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What exactly is an idiom? If you are a native speaker, you probably use these phrases or expressions in your everyday language without even knowing what they are called. In case you haven’t been to an English class lately or you are not a native English language speaker and you are trying to master the language, it is important to know what idioms are to have a full mastery of the language.

Here’s a quick refresher: An idiom is defined as “a group of words established by usage as having a meaning that is not deductible from those of the individual words” or in other words, it is a commonly used expression whose meaning does not relate to the meaning of the words.

A couple examples of idioms are “She has a bun in the oven” (which means she is pregnant) and “Let’s paint the town red” (which means let’s go out and have a good time).

There are thousands of idioms used in the English language, and it is important to understand them in order to have a full grasp of the English language. Here are ten of the most popular idioms.

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Never judge a book by its cover

  1. This is one of the most commonly used idioms that I have heard in my lifetime. Essentially this idiom means that you shouldn’t speak badly about somebody until you really get to know the person or in other words, don’t base your opinion of someone solely on his or her appearance.

A piece of cake

  1. When something is described as a piece of cake; it means that the task is very easy or simple. For most people-when you eat a piece of cake, it is very easy to digest (even though it is full of calories and sugar). Hence, this idiom has developed to describe anything that is done easily or without effort.

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Go the extra mile

  1. This idiom essentially means to make the extra effort or do something special that a situation or circumstance wouldn’t necessarily require. Alternatively, it can mean work hard to achieve your goal.

Go down in flames

  1. This expression means to end or fail spectacularly or in a really big way.

Once in a blue moon

  1. When we say something happens once in a blue moon, we mean that it happens very rarely or not very often at all.

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Hang in there

  1. This idiom means to wait and be patient, or to not give up.
  1. Ah, this idiom is one of my favorites (and probably one of the ones that I use most frequently). It means to continue to stay awake when you are exhausted or to continue to expend energy when you have no energy left to give. Also, it can mean driving your car when there is no (very little) gas left in the tank.

 Bite off more than you can chew

  1. To bite off more than you can chew, means to take on more than you can handle or alternatively, that you are overwhelmed by the new tasks that you have agreed to. An example of this would be taking on a promotion with many more responsibilities, but not having enough time to complete everything.

Feeling under the weather

  1. Again, this is one of the most common idioms you will here on a daily basis in the United States. To feel under the weather means to feel ill or sick and unable to engage in your normal daily activities.

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To sit on the fence

  1. This idiom means to remain neutral and to not take sides. In other words, it means to stay in the middle ground of a situation. An example of this would be a friend who doesn’t want to take sides when their two friends are engaged in an argument

Idioms are very important expressions and commonly used phrases in the English language. Can you come up with any on your own?  There are thousands more which you can research on the internet if you are looking to expand your knowledge base and vocabulary.

 

Many people speak them everyday without even realizing that they are using an idiom. If you are not a native English speaker, it is extremely important that you become familiar with idioms because they are very common in the United States.

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Is English your second language? Let’s say that you are not native to the United States, but you have learned a lot of the English language and you are feeling confident that you can communicate well. Then one night you go out to the bar with your friends and you hear people talking about “getting stabbed in the back” and “twisting my arm” and “hitting the books”. You may start to think that people do things much differently here in this country or you may start to think that there are parts of the English language that you still do not understand.

Learning to understand English idioms is an essential part to grasping the whole English language. Idioms are a group of words or a phrase that have a meaning that is not obvious by the literal definition of the words in the phrase. Idioms often rely on analogies and metaphors.

These idioms are so common in everyday English language. If you haven’t learned them, it would be almost impossible for you to understand the context of them.

Here are seven of the most useful English idioms to know when learning the English language. This list is certainly limited and I would encourage you to take some time to learn these and research more of them.

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Hit the books

  1. If you heard someone at the bar saying they were going to “hit the books”; you might envision somebody lining up a bunch of books and punching them with their first. What this expression more commonly means is to study or to do homework. It is an idiom that is common among students (especially college students).

Twist my arm

  1. Again, if you were to go out to a bar and overhear somebody say “Alright, you’ve twisted my arm”, you might have images of one whiskey drinking bar customer grabbing on to the other bar-goers arms and physically twisting it. This is not the case. To twist someone’s arm means to convince him or her to do something they may have otherwise not wanted to do.

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To be up in the air

  1. You guessed it, this phrase generally does not mean that someone has gone out on a hot air balloon ride or gone paragliding. More commonly, “to be up in the air,” means that that things are uncertain or you are unsure of something. An example of this would be if you asked your friend if they had made any progress on buying a house, and they told you they were still up in the air about which town they want to live in. Basically, they haven’t what decided which town to buy a house in yet.

To stab someone in the back

  1. Oh, this is a great idiom! While stabbing someone in the back could quite literally mean taking a knife and stabbing him or her in the back, this expression more commonly refers to hurting someone that was close to us and trusted us. Alternatively, to stab in the back, means to betray them secretly and ultimately break their trust.

To go cold turkey

  1. This idiom is one of the most interesting ones. While some of the other idioms that we have talked about are somewhat metaphorical, this one seems to outwardly make very little sense. To go cold turkey means to suddenly stop addictive (or otherwise dangerous) behavior such as smoking or drinking alcohol. The idiom was said to have originated in the late 20th century due to the fact that people who suddenly stopped addictive behavior such as smoking and drinking may suffer from withdrawal effects and literally look like cold, uncooked turkey with pale white skin and goose bumps. Mind blown.

To face the music

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  1. If you heard this expression, “to face the music”, you might think you need turn your body in the direction that the music is coming from. What most people really intend by telling someone to face the music is to deal with the reality of a situation and handle the consequences that come as a result of your actions.

To blow off steam

  1. This idiom involves no steam. Instead, it means to get rid of the stress, anger or negative emotions that might be holding you back. Many people exercise “to blow off steam”.

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Poetry is one of the most fun and interesting uses of the English language, or any language for that matter. Nursery rhymes are essentially a poem or a song that is simplified and sung to a melody. There are many different types of poems; there is a different style for almost every type of personality.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge defined poetry as “the art of apprehending and interpreting ideas by the faculty of imagination; the art of idealizing in thought and in expression. For poetry is the blossom and the fragrance of all human knowledge, human thoughts, human passions, emotions, languages”.

Here are sixteen fun facts about poetry for your viewing pleasure.

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  1. March 21st is World Poetry Day. This holiday is recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). On March 21st, go hug a poet near you!
  2. The oldest written poem is the “Epic of Gilgamesh originating from Babylon”. This poem is believed to be around 4,000 years old. The poem illustrates the story of King (waaaait for it, you guessed it) Gilgamesh, who was half man and half God.
  3. The poet, Amy Lowell, once bought 10,000 cigars to stash away in her possessions. She claimed that she needed them in order to write her poetry. Well, there ya go.
  4. “Metrophobia” is the scientific name for the fear of poetry.
  5. 17 century poet, John Dryden, invented the rule prohibiting the usage of a preposition at the end of a sentence.
  6. The three biggest selling poets in the history of the world are William Shakespeare, Lao-Tzu, and Khalil Gibran.
  7. One of the earliest known types of poetry is called “Epic”. This type of poetry consists of long stories that tell tales of “heroic adventures”.
  8. Here is a doozey for you: the longest poem ever is called “Mahabharata”; it is an ancient Epic Indian poem and it contains 1.8 million words. Good luck with that!
  9. On the contrary, one of the shortest types of poems is the Japanese Haiku. This type of poetry has a very specific format. It is seventeen syllables and three lines. The first line contains five syllables, the second line contains seven syllables, and the third line contains five syllables.
  10. There is a poem titled “Plakkopytrixophylisperambulantiobatrix” written by G.K. Chesterton.
  11. A stanza is an important term to know when discussing poetry. It is “a group of lines forming the basic recurring metrical unit in a poem”. A couplet contains two line stanzas and a quatrain is a four-line couplet.
  12. Charles Gingha wrote a poem called “I”. This is one of the shortest poems in the world.

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  1. The most famous two-word poem in the world is called “The Shortest and Sweetest of Songs” (The Title has three times the amount of words as the poem) by George Macdonald. The poem reads “Come Home”.
  2. To “unfriend” someone is not just something you do on Facebook. The word actually dates back to 1275, and was featured in the poem called “Brut”.
  3. Emily Dickinson is one of the most famous poets in history, and chances are that unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard of her. Speaking of rocks, on the back of Emily’s gravestone, the two words “Called Back” are engraved at her request.
  4. After reading this, I think I will do everything in my power to make these my last words as well as they are very fitting: “It’s all been very interesting”. In case you were wondering whose last words they were, they belong to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.

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A nursery rhyme is a simple traditional song or poem intended for children. They are often very catchy and innocent sounding and many of us adults know them by heart because we heard them so much as children. I love nursery rhymes because of their history, their prominence in our culture and their place in folklore.

What’s more fun (as least from a literature perspective, maybe not a parent’s perspective) is that many nursery rhymes have dark backstories behind them. Some nurse rhymes reference violence or scandal or adult themes, but the words are strung together in such a way that they could almost be perceived as innocent.

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Here are a few nursery rhymes that aren’t quite so innocent-

  1. Rub a Dub Dub

So let’s get real here for a minute. The fact this nursery rhyme talks about three men in a tub (and in the original version, three women in a tub) is a little disturbing considering its primary audience is for people under four feet tall. Some really smart people who like to study history believe that this nursery refers to old time fairs where there was a sideshow of three naked girls in a tub. To make things more interesting, the “butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker” were all there to watch. That is one dirty nursery rhyme!

  1. Goosey Goosey Gander

Back in the day in 16th century Britain, “goose” was a slang term for prostitute- though the nursery rhyme experts are unsure or not whether the phrase goose in this rhyme was actually intended to mean a prostitute. However, the rest of the nursery rhyme tell a tale of the persecution of Catholic priests by Henry VIII of the priests who refused to pray in the new format that King Henry demanded.

If priests refused to practice in the new way dictated, they were often punished. Many priests would hide out in “priest holes”. If the priests were found hiding out in their priest holes, their punishment was death. This dynamic is demonstrated in the nursery rhyme by the old gentleman who is “thrown down the stairs”. Many people believe the nursery rhyme is anti-catholic in nature and it has been suggested that the term “goosey” was used to insinuate that the Catholic Church was indeed “whorish”.

  1. Three Blind Mice

In another tale based in Britain during the reign of the Kings and the Queens way back when- this time during the reign of the Queen Mary I-this nursery rhyme also talks about death and massacre. The “three blind mice” reference is of three noblemen who believed in the Protestant faith.

The three noblemen plotted against the Queen who is referenced in the rhyme as the farmer’s wife. When the Queen discovered the intentions of the three men, she had them sentenced to death. Unlike the rhyme might suggest though, she didn’t cut off any tails with the butcher’s knife. Instead, she burnt them at the stake!

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  1. Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush

Guess what? Much to your surprise, this catchy tune isn’t about children dancing around the mulberry bushes. Instead, historian R.S Duncan believes the rhyme came from female prisoners. Rumor has it that the prisoners took a mulberry sprig which they planted and it grew in to a full sized Mulberry Bush. The women would go outside at midnight and dance around the Mulberry bush for exercise.

  1. Ring a Ring o’ Roses

This jolly tune is perhaps one of the most classic nursery rhymes in existence. While it is commonly believed that children used to circle around the red rose bush to this tune, it is actually about the bubonic plague. If you ever happen to come down with the bubonic plague, you should know that symptoms include a “rosy red rash in the shape of a ring on the skin”. Another symptom of the plague was sneezing (so next time you think you have a cold, watch out!). It is estimated that the plague killed 200 million people between 1346 and 1353-so course it was worth writing a jolly nursery rhyme about!

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Along the same lines of fixing some of the common grammatical mistakes in your writing, there are also some words that you should consider eliminating from your vocabulary. These words aren’t necessarily mistakes or errors, but there are many words we throw in to our vocabulary, which are unnecessary or are filler words.

Words in their essence are very powerful. They can hold a lot of influence on your personality or in your business. In the other direction, they can also have a very negative influence on how people perceive you. If you eliminate these words from your daily speech, you will only sound smarter and increase your chances of success. These are some examples of those words.

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  1. That

This is a common word used in writing. I am very guilty myself of adding unnecessary “thats” in to my writing and then not realizing how unnecessary these words are until other people point it out. “That” is one of those extra filler words that people use much of the time and is unnecessary most of the time. A general rule of thumb: if you can take the word “that” out, and your sentence still makes sense, then you should drop it.

  1. Absolutely

Adding the word “absolutely” to your sentences is often redundant and it’s considered lazy in many circumstances because there are far better words that you could be using instead. Instead of saying “absolutely necessary”, you could use the word “essential”. I believe we are all guilty of using absolutely a lot, so please just me mindful of your word choices in your documents.  While you are it, make friends with the thesaurus feature in your writing program!

  1. Maybe

“Maybe” is another word that isn’t necessarily a mistake or an error, but it is just not part of an ideal vocabulary. The only thing that “maybe” conveys is uncertainty, and it derives a work of writing of any confidence that it could have had. Don’t replace it; just drop it. 

  1. Very

“Very” is considered to be a qualifier. Qualifiers are intended to magnify a verb, an adjective or an adverb. If you are picking an accurate adjective, then you will not need to magnify it with a qualifier. Instead, bust out your thesaurus and memorize better adjectives. Ecstatic? Depressed. Melancholy. None of these words need qualifiers. Get creative.

  1. Actually and But

While these words may seem quite common and innocent, some believe that these words can put space between you and the audience that you are trying to communicate with. The word “actually” can imply that you are correcting someone and that his or her previous thoughts about a subject were wrong. Try to replace “actually” with more common words where possible. “But” is very similar in that it can communicate a log of negativity without even intending to do so.

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There is a big difference between the statements “I really appreciate you offering money, but I can really not accept that right now” and “I really you offering the money! Unfortunately, at this time, I cannot accept it”. Choose your words carefully,

  1. Just

“Just” is another word that can add a lot of inherent negativity to your writing or e-mails. There are a few different ways that word “just” can be used, and they all diminish power in communication. If you say something like, “I’m just a front line employee”, you are implying that you think you are limited in someway or that your job is unimportant. If you think it, you believe it.  Another way that you could use the word is-“just a minute”. This implies that your focus is elsewhere and the person you are communicating with it not your priority.

  1. Went

Went is considered to be a very lazy form of a verb. I went to work. I went to the mall. I went to the gym. Instead, choose to pick a verb with more meaning behind it such as walked, ran, drove, flew, etc.

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The English language is constantly evolving and as many as 4,000 new words are being added to the English dictionary every year.  This approximately equals a new word added to the dictionary every two hours. You might be thinking to yourself, with the English language already so established, what words could they possibly still be adding to the dictionary? Well today is your lucky today! We are going to explore some of the most bizarre and quirky words that have been added to the dictionary in recent years.

  1. Muggle (Noun)

Muggle is a word that is straight out of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. The series has become so wildly popular around the world that the folks at the Oxford English Dictionary felt they had no option but to include it.

Muggle:n.In the fiction of J.K. Rowling-a person who possesses no magical powers. Hence in allusive and extended uses: a person who lacks a particular skill or skills, or who is regarded as inferior in some way.

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  1. Gaydar (Noun)

This word has become fairly common in modern language, at least in the American culture. The Oxford dictionary defines “Gaydar” as a noun which best means “ A homosexual person’s ability to identify another person as homosexual by interpreting subtle signals conveyed by their appearance, interests, etc.

  1. Grrrl (Noun)

This one was truly shocking to me as there no actual vowels in the word. I wonder if “Words with Friends” will accept it as a word. A “Grrrl” is defined as “a young woman regarded as independent and strong or aggressive, especially in her attitude to men or in her sexuality”.  Dmmmmmn.

  1. Screenager (Noun)

“A person in their teens or twenties who has an aptitude for computers and the Internet”. Bam, there you have it.  The fun part of this that my edition of Microsoft word certainly doesn’t accept any of these “words” as words and continues to yell me as I type this article.

  1. Cyberslacking (Verb)

It’s pretty cool that the Oxford Dictionary has this word listed in the dictionary now, as it is a very real issue in modern culture. The Oxford Dictionary defines “cyberslacking” as a verb that entails “spending one employer’s Internet and e-mail facilities for personal activities during working hours”. You’ve done it, you know you are absolutely guilty of cyberslacking.

  1. Bestie (Noun)

“A person’s best friend; a very close friend”

  1. Bitchingly (Adjective)

“As an intensifier: very, extremely; in a resentful manner; complainingly. Also: In an unpleasant or contemptuous manner; spitefully”

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  1. Bouncebackability (Noun)

Now I truly have to wonder what the world is coming to. Some of the words on this list, while somewhat weird and bizarre, I could still describe as legitimate. “Bouncebackability”- I’m not so sure about this one. Nevertheless, the definition is “The ability to recover from near defeat in a competition; the ability to recover from a set-back”. I’m sure you could have guesses that.

  1. Ego-Surfing (Verb)

I’m pretty sure you are guilty of this one too at some point, you just won’t admit it.

The Oxford Dicionary defines “ego-surfing” as searching the internet for instances of one’s own name or links to one’s own website”.

  1. Meatspace (Noun)

This word, in my mind, is completely legitimate and actually made me laugh out loud.  Wait for it. Ready? “Meatspace” is defined as “the physical world, as opposed to the virtual world”. Take some time to think about that one and let it sink in to your cranium.  While this term may have emerged in some video game such as the ‘World of Warcraft’, the sad thing is that this world is incredibly relevant in the modern day world where so much of our life depends on technology and the internet.