Search This Blog


Thursday, April 27, 2017

You can't teach an old dog new tricks

Idiom: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks -  You cannot make people change their habits or character; it is very difficult to change the way a person does something when they have been doing it the same way for many years

Context #1 
Students are in English class

Terry: Hi, Sal. What’s wrong?
Sal: Oh, hi Terry. I’m just really tired. I’ve been trying to show my grandpa how to use his new smartphone, but he is really being stubborn.
Terry: What do you mean? Smartphones are great!
Sal: Well, he wants to return his smartphone for an old-fashioned flip phone. He says that he cannot even use the smartphone. It’s too hard!
Terry: Well, he is not used to that new technology, so it’s all probably confusing for him. You should probably just let him get an older phone he knows how to use.
Sal: I guess you’re right. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks!
Terry: Yes. He will be much happier with a phone he actually knows how to use.

Context #2 
Two friends talking about fitness

Sara:  I’m so tired!!
Pat: Why? You aren’t working full-time right now.
Sara: Well, my fitness coach told me that I should start getting up really early around 6 AM. He told me I would feel much better and get more things done.
Pat: What time do you usually get up?
Sara: 10 AM or so. I’m a night person. I love staying up late!
Pat: Well, if you are used to getting up at 10 AM, I don’t think you are going to be able to get up at 6 AM every day, especially right away.
Sara: I guess you are right. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Perhaps I’ll compromise and get up at 9:30 AM instead!

Meaning: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” means that you cannot make people change established habits of behavior or character. In Context 1, Sal’s grandpa cannot use a smartphone, no matter how much Sal tries to teach him. In Context 2, Sara thinks she can start getting up much earlier than she is used to getting up. In both contexts, it is too difficult to change their habits. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

To let the cat out of the bag

Idiom: to let the cat out of the bag – to reveal or tell secret information by mistake, to reveal facts that were hidden before, to let a secret be known without intending to

Context #1 

Three Friends are talking about a surprise party next Friday

Dan: Hey, Juan! Did you hear about that surprise party on Friday night? It’s supposed to be really big! Everyone is going.
Juan: Really? No, I haven’t heard about it at all.
Debbie: Come here, Dan! You just let the cat out of the bag! How could you?
Dan: What do you mean?
Debbie: It’s a surprise party for Juan’s birthday. He doesn’t know about it because it’s supposed to be a surprise!
Dan: Oh, I see. Sorry about that. I guess he knows now.

Context #2 

Two Co-Workers are talking during a break

Sami:  Hi, Petra. Congratulations on the promotion! I’m really happy for you.
Petra: What? Promotion? I have no idea what you are talking about.
Sami: Umm…our manager hasn’t talked to you yet?
Petra: No. I haven’t seen him today.
Sami: Well, I think I let the cat out of the bag. You got a really big promotion because of all the great work you have been doing recently. Everyone knows about it.
Petra: Ha, ha! Everyone, but me! Well, that’s OK. At least it was something good!

Meaning: To let the cat out of the bag means to tell someone a secret without intending to.  In Context 1, they are planning a surprise party for Juan and Dan accidentally tells Juan about his party. In Context 2, Sami tells Petra about her promotion before she even hears it from her boss.

Visit our website:

Thursday, April 20, 2017

To take a shortcut

Context #1

Tom:  Wow! The traffic is really bad on this freeway. I think we are going to be late for class.
Jim: Don't worry! Get off at the next exit. I know a shortcut that we can take.

Context #2

Samantha: This Friday me and my boyfriend are going to a concert at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. I know the traffic on the 10 freeway is going to be bad around rush-hour. Do you know of any shortcuts?
Jenny: Yeah, don't go the freeway. Just take Pico Blvd all the way to the Staples Center. It will be a lot faster.

Meaning: "to take a shortcut" means to take the fastest or shortest route to your destination. It is often used when there is traffic or construction that may be causing delays. 

Visit our website:

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Get out of here

Context #1

Sam: Guess what?  I got a new car.  I got a brand new BMW.
Chris: Get out of here!
Sam: Really!

Context #2

Sharon: I finally broke up with Matt.
Tammy: Now way. Get out of here!
Sharon: Really. This time it's is over.

Meaning: "to get out of here" is a common idiom that is used when you are surprised and don't believe someone.  It has the same meaning as "no way!"

Visit our website:

Friday, April 14, 2017

A Basket Case

Context #1

My dogs are my babies. I treat them like my children and they always have the best food, toys, beds, everything. I remember once when one of my dogs got sick. I was a complete basket case. I dropped everything and rushed my little dog to the veterinarian. I missed a whole day of work, I didn’t eat, didn’t sleep, I couldn’t rest or function normally until I knew my precious little dog was going to be OK. Luckily, she only had an upset stomach and was perfectly fine the next day. I realize now that I may have overreacted to the situation. 

Context #2

Jake is such a nervous student. He is also a perfectionist who expects perfect scores on all assignments, projects, and tests. I have known him since elementary school and I remember once in 5th grade, he didn’t read the directions correctly on a test. He missed 1 point on the test and became a total basket case. He didn’t play with us at recess; he only sat under a tree and reviewed his test paper over and over again! At lunch, he did the same thing! Now that we are in high school, he still puts the same pressure on himself.


A basket case is an anxious and nervous person who cannot function normally in situations where there is slight pressure, unplanned changes, or unfamiliar settings.

In Example 1, the writer became a basket case when her dog fell ill. In Example 2, Jake became a basket case when he missed a point on his test.

You can use different verbs with this expression:

You are a basket case!

Don’t be a basket case. Everything will be fine.

You turn into a basket case every semester during finals.

She was a basket case after her car accident.

Visit our website:

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Have second thoughts

Context #1

Getting married is one of the biggest steps someone can take in life and it is always wise to consider many things before making this huge commitment. Some people may say that being in love is the only requirement for getting married; others say it’s not that simple. Where will you live? Will you have children? Will you share household duties? How well do you know each other? Some believe the last question is the most important. If you don’t know someone very well, you may not be able to trust them or there may be some things in their past that you don’t like. There are many instances of couples who rush to get married but have second thoughts as the wedding date approaches. If you have many doubts as you move towards this great life step, perhaps it’s best to take a step back and reconsider.

Context #2

Sophie: I’m getting nervous. I don’t think this is a good idea, Margie.
Margie: Are you serious? We’ve been preparing for this for weeks! This is the only way we can pass our chemistry test. We have to cheat!
Sophie: It doesn’t feel right. I’m having second thoughts. Maybe we should just try and study more.
Margie: Are you crazy? The test is tomorrow. We don’t have time!
Sophie: What if we get caught? We’ll get a zero on the test AND be in trouble. We can try our best and get a score we deserve.
Margie: I can’t believe you’re changing your mind. You can go ahead and study. I’m going to get a perfect score on tomorrow’s test without you.

When someone has second thoughts, they are reconsidering their decision and there’s a chance they could change their mind. Their 1st (first) thought is their original plan/idea. Their 2nd (second) thought comes when they doubt their 1st one and begin thinking of a way out.
In Example 1 on the subject of marriage, the writer shares an example of a couple who rushes to marry, only for one of them to have second thoughts. Their first thought was “yes! Let’s get married!” Their second thought is now more like, “hmm, maybe this isn’t the best idea..”
In Example 2, the girls are preparing to cheat on an exam (1st thought), but then Sophie has second thoughts (maybe it’s not such a good idea after all). Sophie changes her mind and doesn’t participate in the cheating with Margie.
If someone has second thoughts, they might not always change her mind. If someone is having second thoughts about their wedding, it’s very possible they are just nervous but will still get married.

More examples:

I am having second thoughts about changing careers. I like my current job.
Jan had second thoughts about buying those shoes. Her bank account was nearly empty.
I have a sky diving appointment this weekend. I’m excited, but also nervous. I’m worried I will have second thoughts once I’m in the plane.

Visit our website:

Friday, April 7, 2017

Play it by ear

Play it by ear: (1) Play music without reading from a score; (2) To do something instinctively; to do something without planning based on the circumstances.

Context #1 – Friends talking about an upcoming trip

Hanna: So what are we going to do when we get to London?
Leslie: Well, we said we would go to the major attractions during the day.
Hanna: Yeah, but I want to go out at night too.  Should I do some research?
Leslie: Let’s just play it by ear.  I mean, we don’t even know what it will feel like until we arrive.
Hanna: Yeah, that’s not a bad idea.  Let’s just play it by ear then. I’m sure we’ll figure something out.

Context #2 – Two traveling musicians.

Jason:  I can’t wait for our concert this Sunday.  I can’t believe we’re opening for Black Violin.
Jose: I know.  I heard they always invite their opening act to play on stage with them impromptu.  What should we do if that happens?
Jason: We’ll just play it by ear man.  That’s the best way to approach something like that.
Jose: I guess we have no choice.  Awesome!  Wyld Stallyns!!!

Explanation: “Play it by ear” means to do something without any planning.  It could apply to music or any situation where there are no instructions.  Many people use it when they feel confused about life. 

Visit our website:

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Get your act together

Get your act together: to organize in ways necessary to achieve a goal, necessity, or responsibility.

 Context #1 – Friends talking about relationships

Don: Are you seriously considering marrying your girlfriend.  I thought you said you had no job or plans for the future.
Jerrad: Well, she’s pretty great and she makes me want to be a better person.
Don: Well then, you better get your act together before her parents or friends disapprove of you.
Jerrad: I’m really trying to get my act together.  I don’t want to lose her.
Don: I hope so.  Otherwise, some other guy is going to take her from you.

Context #2 – Brother and sister talking about responsibilities in college

Kelly:  I’m glad you’re home for spring break. How’s college?
Devin: I’m not doing so well.  All the partying is keeping me from being focused.
Kelly: Hey, mom and dad are paying a lot of money for you to go to school.  You better get your act together.
Devin: I know.  I don’t want to disappoint them and I want to make sure I get a good education.

Explanation: “Get your act together” means to become responsible by taking steps in a positive/productive direction.  It means that your ideas are in many separate direction and you have to sit down, focus and complete the tasks necessary to succeed.

Visit our website:

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Second to None

Second to None: the best, better than anything or anyone else

Context #1 – A friend is asking his roommate about restaurants

Mark: Hey, Mannie. What are you doing?
Mannie: Well, I’m looking for a really nice restaurant. I’ve decided to ask Tanya to marry me and I would like to do it in a romantic restaurant.
Mark: Congratulations! You make a great couple! I know a perfect restaurant right on the beach. It has a beautiful view and the food is delicious!
Mannie: Are you sure it is the best restaurant in the area?
Mark: I guarantee you that this restaurant is second to none. You will love it!

Context #2 – Friends talking about a concert

Cassandra: Hey, would you like to go see that new band “Things Hidden” tonight at the coliseum?
Tabitha: Oh, yes! I heard they are the best new band out there!
Cassandra: They are second to none! No other band can compare.
Tabitha: Let’s go early so that we can get really good seats.

Explanation: “Second to none” means the best or better than anything or anyone else. In context 1, Mannie wants to take Tanya to the best restaurant in town so that he can propose to her.  Mark assures Mannie that the restaurant he recommended is the best, or second to none. In context 2, the band that the two friends are going to see is the best new band in town. 
Visit our website:

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

To rip off

Idiom: to rip off (verb), a rip-off (noun) – to steal something from another person; to cheat or trick someone into spending more money on a product than what it is worth.

Context #1 – Friends are taking a tour of Los Angeles

Dan: Let’s go see the Hollywood sign next, but don’t leave your bag in the car.
Juan: Really? Why not?
Dan: Because there are thieves at popular sites who often rip off tourists who are not careful with their bags and belongings.
Juan: Oh, I see. That happens sometimes in my country, especially in areas where there are a lot of tourists.
Dan: Yes, so be careful.  If someone rips us off, then we will really be in trouble!

Context #2 – Two friends are talking about buying a car

Sami: I saw an advertisement for a new car. It’s so cheap, so I really need to get to that dealership to buy it now!
Petra: Sami, do you really believe that? It’s too good to be true. Those car dealerships rip everyone off.
Sami: Really? But they can’t lie to people. That’s terrible.
Petra: They put up those advertisements to get people to go to the dealership.  Then, they say unfortunately that “good deal” is no longer available. They are very tricky. Then they will pressure you into paying a lot more for a car than what it is really worth.
Sami: What a rip-off!! That’s outrageous.
Petra: Yes, it is. You are better off knowing the full market value and shopping around at many different places. Then, hopefully, you won’t get ripped off like so many customers.
Sami: That sounds like a plan!

Meaning: To rip off is a verb and a “rip-off” is a noun. This idiom means to steal something or to purposely deceive or trick someone into paying more for a product than what is necessary.  In context 1, two friends are touring Los Angeles and are afraid that if they leave their bags in the car, a thief will “rip them off” or steal their bags. In context 2, Sami sees a really good advertisement for a car, but Petra warns him that the car dealership may be trying to “rip him off” by getting him to go there through false advertising. 

Visit our website:

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A drop in the bucket

First Example:

            Mary: Thanks for the donation for the Children's Hospital.
Conner: I wish I could give more. I know $100 is a drop in the bucket compared to what they need.
Mary: It's still generous of you. Yeah, we need to raise about $10 million, but if more people give, it'll really make a difference to a lot of sick kids.

Meaning: The expression "a drop in the bucket" means that something is very small when compared to what is necessary. In the example above, Conner has given Mary a donation for children's hospital, but he realizes that compared with the $10 million necessary, it seems almost worthless (which Mary denies).

Second Example:

When the employees found out how much money the company had made without giving any raises or bonuses, the employees were furious. They argued that a small raise for each employee would have been a drop in the bucket when compared with the record profits, but the company argued that they were investing the profits to ensure future growth.

Visit our website:

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Mixed Feelings

Idiom: mixed feelings; used as a noun

First Example:

Harry: Did you hear about the policy new change?
Victoria: Yeah.
Harry: You don't sound happy about it.
Victoria: Well, I have mixed feelings. I mean, I can see how it'll make the experience better for our clients, so that's good.
Harry: Right.
Victoria: But it's going to make our jobs harder, and the company isn't going to be getting more money for our time from our clients. So sure, it's great for the clients, but I have enough work to do already.

Meaning: The expression "mixed feelings" means a reaction that is both positive and negative. In the above example, Victoria says she has "mixed feelings" about a policy change at work because it's better for the clients, but it's worse for the employees. Also, note that Victoria uses the expression after the verb "have;" "have mixed feelings" is probably the most common form when using this expression, but it's not the only one.

Second Example:

Dan: The Oscars were crazy this year!
Robin: I know! I watched that ending with so many mixed feelings.
Dan: What do you mean?
Robin: Well, I wanted Moonlight to win, but they said La La Land won, which didn't surprise me. But then they took it away from them! I was happy for the Moonlight people but sad at the same time for the La La Land people!
Dan: Yeah, that was a roller coaster of emotions.

Meaning: Note that Robin doesn't use the verb "have", instead saying she did something  "with mixed feelings". This is probably the second most common way of using this idiom.

Visit our website:

Thursday, March 9, 2017

To draw a blank

Context #1: Faz and Tyler are eating at a restaurant.

Tyler: Faz, you are the most forgetful person I know.
Faz: No way! My memory is just fine.
Tyler: Oh, really? How long have we known each other?
Faz: Um… More than ten years!
Tyler: Okay, so what is my name?
Faz: It’s…ah… Give me a hint; I’m drawing a blank.

Context #2: Wilma has not been following Mr. Scott’s lecture in class.

Mr. Scott: Wilma, what’s the answer to question 7 (in the book).
Wilma: I’m not sure, Mr. Scott.
Mr. Scott: We just talked about this, Wilma. Why don’t you know? Were you doodling* in your notebook again?
Wilma: No, sir. My notebook is clean. All I have been doing is drawing blanks.

Meaning: to forget, to not know, or to not have information.  A blank is a space without information. We use this idiom to tell our listener that our brain cannot create a picture or cannot give the correct information.

Visit our website:

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

To be in hot water

Context #1: James is met at home by his angry mother

Mother: You are in hot water, young man!
James: Why? What did I do?
Mother: You took the car without asking. Now you come home – and it’s 2:00 am! You didn’t call or tell me where you were!
James: But, Mom, I couldn’t tell you; I went to a SURPRISE party!
Mother: Well, surprise! You’re grounded!

Context #2: Doreen and Tom are in school talking about their classmate, Gina

Doreen: Can you believe Gina? She’s not here again.
Tom: Do you think the teacher notices?
Doreen: Oh yeah! Mrs. Lynch told Gina that she’d be in hot water if she missed another class.

Meaning: to be in trouble. “Hot water” is a bad situation. We have many idioms that connect “hot” things with difficult situations: “out of the frying pan and into the fire” and “feel the heat” are two others.

Visit our website:

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Fallen on deaf ears

Example 1:

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has been warning people for years: smoking cigarettes is bad for your health. Beginning in 1965, the CDC required that warning labels be placed in small letters on the side of every package of cigarettes sold in the U.S. These warning labels read, "Caution: Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Health." The CDC updated its policy steadily from then and by 1981 had announced to the public that cigarette smoking did indeed cause cancer and other terrible conditions. However, these warnings have largely fallen on deaf ears, as young people continue to try cigarettes and begin to smoke regularly despite the mounting evidence of its risk. 

Example 2:

Julia: Hey, Becky. I'm having a problem with my boyfriend. I need your advice. 
Becky: I don't think so, Julia. I would really love to help you, but we've been through this so many times with all of your past boyfriends. Every other time you've come to me for advice, it just falls on deaf ears
Julia: That's not true! I listen to your advice as take it but the same things keep happening with each new boyfriend I have. They are always so jealous of my ex-boyfriends even though we've broken up.
Becky: Well, if you can remember, my advice is usually to stay single for a while in between relationships. You need time to get over one guy before you get involved with the next one. That might help you avoid this recurring problem.
Julia: Hmm, maybe you're right. I think I have to break up with my boyfriend. It's not working out and there's this cute new guy in my physics class that I've been talking to....
Becky: See what I mean?! You can't be helped!

 to fall on deaf ears is an expression that is used when warnings or advice are ignored by the person/people receiving it. 
In example 1, the advice from the CDC falls on deaf ears because people continue to smoke cigarettes despite scientific evidence of its harm.
In example 2, Becky does not want to give Julia advice anymore because Julia never takes it and continues making the same mistakes.

Visit our website: