Styczeń 2018

Tekst o idiomach trenerki językowej i pasjonatki języka angielskiego.Idioms are Fun!

Let me tell you a story from my life which illustrates how important it is to know idioms (and other colloquial, informal expressions, for that matter).

Idioms are Fun!

I was a fourth-year student of English when I decided to go to England for the first time in my life and spend the summer holidays there, working. I passed my exams earlier (not in June as scheduled) and was ready to leave for England in May with my best friend Ola. We were quite a spectacle at the airport – surrounded by a wide circle of friends and family saying farewells , our parents on the verge of crying (!)  – as if we were leaving for another planet and not coming back for ten years!

In the U.K. we stayed at a friend’s house and had one of the rooms at our disposal. I quickly got a job at a contact lenses factory where I produced solutions for contact lenses. And this brings me to the nub of my story. On one sunny, beautiful day I was having lunch outside, as usual – people were sitting around the table on benches, talking. I was a bit shy and did not really take part in the conversation but then one of the guys, Lee, started talking about his weekend, he was speaking very fast and with a strong British accent which did not resemble the BBC accent I was used to, that’s why it was difficult to understand some of the words and phrases he used. At one point he said something like “and it turned out the guy was pulling my leg” – at that moment my mouth dropped and I was staring at him with bewilderment not being able to grasp the meaning of what he was saying, so I asked hastily before giving it more thought: “What? Why was he pulling your leg? Did you get hurt? Is your leg all right?” – I must have sounded truly concerned. When I said that, all the people around us burst into laughter making me feel very embarrassed and becoming as red as a beetroot! Then Lee explained with a smile on his face: “Oh, no, no, not literally! It’s just a phrase, an idiomatic expression! It means he was just joking around” and it all became clear to me! – “Of course, an idiom! I didn’t know this one!” – was a reply I managed to stutter, thinking “But I’m sure I’ll remember it for the rest of my life!” To pull someone’s leg means to tell someone something that is not true as a joke e.g. “You didn’t have dinner with Keanu Reeves – stop pulling my leg!”; in Polish – nabierać kogoś, nabijać kogośw butelkę.

This story illustrates how important it is to know idioms, on second thought – how important it is to be aware that idioms exist and that they carry a figurative meaning. Of course, it’s impossible for us, as foreign learners of English, to master all the idioms there are in the English language, but when we are aware of their existence and usage then we know that we cannot take them literally (and that can save us misunderstandings and embarrassment).

Some idioms are quite easy to recognise and figure out the meaning, for example:

  • To be as blind as a bat – dosł. Być ślepym jak nietoperz, Polish phrase – być ślepym jak kret
  • To brush sth under the carpet – dosł. “zamiatać coś pod dywan” – pretty much the same phrase and meaning as in Polish
  • To drive someone crazy – doprowadzać kogoś do szału (although “to drive someone nuts” which has the same meaning might be a bit more difficult to understand if you choose to translate “drive” (prowadzić samochód) and “nuts” (orzechy) separately and literally!)
  • Work like a dream (e.g. the plan worked like a dream) – it happened without problems, as planned
  • It’s the calm before the storm – when things are quiet but it can change any minute, Polish phrase – “cisza przed burzą”
  • Better late than never – dosł. Lepiej późno niż nigdy, Polish phrase – lepiej późno niż wcale
  • Easier said than done – Polish phrase – “łatwo powiedzieć (trudniej zrobić)”

However, there are also a lot of idiomatic expressions which might be quite difficult to understand if you hadn’t heard them before:

  • To have the gift of the gab  – to talk well and persuasively
  • I can’t make head or tail of (what you are saying) – can’t understand
  • It’s a storm in a teacup – a lot of anger or worry about something that is not important,  Polish phrase – “Burza w szklance wody”
  • To be on top of the world – to be extremely happy
  • To hit the sack – to go to sleep
  • Speak of the devil! – said when the person we were just talking about showed up, Polish phrase – “O wilku mowa”
  • (to feel) under the weather – to feel sick, not well
  • make hay while the sun shines – make good use of opportunities while they last, Polish phrase – “Kuj żelazo póki gorące”
  • It’s as clear as mud – dosł. “czysty/przejrzysty jak błoto”, “not clear at all,  trudny do zrozumienia
  • A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush – dosł. Lepszy jeden ptak w dłoni, niż dwa w krzakach”, Polish phrase – “Lepszy wróbel w garści, niż gołąb na dachu”
  • Don’t teach your grandmother how to suck eggs – said when you are giving advice to someone who is more experienced or familiar with the subject than you, Polish phrase – “Nie ucz ojca dzieci robić”
  • Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched – don’t make plans before you know for sure that something will happen, dosł. Nie licz swoich kurczaków zanim się wyklują, Polish phrase – Nie dziel skóry na niedźwiedziu/Nie mów hop dopóki nie przeskoczysz


Dear students, the best thing about idioms is that they are easy to visualise which makes them easier to memorise!

Idioms are Fun!  

When you’re crazy in love with someone you can say

“I’m head over heels in love with her/him”