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Thursday, April 12, 2012

to point the finger at

Idiom: to point the finger at; used as a verb

First Example: When Charlene asked her kids who ate the cake in the fridge, her son Oscar pointed the finger at his sister, Michelle.  Of course, Charlene knew it was Oscar because he had frosting on his face, so he got into trouble for lying as well.
Meaning: To "point the finger at" someone means to blame a person for something bad that happened.  The expression comes from the act of pointing at a guilty person, often done by a witness in court (who points at the criminal).  However, while possible, it is not required that the accuser literally point his/her finger at someone in order to blame him/her.  In fact, this idiom is often used when the person being blamed isn't even present, as in the next example:

Second Example: When Melanie got into trouble at work, she pointed the finger at everyone but herself.  She blamed her late projects on Todd, claiming he kept interrupting her with other projects, and she said Chris said it was OK for her to use the phone to make person calls.
Here, Melanie is blaming others for her bad behavior at work.  In addition to personal blame, the expression can also be in a larger sense, as in the following example:

Third Example:
            Economist A. When people ask me about what caused the economic crisis in 2008, I usually point the finger at the Iraq war.  It was an extremely expensive ordeal.
            Economist B. While I agree that the expense of the war had some effect on the economy, I think you're overestimating its influence.  Real estate prices and the stock market were really blame.

When asked what was the number one cause of the in the United States, the first economist pointed the finger at the Iraq war.  However, the other economist argued that he should have pointed the finger at real estate prices. 

This idiom is from LSI's book "Reading Savvy," which is used in the Level 5 Reading classes. For more information, please visit  

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

to shell out

Idiom: to shell out; used as a verb

First Example: 
If you want a car like mine, you're going to have to shell out $23,000;  that's how much it cost me after taxes and fees.

Meaning: To "shell out" something means to spend a certain amount of money; the expression suggests that the amount is a large cost.  This idiom doesn't require a specific amount, such as when it is used in a question, but an answer will usually include a specific number, as in the following example.

Second Example:
   Andrew. The diamond on that ring you gave your girlfriend is huge!  How much did you have to shell out for that?
   Ben. Only $100...  The diamond is fake, but don't tell her that!

Here, Andrew thinks that Ben gave his girlfriend an expensive ring, so he uses the idiom "shell out," but Ben replies with a much smaller number. Notice that the modal "have to" is often used with "shell out" as in both examples above (however, the second example could be written without it).  In addition to questions, "shell out" can also be used with an expression to suggest a large number instead of an actual number, as in the following example:

Third Example: In order the keep the woman quiet after the accident, the theme park shelled out an obscene amount of money.  She'll never have to work another day in her life.

In this case, "obscene" means an outrageous amount that people would be shocked (and maybe even offended) to hear, and the use of "shell out" heightens the idea that the "obscene" amount was quite large.

This idiom is from LSI's book "Reading Savvy," which is used in the Level 5 Reading classes. For more information, please visit