More Common English Idioms

This week we’re going to decode another baker’s dozen of commonly-used English idioms. Click here to see our first blog post on English idioms.

For those of you who aren’t regular readers of our blog, an idiom is a phrase whose meaning is different from the dictionary definitions of the words that comprise it. Idioms pose a special challenge for non-native English speakers precisely because you can’t determine their figurative meanings from their literal meanings. “Baker’s dozen” is itself an idiom; it means “thirteen.”

English has thousands of such idioms, so we’ll only be covering a small number here. If you need additional help with idioms or any other aspect of the English language, contact the English Island in Atlanta. Our passionate, experienced teachers can create a customized class that fits your busy schedule and individual needs.

All your eggs in one basket: Allocating all of your resources to a single possibility.

“Ellen needs to stop putting all her eggs in one basket and diversify her stock portfolio.”


A picture is worth a thousand words: A visual representation is more descriptive than a written one.

“A picture is worth a thousand words. I could try to describe the beauty of the nebula, but you should check out the images on the NASA website instead.”


Best of both worlds: All of the advantages and none of the disadvantages.

“Jim’s new apartment is the best of both worlds. It is close midtown and reasonably-priced.”


Burn the midnight oil: To work late.

“We’re going to have to burn the midnight oil for the next few days to finish the project by the deadline.”


Cry over spilt milk: Lament something that has already happened.

“The meeting with the new client could have gone better, but there’s no use crying over spilt milk. All we can do now is to strive to be better prepared for the next meeting.”


Have your cake and eat it too: Desiring two mutually exclusive outcomes.

“Jeff wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants the break room cleaned more often but doesn’t want to have to be the one to clean it.”


Let sleeping dogs lie: Leave something alone, lest negative consequences result from your involvement.

Trust me. Don’t bring up the election results with Robert. Just let sleeping dogs lie.”


Heard it through the grapevine: To learn something through gossip or rumor.

“I heard it through the grapevine that Shelly will be transferring to the London office.”


Play devil’s advocate: Offer a counter-argument, often from a position you disagree with, for the purposes of discussion.

“Although Julia’s habit of playing devil’s advocate helped her coworker’s to consider different perspectives, her tendency to do so for even the most minor issue irritated many of them.”


Raining cats and dogs: Raining heavily.

“I wish I had brought an umbrella. It has been raining cats and dogs all day.”


Sitting on the fence: Being unable or unwilling to make a decision.

“Jordan needs to stop sitting on the fence and decide whether she’s going to the company retreat.”


Straight from the horse’s mouth: Directly from the source.

“I heard it straight from the horse’s mouth. Shelly told me that she will be transferring to our London office next month.”


Whole nine yards: Everything.

“Marc arranged the whole nine yards for the party: an elite location, gourmet catering, and first-class entertainment.”