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Idioms A-Z: Explained

by IELTS

Learning English and understanding idioms

Idioms are commonly heard in everyday English speech but aren’t always easy to make sense of. They may have a different meaning from the definition of the words in the expression. It’s also helpful to appreciate the culture behind an idiom to truly understand it.
 
So, to help you better communicate in English, we’ve put together a new monthly series to expand your grasp of idioms. Join us as we examine the meanings and historical information of popular idioms.

Easy as ABC

Meaning

Extremely easy or straightforward.

Origin

A child’s first spelling or reading book was commonly called an ABC, hence its metaphorical use to mean the basic elements of something.

In a sentence

The questions Mr. Gillis prepared for the quiz is as easy as ABC.
 

An Aladdin’s cave

Meaning

A place full of valuable objects.

Origin

From the Arabian Nights tale of Aladdin, who found the magic lamp in a cave.

In a sentence

Not many are aware of this but he has an Aladdin’s cave of special edition Nike shoes.
 

Alarms and excursions

Meaning

Confused activity and uproar.

Origin

Originally a call summoning soldiers to arms, the whole phrase is used to stage directions in Shakespeare to indicate a battle scene.

In a sentence

The alarms and excursions over the dismissal of the Marketing Manager, have hidden the real problem the company is facing.
 

Run amok

Meaning

Behave uncontrollably and disruptively.

Origin

The work comes from the Malay amuk, meaning “in a homicidal frenzy” ran amok.

In a sentence

He ran amok and threatened the security guard outside the bank with a knife.

 

Back to square one

Meaning

Back to the starting-point, with no progress made.

Origin

Square one may be a reference to a board-game such as Snakes and Ladders or derived from the division of the football pitch into eight numbered sections for early radio commentaries.

In a sentence

After three consecutive defeats, our basketball team is back to square one.

 

Bite the bullet

Meaning

Face up to doing something difficult or unpleasant; avoid showing any emotion, fear or distress.

Origin

From the days before anaesthetics, when wounded soldiers were given a bullet or similar solid object to clench between their teeth when undergoing surgery.

In a sentence

Linda was willing to bite the bullet for the sake of her children’s future.

 

Have a bone to pick with someone

Meaning

Have reason to disagree or to be annoyed with someone. Informal.

Origin

A bone to pick (or gnaw) has been a metaphor for a problem or difficulty to be thought over since the 16th century.

In a sentence

She was being mean as she had a bone to pick with me.

 

Draw a blank

Meaning

Does not bring about any response. Be unsuccessful.

Origin

A blank was originally a lottery ticket that did not win a prize; the figurative use of the phrase can be traced back to the 19th century.

In a sentence

There were so many signs linking him to the murder but the investigators drew a blank.

 

Turn a blind eye

Meaning

Ignore or pretend not to notice.

Origin

Said to be in reference to Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758-1805), who lifted a telescope to his blind eye at the naval Battle of Copenhagen (1801), thus making certain that he failed to see his superior’s signal to “discontinue action”.

In a sentence

He doesn’t like his daughter’s fiancé but he is willing to turn a blind eye and accept him as his son-in-law because Joe makes his daughter happy.

 

A blind spot

Meaning

(1) An area into which one cannot see. (2) An aspect of something that someone knows or cares little about.

Origin

These general senses appear to have developed from a cricketing term for the spot of ground in front of a batsman where a ball pitched by the bowler leaves the batsman undecided whether to play forward to it or back.

In a sentence

I like science but math is a blind spot for me.

Source: Oxford Dictionary of Idioms

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