Idioms: Part I

Idioms are metaphorical expressions learned by heart because the meaning of the words they consist of is different from the meaning of the idiom.

To kick the bucket serves as a great example, having nothing to do with kicking an actual bucket – when we say someone has kicked the bucket, we want to convey that someone has died. 

Take a look at these idioms and see if you are familiar with them! If not, read their descriptions and find out more 🙂

1. To cost an arm and a leg

If something costs an arm and a leg, it’s very expensive. There are several theories behind this idiom, but the one we consider most interesting is the following: the idiom came to use after World War II, during which many soldiers lost their body parts, the war costing them “an arm and a leg.” Despite its dark origin story, this idiom is now used on a daily basis, in situations like this one:

I am not going to buy that couch, it costs an arm and a leg!

2. To hit the nail on the head 

This idiom is over 600 years old! According to some, the phrase was originally used in carpentry, expressing the carpenter’s precision. Similarly to its original meaning, if you have hit the nail on the head, you have done something very accurately or got to the heart of the matter, such as in this example: 

She has hit the nail on the head with this article! It provides a great overview of this complex and contemporary topic. 

3. A piece of cake

This idiom originates from competitions held among enslaved Black people, mocking the manners and behaviour of their owners. The competitive dances were called cake walks, and the winners would receive a piece of cake. Today, this idiom is used to express an easy way of doing something, supposedly because getting a piece of cake in a cake walk was easy (as opposed to getting a piece of cake any other way). 

This assignment is a piece of cake! I can do it in 5 minutes. 

4. To feel under the weather

Some claim that this idiom was first used literally in the context of sailing. The sailors who felt seasick on sailing ships during storms or bad weather were sent below deck to seek shelter. Others disagree with this theory, claiming that the usage of the idiom was much wider, referring to financial issues or issues in general. Today we use it to express feeling unwell, so you can use it in sentences such as this one: 

She took a day off because she felt under the weather after her trip. 

5. Once in a blue moon

This idiom was used to express something that was never the case, because people considered the notion of a blue moon as something absurd. However, according to some sources, there were some occurrences of blue moons, such as after the eruption of the Indonesian volcano Krakatoa, when, due to the dust, the moon seemed blue. Consequently, the idiom came to be used to say that something takes place almost never, such as in: 

He answers emails once in a blue moon, I have completely given up trying to reach him that way.

As you can see, idioms add colour and depth to your English language skills, so try incorporating them as much as you can!