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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

White Christmas

Idiom/Expression: White Christmas - a Christmas day when there is snow on the ground. 
There are a lot of people in the United States who associate the holiday season and Christmas with snow, even if they live in a place where it never snows.  There are nostalgic, old time pictures and images on Christmas decorations and cards with snowy Christmas scenes. These snowy images make people think of a simpler time in an ideal world where everything seems perfect. Many people hope for and talk about a white Christmas along with other holiday traditions such as hanging stockings by the fire and decorating a Christmas tree.  In some places, people gamble each year on if there will be snow or not on Christmas day. 

Context #1 – Two roommates are talking about what to do at Christmas time.
Jeff: I really miss New York at Christmas time. When I was a kid, we used to have a white Christmas every year!
Maggie: Wow! You are so lucky! I’ve lived in California my whole life and I’ve never actually experienced snow, except at Disneyland and that was fake snow.
Jeff: Really? That’s too bad. It’s so nice waking up on Christmas morning and looking outside to see everything covered in a blanket of snow! It’s like a picture you see on a Christmas card!
Maggie: Well, Big Bear is not so far away. Why don’t we go there on Christmas day so that I can see the snow for myself and you can get the white Christmas you are missing here in LA?
Jeff: You know, that is a great idea! I guess we will have a white Christmas after all!

One of the most famous Christmas songs in the United States is "White Christmas," written in January of 1940. Many well-known artists have recorded this song and it is still widely played on the radio during the holiday season in the U.S.

Context #2 – Following are the lyrics from the song “White Christmas.” Read along while you watch the video.

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow
I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white

 Meaning: In context 1, the two roommates decide they want to go out of town to a place where it is snowy so that they can have a white Christmas. In the lyrics for the song “White Christmas,” the singer is nostalgic for the Christmases of the past filled with sleigh bells, children, and snow.  He wishes everyone a Christmas like the happy ones he remembers.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Bah! Humbug!

Idiom: Bah! Humbug!    

Meaning: An expression used to show a negative attitude or disgust about the Christmas season. This expression was made famous by the fictional character Ebinizer Scrooge in the Charles Dickens novel 'A Christmas Carol.'

Context: Watch the following video and read along. Donald Duck is trying to wish his uncle, Ebinizer Scrooge, a Merry Christmas. But his uncle really hates Christmas and wants it to be just a regular day.

Scrooge: It’s just another work day and any jackanapes* who thinks else should be boiled in his own pudding!
Donald: Ohhhhh!!
Mickey: But sir, Christmas is a time for giving. A time to be with one’s family.
Scrooge: I say, “Bah! Humbug!”
Donald: I don’t care! I say, “Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!”
Mickey: Well said, Master Fritz! (clapping his hands)
Scrooge: Cratchit (name of Mickey)! What are you doing?
Mickey: Ah, ha ha,  I was just trying to keep my hands warm, sir.
Scrooge: Humph! And what are you doing here, nephew?
Donald: I’ve come to give you a wreath and invite you to Christmas dinner.
Scrooge: Well, I suppose you are going to have plump goose with chestnut dressing? 
Donald: Yep!
Scrooge: And will you have plumb pudding and lemon sauce?
Donald: Yah, by golly!
Scrooge: And candied fruit with spice sugar cakes?
Donald: Yah! Will you come?
Scrooge: Are you daft**, man! You know I can’t eat that stuff! Here’s your wreath back. Now out, out, out!!!
Donald: Ahhhhhh!
Scrooge: Bah! Humbug!
Donald: (opens the door, puts the wreath on the door knob) Merry Christmas!!
Scrooge: And a bah, humbug to you!

*Jacknape: Someone unimportant but disrespectful in manner
**Daft: Silly or Foolish

Explanation: In this scene, Donald Duck is trying to wish his uncle a Merry Christmas, but his uncle response “bah, humbug,” an expression of disgust about the Christmas season. Instead, he rejects his nephew’s Christmas dinner invitation and gift and throws him out of the office. When Donald comes back and tries one more time to say “Merry Christmas,” his uncles responds with bah, humbug, instead of a Christmas greeting.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

to tighten one's belt

Idiom: to tighten one's belt (used as a verb)

First Example:
            Tim: Do you want to go to lunch?
            Sally: I brought lunch, but thanks for the invite.
            Tim: Wow! You never bring lunch!
            Sally: Well, Justin lost his job, so we're gonna have to tighten our belts until he finds something new.
            Tim: That's too bad. I hope he finds a new job soon.

Meaning: The expression "to tighten one's belt" means to spend less money. The idiom is most often used when the person is spending less because he or she now has less many, as in the example. Here, Sally explains that her husband Justin lost her job, so she can't go out for lunch.

Second Example:
            Father: Kids, we've decided to buy a new house.
            Son 1: Awesome! Will I get my own room?
            Son 2: I want my own room too!
            Mother: Yes, you'll both get your own rooms.
            Father: But, the mortgage on the new house is more expensive, so we're going to have to tighten our belts
            Mother: That means no pizza or going to the movies for a while.
            Son 1: That's OK! I can't wait to see my new room! 

Meaning: In the second example, the father uses the example to explain that the family will have less money because of a larger mortgage payment (so they are making the same amount of money but have more expenses now). Notice that the idiom is commonly used with the modal "have to" (seen in both examples).

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

to break even

Idiom: to break even (used as a verb)

First Example:
            Manager: I'm sorry, but we won't be able to give that raise you asked for.
            Employee: That's too bad. Can you explain why?
            Manager: Well, the rent for the building went up, and we lost a couple clients. Unfortunately, we barely broke even the last two months.
            Employee: Wow, I didn't realize it was that bad.
            Manager: Well, hopefully this new client will work out and we'll be bringing in more income starting next month.

Meaning: The expression "to break even" means to spend the same amount of money as was earned. In the example, the manager explains that the employee won't be getting a raise because the company "barely broke even," meaning that the company spent what they had earned and had no profits.

Second Example:
            Chris: How was the casino?
            Tania: It was so much fun! You should have come!
            Chris: Did you win any money?
            Tania: Yeah! I made enough to pay for the plane tickets and hotel room, so I basically broke even.
            Chris: Wow, so a free vacation! 
            Tania: Yeah! It would have been nice to make money, but it was still a surprise to break even and still have so much fun.

Meaning: In the second example, Tania "broke even" on her trip, making enough money at the casino to pay for her travel and accommodations. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Heavy Hitter

Heavy Hitter

Example 1:

Oprah Winfrey is considered a heavy hitter in her field.

Example 2:

Carlos: I’m excited to have Wendy working with us!!
Hoyeon: Why?
Carols: Have you seen her resume? She’s a real heavy hitter!

Meaning: someone who has achieved a lot and is very powerful

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

To Play Hardball

To Play Hardball

Example 1:

Things are getting a little tough so the president has decided to play hardball on this issue.

Example 2:

Jacob: Sam is such a nice teacher

Jake: Yes, but he’s also not afraid to play hardball when the class starts acting rowdy

Meaning: to act strong and aggressive about an issue with someone

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Travel Light

Example 1:
I'm going home for the holidays this year. I am so excited to see my family after 6 months of being here in America studying English. My classmate gave me good advice for my trip. She advised Itravel light. She explained that if I take just a small amount of luggage, I can save money on the flight fee and also have a lot of space to bring back my favorite things from my country! This is such a good idea because there are so many things I want to bring back to America with me, so if I travel light, I'll have space in my luggage to bring it back with me!

Example 2:
John: Mike, are you ready for our camping trip?
Mike: I sure am! I've got the tent, the sleeping bag, the portable TV, the portable DVD player, the generator...
John: Mike! Have you ever been camping before? We won't need a TV or a DVD player! We'll be enjoying nature. And besides, it's always best to travel light when camping. We'll have to hike up to the campsite from the car. We can't carry so much!
Mike: Oh, I see. OK. I guess I have to go home and repack my things....

To travel light means to pack only a little luggage for a trip. 
In Example 1, the student will travel light in order to leave space to bring back souvenirs.
In Example 2, John tells Mike that it's important to travel light when camping because they will be hiking.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

head back to one’s hometown

Context #1

Gary: What are you doing for Thanksgiving this year?
Chris: Well, normally we go to my parents' place. But this year we're heading back to my wife's hometown in Nebraska.
Gary: Nebraska? I hope you have a nice warm jacket to take with you.

Context #2

Amanda: How do you celebrate the Chinese New Year in China?
Yi Fei: Well, a lot of people head back to their hometown to spend time with their family.

"head back to one's hometown" is a common American idiom that means "to return to one's hometown."

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Context #1

Jim: Man! We cooked a huge turkey last night for Thanksgiving!
Todd: So I guess you had a lot of leftovers.
Jim: Yeah! I'm going to be eating turkey sandwiches for the next week.

Context #2

Sarah: We had a really nice Thanksgiving potluck party at my work today.
Chrissy: Did a lot of people bring food?
Sarah: Yeah, everybody did a great job. In fact, I even got to bring home some leftovers.

"leftovers" is a term used to describe the extra food that you have after a party or meal. A lot of Americans like to take home the leftovers and then eat them the next day.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Off the grid

Example 1:

Jason: I think the most logical thing we could do is keep a low profile and stay off the grid.

James: That’s not my style Jason.  I know some people like to do that, but I need to be social.

Jason: I’m not saying that’s fun, but just to get away from things for some time.

James: Getting off the grid means my social life would be dead.  I’m sorry, but I need massive

human interaction.

Example 2:

Griz: I was thinking of a vacation to the Andes of South America.

Leslie: Would we be off the grid?

Griz:  That’s the idea.

Leslie:  Good luck with that.  I’m not giving up my comforts and friends to go climb some

mountains.  I don’t like camping.

Ted:  You should really reconsider.  I think it would be good to get away from all this technology

and from people in general.

Leslie:  You should do it.  That way you can be alone in the mountains and I can be alone at

home.  Yay!  It works for the both of us.  Have fun!

Meaning: to be away from anything relating to media, television, radio, electricity, etc.  To

get off the grid means to be in a remote outdoor place with no access to any services most

people depend on.  Some people who don’t depend on electric companies, grow their own food,

don’t use motorized vehicles that run on petroleum can be considered off the grid.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Example 1:

Johnny: Hey Daniel, are you really going to compete in a doubleheader? Isn’t your leg hurt?

Daniel: Don’t worry Johnny, I know one competition right after the other might sound crazy, but I can handle it.

Johnny: What if someone sweeps your leg or something?

Daniel: It wouldn’t be the first time.  Besides, if I can win both competitions in one day, I’ll get even more famous.

Example 2:

Bill: We should totally give a presentation on History.

Ted: No way dude! How about a presentation on time travel?

Bill:  Dude, you thinking what I’m thinking?

Bill & Ted:  Presentation Doubleheader!  Excellent!

Ted:  But Bill, wouldn’t that take a lot of work.  I mean one presentation after the other sounds 

difficult.  A doubleheader will need lots of presenters.  Maybe we can dress people up in costumes.

Bill:  That’s awesome.  And I can have my stepmom and little brother can help us prepare.  

Meaning: Two events, presentations, movies, etc. happening one after the other.  Usually there’s a short time between both events, but they are both happening the same day.

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

to pal around (with)

Idiom: to pal around (with) (used as a verb)

First Example:

Christina: Have you seen Jackie lately?
Beatrice: No, she seems to spend all her time with Tim.
Christina: They do seem to spend a lot of time together. Do you think they're dating?       
Beatrice: No, they've been palling around together for years. They're best friends.
Christina: Ahh, that makes sense.

Meaning: The expression "to pal around (with)" means to spend time doing things you enjoy with a friend.  In the example above, Jackie and Tim are best friends according to Beatrice, saying they've been "palling around together for years" to emphasize that they often spend time together (and are not romantically involved). Notice that in this example, Beatrice did not use "with;" "with" is only used when a person is the object of the expression, as in the next example: 

Second Example:
Daniel: Hey, want to hang out this weekend
Jennifer: I can't; I have plans with Kelly.
Daniel: You've been palling around with her a lot lately.
Jennifer: Yeah, we just realized we have a lot in common. This weekend, we're going to a music festival. Want to go with?
Daniel: Nah, I can't stand being around that many people. But have fun! 

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

friends in high places

Idiom: friends in high places (used as a noun)

First Example:
Sandra: Did you hear that Ben got the promotion?
Donald: No way! I thought for sure you'd get it!
Sandra: Well, I don't have as many friends in high places.
Donald: What do you mean?
Sandra: Well, he has a few friends in upper management. Something tells me that helped him more than his qualifications...

Meaning: The expression "friends in high places" means to know people in important positions who can help and support you.  In the example above, Sandra claims that Ben has friends in upper management positions, and that these friends in high places are what helped him get the promotion.

Second Example:
Ally: Want to go to a big movie premiere tonight?
Cameron: Sure, but how are we going to get in?
Ally: Let's just say that I've got a few friends in high places.
Cameron: Like who?
Ally: That's not your concern. 
Cameron: But seriously, who?
Ally: OK, fine. I used to babysit the producer of the film. His mom and my mom are friends, so when I heard he was making this movie, my mom called his mom, and she made him give me two tickets. Anyway, do you want to go with me? 
Cameron: Sure! Do you have any embarrassing stories you can share about him?

Meaning: In the second example, Ally doesn't actually have a friend in a traditional position of power; rather, her mother knows the film's producer's mother. Often, the expression "friends in high places" is used like this, in order to suggest a person knows someone important but wants to keep the identity of that person secret. 

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Thursday, November 5, 2015


Example 1:
James:  I’m going to buy a laptop for $800.00
Leo: What?! That’s expensive! Have you shopped around for cheaper ones?
James: Not, really…
Leo: You should! I’m sure you can find one for way less than $800.00
James: Good idea!

Example 2:
Gina: Did you buy dad’s Fathers’ Day gift?
David: I’m shopping around to find the best price on the golf clubs he wants.
Gina: Ok, let me know when you find a good deal.

Shop around: To look at different stores to find what you want at the best price.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

to just scrape by

Context #1:

Tom: Did you pass your physics class this semester?
Brian: Yeah, but I barely scraped by. I almost failed!

Context #2:

Jennifer: This Russian class I'm taking is so hard.
Whitney: Are you failing it?
Jennifer: I'm not failing, but I am just scraping by. It's super difficult.

Meaning: to just scrape by is used when you are barely passing a class. You are right on the border of passing or failing.
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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Afraid of One's Own Shadow

Example 1: 
Mark: Are you OK, Sandra? You look worried about something.
Sandra: Oh, hey Mark. I didn't see you there. I've been a little more anxious these days. I can't seem to relax.
Mark: Did something happen?
Sandra: I had a car accident recently. It was pretty bad. Since then, everything scares me. I'm even afraid of my own shadow!
Mark: Well, it will take some time to feel normal again. At least you still have your sense of humor!

Example 2:
Betty: Hey, Jane. I heard you broke up with Steven. I thought you two were getting along. Did something happen?
Jane: No, nothing happened. We got along just fine, but it always bothered me that he was a little too wimpy. 
Betty: Wimpy? What do you mean?
Jane: He wasn't very strong or brave. Last week, someone took a parking spot from us when we were clearly next in line! He didn't do anything! Then, I needed help moving some furniture at home and he tried to help me, but he couldn't lift the dining chair. He's a nice guy, but honestly, he's afraid of his own shadow. I like scary movies, roller coasters, adventure, and excitement! I think he'll have a heart attack if he spends more time with me. 

If someone is described as being afraid of his/her/their own shadow,  it can be said that they get frightened very easily by things that wouldn't normally scare someone. Your shadow is generally something that doesn't frighten you because you understand that it is harmless.
In Example 1, Sandra is emotionally and mentally recovering from an accident. She's understandably still unsettled after her accident, but she jokes that her shadow even frightens her.

In Example 2, Jane felt that Steven was too afraid of things that, in her opinion, shouldn't scare a person. So she ended their relationship.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Scare the Daylights Out of Someone

Example 1:
Jill: Hey Bill, did I tell you the story about the racoon?
Bill: No, but it sounds interesting! What happened?
Jill: Well, last week when I went to take out the garbage, a giant racoon hissed at me! I think I was interrupting his dinner!
Bill: Wow! That's pretty scary! I heard racoons can be pretty dangerous.
Jill: Yes, they can be. He scared the daylights out of me! Tom is taking out the trash next week.

Example 2:
Mom: Sean! Where have you been? You said you would be home at 6. It's almost 9! Why didn't you call?
Sean: Sorry, mom. I was playing video games with Frank and I lost track of time. My phone battery died and I didn't realize it until it was too late.
Mom: I was so worried. It scared the daylights out of me when I called your phone and it went straight to voicemail. Anything can happy and you know how much I worry about you!
Sean: I know mom, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you worry.

to scare the daylights out of someone means the same as frighten someone, usually unexpected and surprising.
In Example 1, the racoon surprised and scared Jill. The racoon scared the daylights out of Jill.
In Example 2. Sean frightened his mother. Sean scared the daylights out of his mother.

What is something that scares the daylights out of you?

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Friday, October 23, 2015

to study one’s brains out

Idiom: to study one’s brains out

Context #1:

Jim:  How did you do on the grammar test?
Sam: I got 100%.  I studied my brains out for that test.
Jim:  Nice job!

Context #2:

Chrissy: Are you preparing for the GRE exam?
Tammy: Yeah, I've been studying my brains out for the last 6 months.
Chrissy:  Well I'm sure you'll do great!

Meaning: to study one's brains out means to study extremely hard for something.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Example 1:
Jenny: I won a $2,000 shopping spree at TNA! I'm heading there right now, want to come?
Vanessa: Hell, yeah! Let's go!!

Example 2:
Maria: I wish I didn’t go on that shopping spree two weeks ago!
Tatsu: Why? You were so happy with everything that you bought.
Maria: I know! But now I’m short on rent.
Tatsu: Yikes!

Shopping Spree:  To go to a mall and spend all your money buying many things, especially clothes, jewelry, makeup, etc.

Friday, October 16, 2015


Meaning: a difficult, strange or unusual situation (This idiom comes from baseball. The person responsible for throwing the ball towards the batter “the pitcher” has an array of different throws, one of them being the “curveball.”  It’s a particularly difficult throw to strike, as it can change direction.

Context #1 – At work

Clayton: Hey Zach, I’m not quite sure what’s going on with our manager; he really 
threw a curveball with those new company policies.

Zach: Tell me about it.  It’s unusual for changes to be made so suddenly.  It was 
definitely a curveball situation.

Clayton: I’m wondering if the new owners decided to implement the new policies as 
soon as they took over the company.

Zach: Either way, they should have warned us.  Now I’m just upset.

Context #2 – Dating

Sarah: Oh my goodness! The guy I went on a date with totally surprised me.

Leslie: Why? Was he strange?

Sarah: He hit me with a curveball.  Apparently he only likes to date for two weeks and then try to find a new girlfriend after.

Leslie: How strange.  It must be difficult dealing with a relationship like that;  Definitely a curveball.

Meaning: The idiom “curveball” means a tricky, difficult, unusual situation due to the change in direction into an unusual place.  In example #1, Clayton was upset at the unexpected and sudden new policies the company implemented.  In example #2, Sarah went on a date to meet a nice guy she could date, but the guy was unusual in his relationship expectations.  Sarah was not expecting to meet someone like that.