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Some Common English Idioms, Part I

The English language, which is spoken as an official language in countries as widely ranging as the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia, has gathered many idioms over the centuries that are still in use today. An idiom is basically a phrase that is figurative and used to describe literal situations with words that may not be clear to a non-native speaker. Let's take a look today at a few common idioms that you may hear when you are speaking English with somebody.

 

A team of scribes with the wisdom of Solomon went the extra mile to make King James' translation all things to all men.

Captions 6-7, The History of English The King James Bible

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The idiom "to go the extra mile" means to make an extra effort at something. If you are not familiar with the Bible or the Quran, you may not know who Solomon (also written "Sulayman") was. To say someone is as "wise as Solomon" means they are very smart indeed, as King Solomon is considered by religious people to have been a very wise prophet. 

 

So it's going to be forever or it's going to go down in flames.

Captions 19-20, Taylor Swift Blank Space

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The idiom "to go down in flames" probably originates from the time of the First World War, when airplanes were first used in combat and would literally "go down in flames." Its figurative meaning is to fail suddenly and dramatically. A similar phrase, "to be shot down in flames," means to be suddenly rejected.

 

So, the expression "once in a blue moon" is a way of saying, "very, very rarely—almost never."

Captions 42-43, The Alphabet the Letter M

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The meaning of this idiom is nicely explained in the example sentence. A "blue moon" has several different meanings, but all of them mean a type of moon that is not actually blue to the eye, but only occurs every several months or years. The phrase first appeared in print in the early 1500s and has thus been in common usage for 500 years!

 

But he said he could cut us some slack.

Caption 30, Business English Difficulties with coworkers and contracts - Part 3

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The idiom "to cut somebody some slack" means to not judge someone too harshly. Some think that the phrase, which has been in use for some hundreds of years, comes from the way sailors tie a ship to a dock with ropes. To "give slack to" or "to slacken" means to loosen or allow more line or rope.

 

You can eat all my food, smash up my walls, but I draw the line...

Caption 20, A Mickey Mouse Cartoon Goofy's Grandma

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The idiom "to draw the line" means that a limit has been reached and something must stop. The ancient Romans would draw a line in the sand and order their troops not to proceed past that point. It has been used as an idiom in English for hundreds of years in a figurative sense.

 

Further Learning
Try using the above idioms in your own sentences and have another student or your teacher check your work to see if you properly understood the meanings. Thank you for using Yabla English!

How to Communicate What Other People Said

When you want to discuss something that somebody has said, it is called "reported speech" or "indirect speech," as opposed to quoting somebody directly. 

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Imagine you are at work, for instance, and a supplier named Daniel tells you "Most of our new accounts are getting a 30% increase, but I can cut you some slack." This means that Daniel will have to charge your company more money, but he can "cut some slack," meaning he can make the increase not so large for your company. When your boss asks you what Daniel said, you would use "reported speech" to tell him: 

 

Daniel said most of their new accounts are getting a thirty percent increase, but he said he could cut us some slack.

Captions 29-30, Business English - Difficulties with Coworkers and Contracts

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Note the difference in how the speaker changes from first person "our" and "I" to third person "their" and "he":

 

Direct speech: Daniel said, "Most of our new accounts are getting a 30% increase, but I can cut you some slack."

 

Indirect speech: Daniel said most of their new accounts are getting a 30% increase, but he said he could cut us some slack. 

 

Note that indirect speech eliminates the need for quotation marks. Another primary feature of indirect speech is using a phrase such as "he said," "she said," etc. followed by a description of what the person said. Here is a sample of other verbs you can use to report what somebody said: 

 

—to tell: 

 

They told me I was going to lose the fight.

Caption 9, Kate Bush - Wuthering Heights

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—to state:

 

A spokesman for the Ministry of Plenty stated last night that it will be necessary to reduce the chocolate ration to twenty grams in April.

Captions 12-13, George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four - BBC TV Movie

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—to mention: 

 

You mentioned you're single.

Caption 10, Conan - Alice Eve Explains Differences Between American & UK Dating

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–to confess: 

 

You've confessed to assassination, to distribution of seditious pamphlets, to religion, to embezzlement of Party funds, sale of military secrets, sabotage, murder. 

Captions 28-31, George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four - BBC TV Movie

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—to claim

 

They claimed to be weavers of a rare and especially beautiful and precious cloth.

Caption 24, Fairy Tales - The Emperor's New Clothes

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Further Learning
Try taking the sample sentences above and reconstructing the direct speech. For example, "He told me he'd come to demolish the house." Change that into "He said, 'I've come to demolish the house.'" Now try it with the other examples!

 

If you are learning English in a small group, have one person state something as direct speech and another person then report what that person said. If John says "I speak the best English in the class," then Jenny can say "John claims to speak the best English in the class." 

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You can also go to Yabla English and find other examples of indirect speech based on the verbs listed above.

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