Idioms (I)

I'll eat my hat

meaning: I really don’t think that will happen; I will be really really surprised if that happens

1. “She hasn’t gone to any of the lectures, and her essays have been awful. I’ll eat my hat if she passes that test.”

2. “If Scotland beat Brazil I’ll eat my hat. There isn’t a hope in hell of them winning.”
the icing on the cake

meaning: a final thing that turns a good situation into a perfect one

1. His birthday had been perfect: a trip to the zoo; a meal with friends; and a night at the cinema. The icing on the cake, however, was when Anne gave him a kiss good night.

2. “All the best people are coming. And, well, if you could too that would be the icing on the cake.”
if it ain't broke, don't fix it

meaning: if there is no problem, don’t change anything (spoken)

1. “I know we had some concerns about the best way for this project to continue, but I say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Let’s leave it for a while and see what happens.”
in a fix

meaning: in a difficult situation

1. After Dave said he was thinking of quitting the company, Philip found himself in a bit of a fix: should he tell the boss and help the company, or respect Dave’s decision?

2. “Could you help me out? I’m in a bit of a fix – I need someone to cover for me at work while I go to the hospital.”
in a flash

meaning: really quickly; almost immediately

1. Dave saw the woman reach her hand into the old man’s pocket, then take out his wallet. In a flash, he was after her, chasing her down the street, calling for someone to call the police.

2. “It was going well until I saw Dave arrive. Well, I was out of there in a flash – there was no way I was staying to listen to him.”
in a nutshell

meaning: to summarise; the main point (of a longer point) is…

1. The game against United was City’s season in a nutshell: a good start, followed by a poor ending.

2. “The conference was cancelled, and I thought you guys might be lonely without me.”
“Does that mean you’re coming with us?”
In a nutshell, yes.”
in a pickle

in a difficult situation; in a messy situation where you might need help

1. “I’m in a bit of a pickle, so I’m wondering if you could help me out: my boss has told everyone to work overtime this weekend, but I promised I would take my sister around town. Could you do that for me?”
in a tight spot

meaning: in a difficult situation

1. The rise in their neighbours armies has left them in a tight spot: do they spend more on defence, or concentrate on their own economy?

2. “I’m afraid your actions have left me in a bit of a tight spot. I would like to keep you, but the board is expecting me to be tough.”
in a rut

meaning: a time when nothing interesting happens, you are always doing the same thing, and having no success

1. Anne had reached her late 30s and found her life was in a rut: going to work, coming home, watching TV. There was no romance, and no fun. She needed a change.

2. “Don’t worry about it too much. You’re in a rut, that is all. You’ll get a job soon.”
in (somebody else's) shoes

meaning: imagining if you were someone else

1. After spending a day in his boss’s shoes, Dave realised it was not an easy job, but that if he worked hard he might be able to do it.

2. “Imagine if you were in my shoes: what would you do? They way I see it, I don’t have much of a choice.”
in cahoots (with somebody)

meaning: to be working with someone to beat someone else, or to cause someone trouble

1. Dave was paranoid. They were all in cahoots – all of them! – wanting to bring him down, talking about him. He had to escape.

2. “Of course you would say that: you two have been in cahoots since the very start! I should never have trusted you.”
in dire straits

meaning: in real trouble; in serious difficulties (often financial)

1. The company is in dire straits, and has until the end of the week to find some new investment.

2. “You’ve got to help me, I’m in dire straits: if I don’t get them the money by this weekend, they’ll take my house.”
in cold blood

meaning: to do something (usually very bad, such as killing) with no emotion

1. Although Mr. Smith claimed he was innocent, the jury found him guiilty. When sentencing, the judge said the murder had been carried out in cold blood, and gave him 25 years.
in dribs and drabs

meaning: a little at a time; not all at once, but very small amount followed by very small amount

1. At the beginning customers came in dribs and drabs, but now there is a steady flow.
in droves

meaning: a very large amount arriving or leaving at the same time (usually people)

1. Last year the festival did poorly due to the weather, but this year the people arrived in droves.

2. Voters have lost confidence in the party and are deserting it in droves.
in full swing

meaning: an action that is not at the start, but the busy middle (usually parties)

1. The party was already in full swing when Dave and Anne arrived.
in high spirits

meaning: in a really good mood; in a party mood

1. 100 000 people arrived on Princes Street, and in high spirits they welcomed in the new year.

2. “You seem in high spirits today? What’s up? Is your wife on holiday or something?”
in hot water

meaning: in trouble with someone

1. “I had better go home if I don’t want to be in hot water with the wife.”
in league with (somebody)

meaning: working in a partnership with somebody (generally to do something bad)

1. There were times during that marriage when Anne thought Philip was in league with the devil: he was so cold and cruel to her, and didn’t seem to care at all.
in (my) book

meaning: in my opinion; according to my thinking

1. “You were rude, and unhelpful. In my book that is enough reason to fire you, but the bosses are going to give you another chance.”
in (somebody's) bad books

meaning: not liked by someone because you did something wrong

1. Ever since he met his ex-girlfriend for lunch Philip has been in his wife’s bad books, so tonight he is taking her out for a surprise meal to say sorry.
in one ear and out the other

meaning: to forget immediately because you weren’t listening properly or are absent-minded

1. “His mind is always somewhere else, and everything I tell him goes in one ear and out the other.”
in over (my) head

meaning: to be in a situation more difficult than you can cope with (from the idea of drowning)

1. “I’m beginning to wish I had never taken on this new project; I’m in way over my head, and I’m not really enjoying life.”
in (somebody's) pocket

meaning: a person ‘owned’ by another person; to be completely controlled by someone

1. The newspaper owner had the politicians in his pocket.
in this vein

meaning: in a similar fashion; to do something in the exact way something was done before

1. He has been working very well so far this year; if he continues in this vein he shouldn’t have any problems getting the score he needs.
in the bag

meaning: success in a project is now guaranteed

1. “3-1 up with two minutes to go? I think this game is in the bag.”
in the clear

meaning: trouble is now over

1. “I was a bit worried that we were going to be caught, but I think we’re in the clear now.”
in the dark

meaning: having no knowledge of a situation

1. “I’m completely in the dark on this, so you will have to explain what has been happening.”
in the doghouse

meaning: someone is annoyed at you for a short while because you did something bad (usually people you know or love)

1. He has been in the doghouse ever since his girlfriend found he had been calling his ex.
in the flesh

meaning: meet the person face-to-face in real life, rather than on the phone or via a computer

1. “I’ve always enjoyed watching him on TV, but meeting him in the flesh was a great honour.”
in the hole

meaning: owing money; in debt (usually gambling)

1. Dave has a gambling problem, and he was $1000 in the hole before he finally gave up and went home.
in the long run

meaning: in the more distant future, not the immediate future

1. The company lost money this year, but the investments they made should help it in the long run.

2. “You’re mad at me now, but you’ll thank me in the long run.”
in the loop

meaning: in the circle of people getting important information on something

1. “I’ll only let you take over the project if you keep me in the loop as to how things are going.”
in the pipeline

meaning: in development; being planned

1. The company has been one of the biggest names in developing new products, and the word on the street is they have another great idea in the pipeline.

2. “Don’t worry about me losing my job: I have a few other ideas in the pipeline.”
in the same boat

meaning: in the same situation as someone else

1. “Sorry to hear about you not getting into the university you wanted, but you’re not the only one; there are plenty of people in the same boat.”
in the zone

meaning: in a mindset in which you concentrate on something really hard and/or have great success

1. “Don’t disturb him: he’s in the zone at the moment. At this rate he’ll be finished by the end of the day.”
in turn

meaning: then he y because I had done x

1. “I borrowed some money from him, and he in turn borrowed money from his friend.”
in two minds

meaning: undecided; could decide to go either way

1. “I’m still in two minds about whether I should go to the party. Really I should do some work, but I know the party is going to fun.”
in (your) element

meaning: in a situation with which you are very comfortable or an expert

1. Ever since Anne moved to Australia she has been in her element; she loves the sunshine, and is really enjoying her new job.
(know) the ins and outs

meaning: to know everything about how an organisation works

1. “We need to hire an industry expert, somebody who knows the ins and outs of the sector and can help our company grow.”
(the) inside story

meaning: the true story from inside an organisation that the public doesn’t know

1. The company says everything is OK, but the inside story is that they’re struggling for money.

2. The magazine this week is very interesting: it has the inside story of the wedding.
(disappear/vanish) into thin air

meaning: to completely and suddenly vanish

1. The magician just seemed to disappear into thin air.
(rule with) an iron fist

meaning: to rule with complete control, strongly crushing any opponents

1. For twenty years he ruled the country with an iron fist, destroying his rivals and throwing protestors in jail. Only when he died did the people feel some relief.
itchy feet

meaning: to begin to want away from an overly-comfortable situation; to begin to want to move on

1. At first he thought he could stay for another year, but it was not long before he got itchy feet; he wanted to explore the world, not sit behind a desk.