and jump through the fields.

Driving me up the wall . Subiéndome por la pared

Meaning : This expression is used when something (or someone) is causing extreme exasperation and annoyance. A similar expression that means the same thing is “driving me crazy.”

Example : “That constant drilling noise is driving me up the wall.”

“Ese ruido constante de perforación me está sacando de quicio”.

Origins : The saying evokes someone desperately trying to escape something by climbing up the walls. However, it is unknown when it was.

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