Commonly Used Idioms Part – 6

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Let me tell you a well-known trick for remembering idioms with their meanings and usage. If you learn about the origin of the idiom, it will be very easy for you to remember them and use them as and when your writing skills demand ! In the last edition, I shared the origin of ‘Achilles’ heel’ idiom which was interesting and deserving enough to pique your curiosity. This time, I come with a hilarious origin tale – ‘Murphy’s law’. Don’t get deceived– this is not a scientific law ! 😉

This is a humorous adage which means that anything that can go wrong will go wrong !

OriginEdward A. Murphy, Jr. was one of the engineers on the rocket-sled experiments that were done by the U.S. Air Force in 1949 to test human acceleration tolerances (USAF project MX981). One experiment involved a set of 16 accelerometers mounted to different parts of the subject’s body. There were two ways each sensor could be glued to its mount, and somebody methodically installed all 16 the wrong way around. Murphy then made the original form of his pronouncement.

Murphy’s Original Law – If there are two or more ways to do something, and one of those ways can result in a catastrophe, then someone will do it.

 Murphy’s Law – If anything can go wrong — it will.index

 Murphy’s First Corollary – Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse.

 Murphy’s Second Corollary – It is impossible to make anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious.

For more info, read here

( It was a blast from the past – reminded me of the tough old days when I had to learn the physics laws !  🙂 )

Today, when we want to remind people that even if someone’s plan is well thought of and properly planned, yet there is scope of an error – we say ‘ Do not forget the Murphy law’ ! 😀

You can find hilarious interpretations of Murphy’s making rounds on the internet ! Do check them out !

Happy learning !

Idiom Meaning Sentence
Shy of Having less of something that is needed or expected She was two days shy of her 19th birthday.
Go south To go down, to fall The economy was growing but the things went south after the recession.
One’s goose is cooked One is finished; one has been found out and is in trouble. If I get caught, my goose is cooked.
To be in the eye of the storm To be very much involved in an argument or problem that affects a lot of people International aid agencies were in the eye of the storm when war broke out in the country.
Fit the bill To be suitable for a particular purpose The city needs a strong leader, and the new mayor just doesn’t fill the bill.
Nothing to write home about Mediocre; not as good as you expected. I went to that new restaurant last night. It’s nothing to write home about.
Blue collar Relating to manual work or workers, particularly in industry Blue collar workers in the factories and shipyards were demanding wage increases.
White Collar Relating to the work done or the people who work in an office or other professional environment. The ratio of white-collar workers to production workers in the manufacturing industry was declining.
Scratch the surface To examine only the superficial aspects of something. We don’t know how bad the problem is. We’ve only scratched the surface.
Bring something/someone to knees To destroy or defeat someone or something. To reduce to a position of subservience or submission. The strikes brought the economy to its knees.
Of age Old enough to be considered an adult. He’s of age now; he can buy his own car.
Acid test A test which will really prove the value, quality, or truth of something The acid test for the product will be whether people actually buy it.
Cut the ground from under someone’s feet To make someone or their ideas seem less good, especially by doing something before them or better than them ( to weaken someone’s position) The opposition claimed today’s speech was an attempt by the government to cut the ground from under their feet.
Chase one’s tail To be very busy doing a lot of things, but achieving very little He’s been chasing his tail all week collecting data but the report is still not ready
Think on one’s feet To think and react quickly, especially in a situation where things are happening very fast A good sales man must be able to think on his feet to close the deal.
To not let grass grow under feet Don’t delay in getting something done, always on the move As soon as he finished all the registration formalities, he put the house on sale. He doesn’t let the grass grow under his feet.
Be waiting in the wings Waiting for an opportunity to take action, mostly to replace someone else in their job. The senior manager is going to retire in next 2 months. Two of his juniors who are waiting in the wings will have a fierce competition.
Fever pitch A state of extreme excitement. The football crowd was at fever pitch.
Cut someone to the quick Hurting someone deeply or offending them. Joe had worked for 10 years with all his loyalty for his company. He was cut to the quick when his boss held him responsible for the theft.
Have one’s heart in the right place To have good intentions, even if there are bad results. Good old Tom! His gifts are always tacky, but his heart’s in the right place.
Murphy’s law Anything that can go wrong will go wrong If there are two or more ways to do something, and one of those ways can result in a catastrophe, then someone will do it. We may think we’ve covered all the details for the benefit, but remember Murphy’s law
Go up in smoke If a plan or some work goes up in smoke, it is spoiled or wasted Then his business went bankrupt and 20 years of hard work went up in smoke.
On an even keel Stable, balanced You should know the syllabus and plan well ahead so that your exam preparation goes on even keel
When the dust settles When things have calmed down When the dust settles, we can start patching up all the hurt feelings.
On the boil If a situation or feeling is on the boil, it is very strong or active The corruption scandal is being kept on the boil by a series of new revelations.
White elephant A possession that is useless or troublesome, especially one that is expensive to maintain or difficult to dispose of. The old building is a white elephant of the housing society.
Put to sword If someone/something is put to sword, he/she/it is killed or executed. The notion that the country’s economy is stable is being put to sword by the current market conditions.

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Commonly Used Idioms Part – 5


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Here comes the exclusive 5th edition of Idioms. As I explore the language and its endless list of idioms, I often come across a story hidden behind the origin of every idiom – sometimes hilarious, sometimes very interesting.

For example, take ‘Achilles’ heel’ – Achilles was a Greek hero in the Trojan War, who was defeated when his enemy shot him in the heel with an arrow. Legends say that Achilles was invulnerable in all of his body except his heel. So now, when we say something is someone’s Achilles’ heel, it is his/her biggest weakness! Told you – origin of some idioms are very interesting. 🙂

Idiom Meaning Sentence
Catch off guard To surprise someone by doing something one was not expecting One of the larger airlines caught its rivals off guard yesterday by suddenly announcing a cut in fares.
Have money to burn To have a lot of money and spend large amounts on things which are unnecessary Christine’s new boyfriend seems to have money to burn. He’s always buying her extravagant gifts.
House on fire If two people get on like a house on fire, they like each other very much and become friends very quickly: I was worried before introducing my girlfriend to my sister, but when they met, they were a house on fire.
It’s all Greek to me something that you say when you do not understand something that is written or said The phrases written in the letter are all Greek to me.
Achilles’ Heel Weakness or vulnerable point The team is good on attack but defense is their Achilles’ heel.
A high hand oppressively The ruler rules his subjects with high hands.
Jump the gun To start something too soon When we took the test, Tom jumped the gun to gain a lead over others.
Let off steam To release one’s pent up(not expressed or released) emotions The kids can let off steam in the gardens while mum and dad have a relaxing drink
Get out of bed on the wrong side Someone in a bad mood and is easily annoyed all day What’s the matter with you? Did you get out of bed on the wrong side or something?
Cook the book Falsify a company’s financial accounts/records An independent audit showed that they’ve been cooking the books for years.
Couch potato A person who takes little or no exercise and watches a lot of television. During his vacation, he becomes a couch potato.
Full of hot air Full of nonsense Mary’s answer sheet is full of hot air.
Live in an ivory tower Live a life away from harsh realities of life Many professors are said to live in ivory towers. They don’t know what the real world is like.
Pipe down To stop talking Please pipe down and work on your homework.
Know the ropes Informed/aware of all the details of a situation or task Don’t worry about Sara’s taking over that reporter’s job-she already knows the ropes.
A dime a dozen Very common Romantic movies are a dime a dozen.
Dead ringer Looking very similar, duplicate He is a dead ringer of his late grandfather.
To pass the buck To pass the blame, to pass the responsibility Some people try to pass the buck whenever they can to avoid work.
A good Samaritan Someone who tries to help people with their problems Jane is a good Samaritan. She comes to everyone’s’ rescue.
Come to rescue To save someone or something A big donor came to the college’s rescue.
Whole nine yards Entire amount, everything possible She is mortgaging the house, her jewelry, the whole nine yards for his son’s college fees.
Last straw The final point beyond one cannot endure When he came late for the meeting the fifth time in two weeks, that was the last straw for his boss.
In a brown study Lost in deep thoughts She was in a brown study when I called her.
Stand one’s ground Refusing to change one’s position, stand firm despite opposition She was not intimidated by the police and stood her ground and described the burglar.
Cant’ hold a candle to Unable to measure up to someone Mary can’t hold a candle to Ann when it comes to athletics.
One’s salad days A time of youthful inexperience and carefree pleasure  But that was in my salad days, before I got married and had children.

Commonly Used Idioms – Part 2

One can never have enough of spicy English Idioms. So here is the second part for the list of idioms.

Idiom Meaning Sentence
Bat an eyelid To not show any shock or surprise With both the eurozone and US in economic doldrums,aid from these sources have dried up; hence African nations do not bat an eyelid while accepting Chinese aid,which comes with strings attached.
Strings attached Special demands or constrains
At the crack of dawn Very early in the morning He used to get up at the crack of the dawn to study for his exams.
An apple of discord The root cause of a fight The ancestral property was the apple of discord between the two brothers.
Fall off the back of a lorry Something that is very cheap or acquired in a dishonest way or stolen. This laptop is very cheap. Did it fall of the back of a lorry?
Get an earful To have a lot to listen,often used for criticism and unwanted suggestions Modi got an earful for remark that Bangladesh PM is fighting terror ‘despite being a woman’.
On a knife edge In a difficult situation and worried about future Talks between Nitish and Lalu appears to be on a knife’s edge.
To cut corners When something is done badly to save money If a company tries to cut corners on quality, it risks losing customers.
Let the cat out of the bag To reveal information that was previously concealed He let the cat out of the bag and told us about his girlfriend.
An eagle’s eye If someone has an eagle’s eye, he/she has very accurate vision My father has an eagle’s eye– he saw the small dent on the rear of the car.
A left handed compliment a remark which seems approving but which is also negative The senator said that her opponent was quite competent for someone so inexperienced; you hear nothing but left-handed compliments in these debates
Wax and wane to increase and then decrease, as the phases of the moon. Voter sentiment about the tax proposal waxes and wanes with each passing day.
Turn the other cheek to ignore abuse or an insult When she yelled at him, he turned the other cheek.
Carve a niche To create one’s own style or position Actor R Madhavan has managed to carve a niche for himself both in the Southern film industry and Bollywood
Bone of contention Point of argument The question of a fence between the houses has become quite a bone of contention between the neighbors.
Spill the beans to give away a secret or a surprise. There is a surprise party for Heidi on Wednesday. Please don’t spill the beans. Paul already spilled the beans about Heidi’s party.

Commonly Used Idioms

We all love spicy food (the degree of spiciness may vary ! ). Who would want to eat bland food everyday?

Idioms play the same role in writing as spice does in food. They take the reading experience to an entirely different level, often adding humour and layers to writing as the author desires.So,budding authors, if you want to hold the attention of your readers and at the same time provide them a layered experience of reading, start using idioms to convey your thoughts in an indirect but spicy way !

I came across the following idioms while reading news articles/editorials/web searches, hence have compiled the list using the same sentence as examples for better understanding of the reader.

Disclaimer: Some example sentences are figment of my imagination, and some are directly taken from the editorial/articles from where I have picked the idiom. Nowhere, I have expressed my personal opinion

Idiom Meaning Sentence
Takes the cake Most extreme example of something I have known many dumb girls but she takes the cake.

Tanu Weds Manu Returns  takes the cake by garnering more than Rs 70 crore net box office for first week in the domestic market.

Smiling ear to ear Looking extremely happy With Tanu Weds Manu Returns  and Piku  earlier in the month, Bollywood trade pundits are smiling ear to ear, hoping that the good run at the box office is carried forward by releases in June like Zoya Akhtar’s Dil Dhadakne Do  and ABCD 2
Fall for something hook ,line and sinker To completely believe in something someone tells you that is not true The audience fell for the baseless plot of the drama hook,line and sinker
Fall for somebody hook, line and sinker To fall very much in love with someone Sajal fell for Ana hook,line and sinker
Cynosure of someone’s eyes An object/person that serves as a focal point of attention and admiration Aishwarya & Abhishek were the cynosure of all eyes at the Amfar Gala Cannes festival
Apple of one’s eyes Favourite or precious and dear to someone (aankhon ka tara) Aaradhya is the apple of Aishwarya’s eyes.
At the drop of a hat Suddenly, immediately, when you do something at the drop of a hat, you do it suddenly and easily, often without any preparation When I was depressed, I used to cry at the drop of a hat.

We now have a situation where laws are bent at the drop of a hat.

Eat your words To take back one’s words

to admit that what you said is wrong

John was wrong about the election and had to eat his words

Did you say that two mainstream actresses cannot be friends? You might have to eat your words when you see Priyanka & Anushka in Dil Dhadkne Do

Let your hair down to relax and enjoy yourself without worrying what other people will think Let your hair down and just have some fun at the party !
Run of the mill Ordinary, not special He was a run of the mill singer. That ‘why everyone was shocked when he won the singing competition.
Top Brass The highest leader, the boss But the TOI reported that nobody in the BCCI top brass wanted to divulge any details on the exact reason.
Turning a blind eye To ignore something and pretend that you do not see it Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also been accused of turning a blind eye when churches are attacked or minorities are subjected to violence but on Monday, in a strongly worded message, he finally spoke out on the issue of discrimination against minorities
To have a way with the words To have the skill in effective and stylish use of words The former actress, who is now known for her way with words and her witty sense of humour, posted about her son Aarav, who if we might add, seems to have taken after his mother.
Dying down to fade to almost nothing; to decrease gradually. A controversy surrounding alleged high levels of lead in some packets of Maggi has hogged the headlines and is showing no signs of dying down.
Come under fire To be criticized And this time it wasn’t just Maggi! Several high-profile Bollywood celebrities — Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit and Priety Zinta — came under fire for endorsing the brand over the years.
Order of the day Something necessary or usual at a certain time Amitabh Bachchan posted on his blog on the occasion of his 42nd wedding anniversary, “Self wishes are the order of the day .They serve both ways. They convey to you the Ef, of my marriage anniversary … and they inform the wife that she has not been forgotten even though she is not in the country at this moment .”

Going to bed early was the order of the day when we were young.

Foot in the mouth When you put your foot in your mouth you say or do the wrong thing and usually make matters worse. I really put my foot in my mouth when I asked her how her husband was. I forgot that he died last year.

Every time he speaks he puts his foot in his mouth.

Bums on seat If a public performance or a sports event puts bums on seats, many people pay to go and see it If you are an actor/producer/director/singer who can ensure adequate bums on seat, the Hindi film industry does not give two hoots about where you came from or anything else you do.
Give two hoots if you do not give a hoot about something or someone, you do not care about them at all (informal) If you are an actor/producer/director/singer who can ensure adequate bums on seat, the Hindi film industry does not give two hoots about where you came from or anything else you do.
Sweep/shove under the carpet to hide or ignore something You could tell from her interviews that having been a porn star was not something Leone was looking to shove under the carpet.
More than meet the eyes Hidden values or facts regarding something. There is more to her death than meets the eye – she was probably murdered.
There is no such thing as free lunch something that you say which means that if someone gives you something, they always expect you to give them something or to do something for them He offered me a room in his house, but he seems to expect me to do all the housework. I should have known there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
Don’t judge a book by its cover youcannotjudgethequality or character of someone or somethingjust by looking at them She doesn’t look very intelligent, but you can’t judge a book by its cover.
Hue & cry A public clamor/outcry, for protest or demand Arvind kejriwal raised a great hue and cry about political corruption
Be at loggerheads if two people or groups are at loggerheads, they disagree strongly about something The ruling and the opposition party of the Indian Government are still at loggerheads over the Land Acquisition Bill
Clear the air To get rid of doubts or hard feelings. There were many speculations about the relationship turning sour for the celebrity couple. But he cleared the air by saying that every relationship has its share of hardships.
Up the ante increase what is at stake or under discussion, especially in a conflict or dispute. The congress government just upped the ante for political corruption
A penny for your thoughts Used to ask someone what they are thinking about Sajal looked pensive. I said “A penny for your thoughts!”.
Wouldn’t be caught dead if someone wouldn’t be seen dead in a particular place or doing a particular thing, they would never do it, usually because it would be too embarrassing Sajal would’nt be caught dead on the dance floor.
Sit on the fence Not to take sides in a dispute; not to make a clear choice between two possibilities. I don’t know whom I am going to vote for in the coming elections. I am sitting on the fence.
Between the devil and the deep blue sea you must choose between two equally unpleasant situations A choice of party in the coming elections is like a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea. No matter which party comes to power, the country will suffer.
Once in a blue moon Happens very rarely Sajal – in a romantic mood ? That happens once in a blue moon.
Give wings to Inspire someone to achieve great things The inspirational session by the motivational speaker gave wings to my dreams.
Come of age something or someone that has come of age has reached full, successful, development

if someone has come of age, the

person is an adult and legally responsible for his/her behavious

The Indian architecture has come of age in the past 10 years.

She will celebrate her coming of age birthday party (21st) at Goa.