Idioms are one of the best indicators (gauge, signs) of your path to fluency in a language. It can be extremely (very) confusing when you hear an idiom for the first time, as the words seem (look like) to have nothing to do with each other at all. However, there are many English idioms you should know, because we use them all the time!
Don’t get stuck in language limbo (an intermediate state)! Here are 7 common English idioms you should know that you may hear in the boardroom or on the street:
Bite the bullet
Don’t worry, this doesn’t involve weapons at all, although it used to. If you bite the bullet, it means you endure (go through) something that might be unpleasant. This English idiom you should know comes from the practice of supposedly (maybe) having soldiers bite down on a bullet while undergoing surgery without anesthesia (medicine that puts you to sleep so you don’t feel pain). Pretty unpleasant, huh?
So the next time you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, your best option may just be to bite the bullet and go forward with it.
- I really didn’t want to go to the meeting on Monday morning, but I bit the bullet and went anyway.
- My dad always told me to bite the bullet if I didn’t want to go somewhere. Now that I’m an adult, I like that I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do!
A dime a dozen
Do you know the tongue twister “She sells seashells by the seashore”? Well, she might be selling those shells for a dime a dozen. A dime a dozen refers to anything you can get a lot of cheaply (not expensive). You’ll usually hear it in the context of, “Plates from IKEA are a dime a dozen.”
If you’re on a budget (don’t have much money) for your next project, finding something for a dime a dozen could be a great help!
- When I moved into my first apartment, I would go to a flea market and find things I needed for a dime a dozen. It was a great way to get started in my first home!
- People are a dime a dozen. But true friends are very rare. Try to keep them if you can!
If someone says that they’re all ears, they really don’t mean it literally — they’re just listening very closely. Or maybe they were daydreaming (thinking about something else) in the meeting for a moment, but want to tell you that now you have all of their attention.
Either way, the next time you want to impress someone with your knowledge of English idioms you should know (and show how much you were paying attention), whip out the good old, “I’m all ears!”
- I was all ears during the meeting, because it was important and I wanted to know what was going on.
- “Hey Jack, are you listening?” “Yes, I’m all ears! Sorry, I was thinking about something else for a moment.”
Back to the drawing board
Sometimes if a project looks like it might not work, you may need to go back to the drawing board. This means you need to start planning all over again.
You may or may not have a literal drawing board handy (around), but sometimes starting from the ground up (starting again) a second (or third!) time can reveal (show) something you hadn’t seen before!
“‘Back to the drawing board.’ Isn’t the drawing board the place where all the best work happens? It’s not a bad thing to go back there. It’s the entire point.” -Seth Goding
- My boss realized that our new project wouldn’t work, so we have to go back to the drawing board and start again.
- I really don’t want to go back to the drawing board with this idea, but I might have to.
Bite off more than you can chew
You know how once in a while, that steak looks so good and so tasty that you take a much bigger bite than you can actually chew? Well, you can also bite off more than you can chew when it comes to work. This English idiom you should know means to do too much or take on more responsibility than you can handle. Think about if you actually can take on that extra assignment, or if it will just leave you feeling drained and overworked. Biting off more than you can chew might be fine when it comes to your dinner, but not to your work!
- I’ve been so tired lately. I have so much to do. I think I might have bit off more than I can chew.
- She wanted to say yes to the project at work, but she knew if she did, that she would be biting off more than she can chew.
Burn the midnight oil
Speaking of working a lot, have you ever burned the midnight oil? If you burn the midnight oil, you’re working late into the night to finish something. This idiom refers to a time before electric lighting when people would use oil lamps for light.
Try and manage your work so that you don’t bite off more than you can chew and end up burning the midnight oil (too often)!
- I have to finish this assignment by Monday. I think I’ll have to burn the midnight oil tonight to get it done.
- When I was in college, I used to burn the midnight oil a lot in order to finish my work.
Chew the fat
Aren’t those idle conversations by the coffee machine lovely? You know, the ones where you might be talking to your colleagues about what’s going on in their lives. Nothing too serious — just getting to know someone. If so, you may enjoy chewing the fat with people.
If you’re chewing the fat, you’re engaging in (using) small talk with someone to pass the time. The phrase could come from when sailors had salted meat on board, which would harden. So they would literally chew the fat to soften it up while talking about life at sea.
Take some time to chew the fat with your officemates and get to know someone new this week!
- I love getting to know new people. I really enjoy chewing the fat with someone I don’t know!
- He always chews the fat with his boss in the morning over coffee.
Have you ever heard any of these English idioms before? Have you used any of them in the past? Share your experiences with these English idioms you should know in the comments below!
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Check out these other popular blogs: Taboo words in English, 7 Synonyms for Being Drunk, 7 American English Slang Words, or these Sports Idioms used in English!
Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, blogger, yoga instructor, and is always all ears!