Here at Bespeaking, you know we love our idioms. They’re both a great way to express yourself and fantastic for immersing yourself in a language. English is full of idioms, and some of the most common ones you’ll hear are idioms from Greek mythology.
The Ancient Greeks had an enormous influence on society as we know it today. It was the birthplace of Western civilization, and therefore, also left us with some pretty great idioms. Here are some of our favorite idioms from Greek mythology:
Do you have a weak spot? Some part of your personality that’s not as strong as other parts? Then this would be your Achilles Heel.
The idiom comes from the great Greek warrior Achilles, who fought in the Trojan War. The myth says that when Achilles was a baby, his mother wanted to make him invincible, so she dipped (put almost all the way) him in the River Styx by holding on to him by the just his heel. The River Styx made Achilles invincible, however, except for the place on his heel where his mother held him. As the legend goes, during the Trojan War, Achilles was hit by a poisoned arrow in his heel, which killed him.
In the tradition of Achilles, your Achilles Heel is a part of you that is more flawed or weaker than other parts.
- He’s an incredibly nice person, but that can also be his Achilles Heel. Sometimes he’s so nice that people take advantage of him.
- In an interview, they might ask you about your Achilles Heel. They want to know what weaknesses you may have.
The Midas Touch
Do you know someone who seems to always be successful? As if everything they do is profitable in some way? Then this person might have the Midas touch.
In Greek mythology, King Midas was a very greedy king who was granted one wish by the god Dionysus. Midas asked that everything he touched be turned to gold, which Dionysus granted. However, this didn’t work out in Midas’ favor, as he ended up turning everything he touched to gold…including his loved ones and food.
Today, we use this phrase to describe very successful people, and the detrimental (unfortunate, sad) side of the story has fallen by the wayside (been forgotten).
- Jeff Bezos seems to have the Midas touch. It’s incredible how successful he is!
- My sister has the Midas touch. She’s successful in everything she does!
Have you ever had sour grapes about something? If someone has sour grapes, they’re jealous of something or didn’t get something that they wanted.
This idiom from Greek mythology comes from Aesop’s fable “Fox and the Grapes.” In this fable, a fox sees some delicious-looking grapes hanging high up in a tree, and tries everything he can to get to them. He fails, however, gives up, and walks away, consoling himself (making himself feel better) by saying that the grapes would’ve been sour anyway.
- He has some real sour grapes because he didn’t get the promotion he wanted.
- Oh, come on, don’t have sour grapes just because we didn’t see the movie you wanted to see.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
This particular idiom from Greek mythology is one you’ll hear quite frequently in English. If someone is stuck between a rock and a hard place, they have a very difficult decision to make.
The idiom comes from the myth of Odysseus, who while sailing home from the Trojan War had to sail between Scylla and Charybdis. Scylla was a sea monster who lived on a cliff and would eat sailors who passed by her, and Charybdis was a large whirlpool near Scylla’s cliff that would destroy (ruin, take apart), any ship that sailed too close. Odysseus had to figure out how to get past Scylla without getting his ship destroyed by Charybdis, and was, therefore, stuck between a rock and a hard place.
- I’m really stuck between a rock and a hard place. I have no idea what to do!
- His new promotion put him between a rock and a hard place, since he now managed his old colleagues and had to discipline (punish, warn officially) them, if necessary.
Our last idiom from Greek mythology is touch wood, which is a phrase you say when you don’t want to jinx (foreshadow, make it happen because you said it) something before it happens. It’s a bit superstitious, but a lot of people will touch, tap or knock on wood when they’re talking about something they hope doesn’t happen right after they have said it!
This phrase and tradition is very, very old, and comes from a good luck practice of the Ancient Greeks. They believed that nymphs and spirits lived in trees, and so the Greeks would touch trees to bring good luck.
- A friend of mine always wore wooden earrings so she could always touch wood.
- “Hopefully I get this promotion. It would really help me out financially.” “Touch wood! Don’t jinx it.”
When you start to look into it, it’s really amazing what we have gotten from the Ancient Greeks. They passed down so much to us…including these wonderful idioms from Greek mythology! Which one is your favorite? Share it with us in the comments below!
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Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, blogger, yoga instructor, and appreciates how diverse and informed English is- it really takes the best of so many languages and smushes it all together.