As an American living abroad, I’ve become very aware of distinct American phrases I use on a daily basis. I have very few friends here from the United States, so when I use one of these distinct American phrases, I sometimes find myself explaining certain terms or phrases that I wouldn’t have to at home.
In a tiny effort to help bridge (close the gap, explain) some cultural misunderstandings and to help you understand your friends from the U.S. more easily, here are six distinct American phrases you may hear and what they mean.
Jump the shark
The phrase jump the shark is used in reference to TV shows or films that end up being far-fetched (unrealistic) in order to attract (lure, bring) viewers, but tend to be of low quality and are not culturally relevant. So if you’ve ever said that all TV seems to be the same nowadays, you can say that a lot of programs have jumped the shark.
The show Arrested Development, which is one of my favorites, poked fun at (teased, made fun of, referenced) this phrase as it started to lose its viewers by having one of its characters literally jump over a shark on a pier.
- That new movie really jumped the shark. There was nothing original about it at all.
Grab (a cup of coffee, some shuteye, my purse, etc.)
If you’ve never heard this phrase, it may seem like Americans are constantly grabbing things very aggressively. On the contrary (On the opposite/other side), this is just a very casual way to say that you’re going to get something. Just about anything can be grabbed: from coffee, to lunch, to some extra sleep.
- Let me just grab some lunch, and then we can have our meeting afterwards.
Put Lipstick on a Pig
If you pay attention to American politics, chances are you’ve heard this phrase. Politicians love it. But if you haven’t heard it before, it could be very confusing (not clear). Why are people putting makeup on pigs?
To put lipstick on a pig means to dress up a bad situation to make it look better.
- The Senate bill is just putting lipstick on a pig. It looks good, but It’s not actually fixing anything!
This American phrase has nothing to do with food, or with the Weird Al song Eat It. Saying someone ate it is another way to say that they fell down, as if they are eating dirt now because their face is on the ground.
- I was riding my bike the other day when I crashed into a fence. I totally ate it.
How Are You?
If there’s one stereotype I hear all the time, it’s that Americans love small talk. We are constantly (always) asking how people are doing (without always really wanting to know all the details) as a form of politeness. But it isn’t superficial, it’s just a normal way that we greet each other and start other conversation.
- Hi, how are you? Is there anything I can help you with?
Under the Weather
Have you been looking for a new phrase to use when you need to call in sick (tell your work you cannot go because you are ill/sick.) Then this just may be the phrase for you.
If you’re feeling under the weather, you’re sick. Usually it just means you have a cold or something, and it’s not used for serious illnesses.
- Sorry, I can’t come in today. I’m a bit under the weather.
Have you ever heard any of these phrases before? Are there any other phrases you’ve only heard Americans say? Share your experiences with us in the comments below!
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Check out these other popular blogs: TV English Vocabulary, Banking English Vocabulary, English Comma: Basic Rules, or these Commonly Confused Words used in English!
Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, blogger, yoga instructor, and hopes you’re not feeling under the weather!
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