Let’s Catch Up on Idioms! Or What the Hell Are Those Crazy Americans Saying?

Ah, the idiom. If you’re not up to date on your English class vocabulary, the idiom is the phrase that makes no literal sense but we use all the time anyway. So let’s catch up! No – that doesn’t mean we should run like the wind to join the rest of the group – it means we should talk. See? No sense at all. Oh, and run like the wind is *technically* a simile – just saying.

Using Idioms

Idioms have a pretty substantial place in writing, especially if you’re trying to take on a casual, conversational tone. But to use idioms correctly, they have to be worked in naturally and they have to be used correctly – no small feat for someone who didn’t grow up immersed in our nonsensical English language.

If you’re trying to brush up on some conversational English, including idioms, I highly suggest a trip to the book store. Skip the guidebooks and dictionaries. Instead start grabbing popular teen series. Not only will you be more entertained than you would with some dry guide to the English language, you’ll also get a very real feel for how people speak, and you can see it in print – not the case for movies and television watching. If you’re between teen novels, here are a few other idioms you can try working into your writing. It will be hard to tell if they sound natural at first, so ask opinions of native speaking friends or use the examples I included below.

Common Idioms in American English (And How to Use Them)


“A blessing in disguise”
– Something great has happened, and you didn’t realize it at first. Getting fired was a blessing in disguise as it allowed Harvey to start his own freelancing business.

“A dime a dozen” – It’s cheap and easy. $5 articles are a dime a dozen.

“Dog days of summer” – The hottest, yuckiest days of the summer. I hate working outside in the dog days of summer.

“Flipped the bird” – A personal favorite, this means to extend your middle finger in an insulting way. When he cut me off, I flipped him the bird.

“Go out on a limb” – Putting yourself in a tough spot, usually to help someone else. I’m going out on a limb here, but I think you’ve got a shot at making it.

“Good Samaritan” – A Biblical reference to the stranger who stopped to lend a hand to an injured man, today the good Samaritan is someone who unquestioningly helps others. She’s such a good Samaritan – it’s nice to see such nice people today.

“Go the extra mile” – Completing more that is required. He really goes the extra mile to deliver value to his clients.

“New kid on the block”
– Someone new to a particular group. Or a member of the strangely popular boy band from the 1990s. Everyone say hello to Tommy! He’s the new kid on the block, but we’re all going to help him out.

“Not playing with a full deck” – An individual who isn’t very smart. Love him to death, but Huey’s just not playing with a full deck.

“Off the hook”
– Removed from a situation, usually one with responsibility. It can also be praise. We hired a new secretary, so you’re off the hook. ~ That party was off the hook!

“Pass the buck”
– Moving responsibility up the food chain (to someone else) – There’s nothing I like better than being able to pass the buck on administrative tasks.

“Pig out” – To eat. A lot. Mmmmmm…ice cream! Let’s pig out!

“Sitting shotgun” – Sitting in the front passenger seat. (The expression came from the days stagecoaches needed to be protected in the Wild West.) Get out of my way! I’m sitting shotgun!

There are only about 3,245 more – any favorites?

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Rebecca is a full-time everything. She teaches English and reading to her much loved, if challenging, high school students during the day and is a freelance education writer in the evenings. With almost ten years in the classroom and advanced degrees in business and information science, Rebecca specializes in materials that inform, educate and entertain. Rebecca indulges herself by pretending to have spare time and writing about the ups and downs of being a freelancing mama whenever she gets a chance.

7 thoughts on “Let’s Catch Up on Idioms! Or What the Hell Are Those Crazy Americans Saying?”

  1. Add in some Southern slang and those who are trying to figure out what we are talking about multiplies considerably! 😉

    One of the cops here (small town in Georgia) is from the North. When he answered a call, the lady claimed that the assailant had taken off “down yonder”. I’m sure you can imagine the laughter that ensued when he radioed into dispatch to ask for directions to down yonder. I don’t think he will ever live that down.

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  2. Great post! Gotta love idioms, especially when you travel to foreign lands. Unless you’re from America, you probably won’t understand what they mean. This could get you into trouble because you could end up offending people. It’s a good idea to know when to use idioms.

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  3. Love this post. The best thing about idioms is that, once you think you know them all, you discover variations on the ones you know!

    Stacey- I know exactly what your poor cop went through! I grew up outside of Chicago, and moved to Kentucky for school. While I now love Kentucky, when I first got there, I could have sworn people were speaking in a different language. Now my family makes fun of ME for having a twang!

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